Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Brecht & the Dividends Opera

"A publishing house is different from a screw factory, but they follow the same economic laws. If I make losses, I can't afford to pay advances to authors."

- says Hans Barlach, a media investor who is embroiled in a power struggle at Suhrkamp, a legendary German publishing house with a list that stretches from Brecht and Hesse to Habermas.

There's something very Brechtian about the conflict. A flamboyant widow who basically inherited the company from her late husband; a bold minority shareholder who charges into this bastion of high-brow prose and refined literary salons, demanding a higher dividend.

I'm waiting for someone to post a Brechtian take on this on youtube, complete with "The Screw Factory Song" and Suhrkamp's panicking authors as the Greek chorus. How about "The Dividends Opera"?

You can read the full story here:

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Three Kurdish activists killed - update

An update on the horrific killings in Paris:
Apparently AFP mistakenly reported that the crime took place at the Kurdish institute. This was wrong: they took place at another Kurdish organisation in Paris. I'm relieved for the people at the institute, but the crime remains hideous and inexcusable.
This is the institute's statement on the case:

"Three Kurdish activists assassinated in Paris.

Three Kurdish activists were assassinated on Wednesday 9th January in Paris, on the premises of the Kurdish Information Centre, in circumstances that have yet to be clarified.
Amongst them are Sakine Cansiz, a well known PKK public figure who has spent many years in Turkish prisons.
This triple murder, which has taken place in the context of the beginning of a dialogue between the Turkish Government and the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to find a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish question, has plunged the Kurdish community into deep mourning.
Through an incredible and distressing lack of professionalism, the Agence France Press, in its first despatches, indicated that these assassinations took place on the premises of the Kurdish Institute.
This information was relayed by the radios and the non-stop news channels in France, but also in Turkey and other countries, arousing consternation amongst the Institute’s friends, hundreds of whom are calling us and sending us messages.
We have approached the AFP management that has apologized and corrected its mistake as of 8 am. We thank all our friends for their solidarity and call on the French authorities to make every effort to cast a light on this horrible massacre perpetrated in Paris and which has created a dangerous precedent as well as greatly worried the Kurdish community in France."

Paris executions

Reuters reports that three Kurdish women have been found shot dead at the Kurdish Institute in Paris.

"The bodies of three Kurdish women who appeared to have died from gunshots to the head were found early on Thursday at the Kurdish Institute in Paris, a police source said... one of the women killed was Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group."

I did most of my research the Registrar at the institute. The people there were wonderfully helpful and dedicated to preserving Kurdish culture.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Turkey, and whatever the politics of the women, I think we can all agree that nothing justifies this brutal execution of three people. 
The library at the Kurdish institute was a place where anyone could come and read Kurdish poetry and novels in translation - works you would find nowhere else. It gave a bit of breathing space to a part of Kurdish culture that has been stifled by the violence: literature, poetry, song. Sweden and France are the only real hubs of Kurdish culture in exile, because their governments have supported translators and intellectuals in their efforts to preserve Kurdish culture and let it live.

I'm so horrified by this crime. My thoughts are with the victims' families, and with the brave and dedicated people at the institute.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Child booksellers of Mumbai

Good morning! Just read an interesting feature by Sonia Faleiro for the New York Times about the child booksellers of Mumbai:

Holding aloft his wares, he dashes toward a black BMW and in his cracking preteen voice addresses the woman inside: “ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?”
It made me think of the pirate vendors in Peru who inspired my short story for World Literature Today, Anyone Have Any Idea What Jesus Wrote Here?
The story is about an expat author in the Andean town of Huayhuash who spots a pirated copy of her book at an illegal vendor's stall. Her book is about the only scene in the Bible where Jesus writes something - but nowhere in the Bible does it say what he wrote. Worried that she'll report him to the police, the vendor outsmarts her by making one vital change to the book...
The story was published in WLT's print edition in November; you can order it here.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy new year!

Good news: the manuscript is with the copy editor (phew) and I've got a new office. Or rather, a new desk. Well, half a new desk. A good friend decided that I was spending too much time befriending the snails in my window box (part of working-from-home syndrome, also known as lonely-writer-develops-eccentric-habits syndrome). So she put me in touch with another friend of hers who was looking to sub-let her half of a shared desk in a shared office space. Yes, it's all very communal. So far, office life is wonderful. My new office mates have poured me cups of tea and coffee and fed me carrot cake. It certainly beats rootling around the fridge for that one leftover stale carrot.

The Book of Liz (Daily Telegraph)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9740879/Liz-Mohn-the-woman-behind-Penguin-Random-House.htmlLiz Mohn, the woman behind media giant Bertelsmann, talks about the future of Penguin Random House. Read more...

From Kafka With Fear (Daily Telegraph)

6 Dec 2012 - A letter from Franz Kafka in which the sick writer describes his "naked fear" of mice invading his bedroom and complains about his cat soiling his slippers could be saved from disappearing into a private collection in a last-minute rescue attempt by German fans.