Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: 'The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction' by M.A. Orthofer

I've got another interesting Columbia University Press read for you! One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to read more world fiction, open myself up to more translated works. But it can be quite hard to get a good look at international lit and especially to understand how literature has developed in different countries and in different languages. So when I saw Orthofer's The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction up on Netgalley I knew that it might give me the answers I needed. I was also impressed with how long its title was. Thanks to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publication: Columbia University Press

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site's content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world's literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels. 
What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation's literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.
M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
The Complete Review Guide started as a website, which tries to bring the reader all the info and objective opinion they might need in regard to books both old and new. I'll solely be reviewing the book though, so hop by the website if you want to have a look.

As Orthofer says in his introduction, 'great literature and great books know no borders'. Or at least, it shouldn't. At the heart of The Complete Review Guide is international and translated fiction, the hundreds and thousands of books written and published all over the world. The main purpose of The Complete Review Guide is as a reference book, which means it's not exactly a cover-to-cover read. Rather, it is incredibly useful to dip into when either looking for information on a specific author or want a general idea of the development of literature in a specific region or country. One of the let downs of The Complete Review Guide, however, is that it focuses mainly on thrillers and mysteries, considerably neglecting genres such as Fantasy and Romance. Although it is understandable that you can't discuss every genre in a single book, it would have been good to see a bit more variation. I would say it is very important to read the Introduction, just to get a sense of what it is this book is trying to achieve. It also explains how The Complete Review Guide is split geographically, first into continents and then into smaller sections dedicated either to general areas or specific countries. Although Orthofer accepts it is difficult to tie a novel down to a specific region sometimes, but the categorisation he ends up with works for the reader.

Orthofer's writing is what makes reading The Complete Review Guide not just informative but also fun. This book is not just a dull and dry list of books, authors and translators, it gives its reader a genuine idea of literary tradition and the development of translation. Whether it is discussing the influence of propaganda on literature written in the Soviet Union, the rise of women writers in India or how colonial languages influenced fiction written in colonised countries, Orthofer goes out of his way to contextualise international literature for those who may not have any experience with it. His writing isn't filled with academic lingo or with elitist opinions about literature, but rather his writing is very friendly and direct. If you're like me and you enjoy reading reference books, The Complete Review Guide will be like sitting back and having a good friend enthusiastically explain world literature to you over a glass of wine.

At danger of sounding even nerdier than usual, the supplements to The Complete Review Guide were very useful, especially the second focusing on Supplemental Resources for those wanting to explore more translated and international fiction. If the book's purpose was to get readers interested in translated fiction, then I can say that The Complete Review Guide is a very successful book! It has taken up a solid spot on my bookshelf and I'm sure it will be frequently used in the near and far future.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The Complete Review Guide is an incredibly useful reference book for those who want to read internationally. The lay-out is clear, the writing is lucid and the book genuinely does cover the world.

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