What is the best-known book set in Denmark?

See note on methodology

There is a hugely clear winner here, with a slight caveat that although we are clearly told that the setting is Kronborg castle, Helsingør, and there are contextual references aplenty to neighbouring countries, there isn’t a terribly strong historical foundation to this story of dynastic intrigue at the Danish court. However, it is the best known work of the English language’s best-known writer, and my Danish friends will have to grin and bear it. It is, of course:

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

The second place goes (again by a very clear margin) to a Holocaust novel, though one that is completly new to me – I guess it may be on a lot of school reading lists? Published by an American writer in 1989 (and winner of the 1990 Newbery Medal), it is:

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

Having said that, there is a contender which has more readers on LT and is not so far behind on GR. It is an ancient epic in three sections, of which the first two are clearly set in Denmark (or at least among the Danes), though the last (and shortest) is set elsewhere. Much-translated, inspiring to Tolkien and many others, it is of course:


Several books set in Denmark by actual Danes which almost made the top three:

Fairy Tales / Eventyr, by Hans Christian Andersen
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow / Smilla’s Sense of Snow / Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne, by Peter Høeg
The Keeper of Lost Causes / Kvinden i buret, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

It could be worse.

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February Books

Non-fiction: 3 (YTD 11)
Het Achterhuis, by Anne Frank / The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Anne Frank: The book, the life and the afterlife, by Francine Prose
Tree and Leaf, by J R R Tolkien (has a little more non-fiction content than fiction)

Het Achterhuis The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank: The book, the life and the afterlife Tree and Leaf

Fiction (non-sf): 1 (YTD 2)
I Don’t Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson

I Don

SF (non-Who): 9 (YTD 24)
ε4 – did not finish
ι4 – not finished
Transit of Earth

Transit of Earth

Doctor Who, etc: 4 (YTD 7)
Warmonger, by Terrance Dicks
Reckless Engineering, by Nick Walters
Dragon’s Wrath, by Justin Richards
Doctor Who Annual 2015

Warmonger Reckless Engineering Dragon Doctor Who Annual 2015

Comics : 2 (YTD 4)
Bétélgeuse, v2: Les Survivants, by Leo
Boerke bijbel, by Pieter De Poortere

Bétélgeuse, v2: Les Survivants Boerke bijbel

~6,000 pages (YTD 14,500)
6/19 by women (YTD 16/48) – Frank, Prose, Pearson, γ4δ4, η4
0/19 by PoC (YTD 1/48)

Reread: 2/19 (Anne Frank, Tree and Leaf), YTD 2/48

Reading now:
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson

Coming soon (perhaps):
The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
With The Light Vol 8, by Keiko Tobe
A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
Wages of Sin, by Andrew M. Greeley
Kushiel’s Justice, by Jacqueline Carey
Scales of Gold, by Dorothy Dunnett
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Stopping for a Spell, by Diana Wynne Jones
Islands In The Stream, by Ernest Hemingway
Mating, by Norman Rush
The Egyptian, by Mika Waltari
The Painted Man/The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett
The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999, by Misha Glenny
Martial Power and Elizabethan Political Culture: Military Men in England and Ireland, 1558-1594, by Rory Rapple
Een geweer in het water, by Hermann
The seven-per-cent solution; being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D, by Nicholas Meyer
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Meditations on Middle Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien
City at the End of Time, by Greg Bear
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
Grave Matter, by Justin Richards
Last Resort, by Paul Leonard
Beyond the Sun, by Matthew Jones

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Links I found interesting for 28-02-2015

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What is the best-known book set in Serbia?

See note on methodology

For the first time, but not for the last, I face the consequences of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Even those living there found it tricky to follow the shifting borders between the Slovenian referendum in 1990 and the independence of Kosovo in 2008. A lot of the books identified with "Serbia" tags on LibraryThing and Goodreads are simply set elsewhere, most often in Bosnia; others are tours d'horizon of the entire region.

I have come up with an answer to the question that satisfies me, though I admit that it has flaws. Published as recently as 2010, by a writer who was born in Belgrade but stresses her roots elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, it is set in an unnamed Balkan state, but reviewers that I have checked have assumed it is meant to be Serbia (including one who irritably listed all the mistakes that were made with the Serbian setting, which pretty much proves the point). Winner of the 2011 Orange Prize, it is:

The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Olbreht.

Worth noting, but not sufficient answers to the question, are two well-known books about the former Yugoslavia as a whole, both of which were critiqued for feeding the convenient narrative that external intervention would not help during the most recent conflict. One of them is based in fact on events of the 1930s, published in 1941; the other was published in 1993. They are:

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West
Balkan Ghosts, by Robert Kaplan

Digging down further, I hit the problem that few of the great writers of the former Yugoslavia set their best-known works in Serbia (often they were not themselves Serbs, of course). This is true for Danilo Kiš, Milorad Pavić, Ivo Andrić and Meša Selimović. The top book on Goodreads which I could identify clearly as set in Serbia, identifiable as such, is a 1910 classic Serbian novel about tradition versus modernisation and the changing position of women, made into a Serbian TV series in 2012. It seems to have several names in Enlgish translation; I'm giving first the one I could find in recent publication (2008) followed by the two given in Wikipedia. It is:

Bad Blood / Impure Blood / Sophka / Nečista krv, by  Borisav Stanković.

