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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

2018/4/16 — 15:29

【Text by Janani Ganesan, MARGENTO, and Omar El Adl】

Our weekly roundup lands us in Romania, Moldova, India and Egypt.

Prizes, events, book publications, festivals—whatever you can think of, our Weekly Dispatches have you covered from one end of the world to the other. This week our editors are focusing on the most exciting news from India, Romania and Moldova, and Egypt. 


Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from India: 

When everything is sponsored by a multinational company, from football to governments, literature is no different. India’s richest literary award was announced this March by JCB group. An annual prize money of INR twenty-five lakhs (USD 38,400) for a fiction book could have only come from a company manufacturing construction equipment.


(The DSC Prize, which was the most generous literary award in the country till its prize money was reduced from USD 50,000 to USD 25,000 in 2017, is also funded by a company specializing in infrastructure.)

The JCB prize will also extend INR one lakh (USD 1,500) to each shortlisted author, some of whom might not have received as much in literary advance. The prize, which claims to have a ‘particular focus on translation’, will include the translator, awarding her INR five lakhs (USD 7,700) if the winning book happens to be a translated work. The Literary Director of the prize, British-Indian author Rana Dasgupta, points out that the idea is not to have a winner, but to highlight ‘five great books.’

While recognition that any award would confer on a writer is good, the money involved is undeniably important. Not every day does a writer see a million-dollar literary advance. Writer Arundhati Roy of Man Booker fame (advance received in 1996) and Amish Tripathi, a commercial fiction writer (advance received in 2013), are perhaps the only two in Indian publishing history. Literary advances for a debut writer usually vary from INR 25,000 (USD 400) to INR 1,00,000 (USD 1500).

Publishing budget and resources for literary fiction are shrinking in the country, while on the other hand, there seem to be more books in translation coming out each year. Under these circumstances, can this new award provide ‘greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing’?

Dasgupta says in an interview, “If you look at the Booker Prize, a majority of their budget is spent on marketing. One of the main responsibilities of a prize is to tell people about the great book it has selected.” With its high-profile launch early this week, the JCB prize seems to have already oiled its publicity machinery and promises to fare better than the DSC, which didn’t quite bring enough attention to the writers and the books among the reading public.

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania and Moldova:

Critic and literary historian Dan Gulea, who has authored a number of groundbreaking books on the fringes of the avant-garde and on literary geography/geocriticism, has grabbed significant critical attention lately with an anthology of writers fallen in the “Great War”. Here, he once again pushes the boundaries of the concept of literature (and its conventional genres) alongside the one of war hero.

In Moldova, literary critic and theorist Aliona Grati announced a forthcoming collection of contributions dedicated to legendary writer and anticommunist dissident Paul Goma, thus picking up the baton from Bucharest-based historian Flori Bălănescu, who has indefatigably edited the writer’s oeuvre for years while single-handedly popularizing scores of other dissidents and political prisoners. Grati herself published a well-received book of criticism on Goma back in 2011. Goma was forced into exile by Ceaușescu in 1977 and has lived in France ever since, where he has survived more than a couple of attempts on his life staged by the Romanian secret police.

French-Romanian fiction writer Irina Teodorescu has recently released a new novel, after having been celebrated on ARTE for “conquering the French literary scene with only two novels.”

Another well-known Paris-based Romanian writer, O. Nimigean has effectively protested in social media an infamous character attack on writer Dan Lungu from the Writers Union. The attack came in the form of a public letter generically signed “the union’s leadership,” a style Nimigean labels as downright Stalinist.

Social media remains a fervent arena for Romanian writers, as just weeks before the Cambridge Analytica disclosures, former Asymptote contributor Ruxandra Cesereanu distributed a manifesto-poem via Facebook Messenger. She chose this unconventional channel for a post-prophetic, vibrantly political writing “too long for a journal and too short for a print book.”

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Egypt: 

discussion around the book “The Rise and Fall of the Egyptian Labour Movement” took place at 6 pm on 10 April at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights. Speakers included Amr Adly, Fatma Ramadan, Haitham Gabr, and Mahmoud Mortada, and the event was moderated by Saber Barakat. The book discusses the Egyptian labour movement from the period 2006-2016, covering the general strike of 2008 and the 2011 uprising. The book was put together by nine researchers and has been available in bookstores since January 2018.

From 12 through 14 April, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is being performed at the American University in Cairo’s Falaki Theatre. The show will start every night at 8 pm and tickets will cost EGP 90.

On 14 April, a book signing of Mahmoud Hosny’s first novel Maps of Youniswill be held at Afaq bookstore in Downtown Cairo at 7 pm. The book will be discussed by author and translator Adel El Meiry and will be followed by a book signing. The author, along with eight novelists, won one of the 2016 grants from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) to work with Lebanese novelist Jabbour Douaihy on a fiction project, which turned into Maps of Younis. An excerpt from the book can be found here.

On the same day, at 5 pm, is the 25th session of the seminar series “Reading historical documents from Egypt, Medieval till modern times,” organised by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) and the Faculty of Arts at Kafr El Sheikh University. The event will take place at the IFAO.

Expounding on his recent book, Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press), professor Safwan Masri is going to analyse the Tunisian experience after its uprising, including reformism in the domains of education, religion, and women’s rights. Masri plans to trace back these reforms to the 19th century. The lecture will take place on 8 May at the Netherlands Flemish Institute in Cairo. Masri is currently the Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University and a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

(Originally posted in Asymptote)