The top book on LibraryThing which I could identify clearly as set in Serbia, named as such, is a series of interviews conducted by a Norwegian journalist with her various Serbian contacts over the years of war and peace. It is:

With Their Backs to the World: Portraits from Serbia, by Åsne Seierstad

It's interesting that Serbian writers in general appear better represented on Goodreads.

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Links I found interesting for 27-02-2015

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Thursday reading

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson

Last books finished
Anne Frank: The book, the life and the afterlife, by Francine Prose
Tree and Leaf, by J R R Tolkien
ι4 – not finished
Dragon’s Wrath, by Justin Richards
Doctor Who Annual 2015
Transit of Earth

Last week’s audios
Equilibrium, by Matt Fitton

Next books
The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
Grave Matter, by Justin Richards

Books acquired in last week
Anne Frank: The book, the life and the afterlife, by Francine Prose
Who I Am: A Memoir, by Peter Townshend
11/22/63, by Stephen King
Professor Bell v1: De Mexicaan met twee hoofden by Joann Sfar
Professor Bell v2: De poppen van Jeruzalem, by Joann Sfar
Golden Dawn: Het genootschap van Socrates, by Yves Leclercq and Stéphane Heurteau
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen

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Links I found interesting for 26-02-2015

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What is the best-known book set in Bulgaria?

See note on methodology

Far, far in the lead here is a play by an Irish writer, first performed in 1894 and published in 1898. A lot of people who are familiar with it forget that it is set during and after the brief Serbia-Bulgaria war of 1885, the central characters being a Bulgarian officer’s daughter and a Swiss mercenary fighting for the Serbs. It doesn’t bear a huge resemblance to the real Bulgaria: the author’s intention was to satirise British attitudes to war and class, and he pretty much succeeded. It is:

Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw

After that we are into difficult territory, and I’m afraid that the next books on both GR on LT are a light-hearted Cold War thriller (not the last in that series that we shall encounter) and a short fantasy novella for young adults:

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman (second-ranked on LibraryThing, 3rd of the series)
The Balkan Escape, by Steve Berry (second-ranked on Goodreads)

Those who are familiar with Bulgarian literature will not be at all surprised (and perhaps relieved) to know that the top Bulgarian book by an actual Bulgarian writer, though some way behind all of the above, is the 1893 national classic:

Under the Yoke / Под игото, by Ivan Vazov

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Links I found interesting for 25-02-2015

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What is the best-known book set in Switzerland?

See note on methodology

This list of books has not always excelled at identifying work by female writers, but in Switzerland, which only gave women the vote in my lifetime, they do rather well. The most popular “switzerland”-tagged book on both LibraryThing and Goodreads probably has to be disqualified in that not enough of it is set there – parts of the plot take place in Germany, Ireland and the Arctic wastes – but the most memorable passages are indeed set in the vicinity of Lake Geneva, where it was written by an eighteen-year-old writer in the summer of 1816, and later published in 1818. Brian Aldiss argues that it is the first true work of science fiction. It is of course:

Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

There is a better answer, in the shape of a book by a Swiss woman which has become identifued with Swiss girlhood (though in fact the second quarter of it is set in Frankfurt, which I had completely forgotten). Published in 1880, and apparently dashed off by its author in four weeks, it’s the story of a little girl bringing joy to her grumpy grandfather in the Grisons, though there’s also stuff going on about poverty and disability. It is of curse:

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri

I’m happy enough with a book that is 75% set in Switzerland. If you prefer a book that is almost 100% set in Switzerland, we can stay in the Grisons, but I’m afraid I must refer you to a male German writer. His masterwork, published in 1924, deals with illness, philosophy, and death. It is:

The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann

This has been a more highbrow entry than some!

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Links I found interesting for 24-02-2015

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What is the best-known book set in Austria?

See note on methodology

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s a graphic novel, probably the only graphic novel we’ll get in this series of posts. I’m cheating slightly in that it’s the third part of an autobiography sold in four albums in the original French, but the best-selling English translation binds it together with the fourth part which (like the first two) is set in the author’s home country, so readers of that version will hold in their hands a book which is only half set in Austria. But I think the author’s original intent counts. It’s the story of a disastrous attempt to emigrate from the Middle East to Vienna in the late twentieth century, the heartbreak of exile in Vienna combined with disillusionment about Western lifestyles. In the English edition, it is the first half of:

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi

I’ve ruled out a number of books frequently tagged “Austria” here – all of Kafka, Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story, The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud – on the grounds that they are not really (or at best only partially) set in Austria. The leaves me with the top Austrian book set in Austria and written by an Austrian, an unfinished novel published in three parts between 1930 and 1943 (the year after the author’s untimely death); apparently the German edition these days is sold with a CD-ROM including the author’s various surviving drafts of how the novel might have ended. It is:

The Man Without Qualities Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, by Robert Musil

Bubbling under: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Elfride Jelinek, Patrick Leigh Fermour.

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The TBR meme

I got this from Victoria over at Eve’s Alexandria – her answers are much more interesting than mine.

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Physically, I have an entire bookshelf (see last picture here) with books owned but not yet read beside the bed. Its population fluctuates – we bought a companion bookshelf a couple of months ago, already more than half filled with Arthur C. Clarke Award submissions.

Electronically, I use LibraryThing, which tells me that I have roughly 462 books in the house which I have not read. Plus a few Clarke submissions which I track separately.

2. Is your TBR mostly print or ebook?

Print, for sure. If I buy an ebook I tend to read it immediately.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I have a complex system, which is not in any way obsessive-compulsive. I have a series of sub-lists from which I take the top book to form my immediate TBR list. The sub-lists are ranked by increasing order of page-length of the top book on 1 January. When I finish a book off any particular sub-list, the next-ranked book on that list goes to the bottom of the TBR list. Except that Doctor Who books count separately, and books that are not by white men are automatically promoted six places up the list. The sub-lists are:

a: non-fiction, in order of entry onto my LibraryThing catalogue.
b: non-fiction, in order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole.
c: non-fiction, as owned by me before start of this year and ranked by livejournal users.
d: fiction other than sf, in order of entry onto my LibraryThing catalogue.
e: fiction other than sf, in order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole.
f: fiction other than sf, as owned by me before start of this year and ranked by livejournal users.
g: sf in order of entry onto my LibraryThing catalogue.
h: sf, in order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole.
i: sf, as owned by me before start of last year and ranked by livejournal users.
j: books left over from the previous year’s ranking.
k: winners of the Tiptree, BSFA and Arthur C Clarke Awards which I haven’t reviewed in the last ten years, in order of winning the award.
l: New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
m: Eighth Doctor Adventures.
n: New Who books.
o: unread Old Who books (other than New Adventures), in continuity order.
p: Books about J.R.R. Tolkien, roughly in order of acquisition
r: books about the Tudor period, especially Ireland, roughly in order of acquisition
s: unread books by writers of colour, roughly in order of acquisition.
u: books acquired since end 2005, otherwise not accounted for, in LT entry order.
v: books I have already read but haven’t reviewed on-line, ranked by LT popularity.
w: books explicitly recommended by livejournal users by number of recommendations
y: very short books
z: Christmas presents
bxx: unread books bought in year 20xx, ranked by order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole.
u♀: unread books by women, ranked by order of popularity on LibraryThing as a whole.

There, aren’t you glad you know that?

4. A book that’s been on your TBR the longest

Not counting Doctor Who books, and books I am pretty sure I’ve lost, it’s Transit of Earth, a collection of sf short stories which I bought at Boskone in 2009. I will start it tonight or tomorrow.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR:

I went to the local book fair yesterday and came away with:
11/22/63, by Stephen King
Who I Am: A Memoir, by Peter Townshend

and three Dutch-language comics (all translated from French):
Professor Bell v1: De Mexicaan met twee hoofden by Joann Sfar
Professor Bell v2: De poppen van Jeruzalem, by Joann Sfar
Golden Dawn: Het genootschap van Socrates, by Yves Leclercq and Stéphane Heurteau

6. A book that will soon be added to your TBR:

I expect I will buy the next Doctor Who books to come out as soon as they do.

7. Numbers of shelves used to house your TBR:

About 6, including one for Clarke submissions.

8. On a scale of 1 to 10, how painful is it for your to discard will-never-be-read TBR books?

It will never happen. Though I do occasionally lose them. I’ll normally give them at least fifty pages before giving up.

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you:

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

10. Name your sources of powers– where do you get your books from?

Bookshops when I am in an English-speaking city (and often when I’m not). Online on impulse.

11. A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read:

Kushiel’s Justice, by Jacqueline Carey.

12. A book you’d recommend others add to their TBR shelves:

Impossible Stories, by Zoran Živković – I reviewed it for Strange Horizons in 2006.

13. Is your TBR a force for good in your life?

Yes. I enjoy working through the obsessive-compulsive structure I have created for myself, and it gives me a sense of achievement to see the list gradually decreasing – even if I then increase it again.

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What is the best-known book set in Belarus?

See note on methodology

Slim pickings here, I’m afraid. The top books on both LibraryThing and GoodReads which are set are two different non-fiction accounts of the same set of events, an organisation of Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis from the Naboliki forest. One of the books was adapted for the cinema, the film starring Daniel Craig. The two books are:

Defiance (1993) by Nechama Tec (top on LT, film released in 2009), and
The Bielski Brothers (2004), by Peter Duffy (top on GR)

Some way behind is a novel about the Stalinist occupation of a village in the Pinsk marshes, published in :

Wave of Terror, by Theodore Odrach

The top novel by a Belarusian writer writing in Belarusian is a tale of a folkorist visitng an isolated castle, confronted with an ancient family curse. It is:

King Stakh’s Wild hunt / Дзікае паляванне караля Стаха, by Uladzimir Karatkevich

Also worthy of note, on LibraryThing a collection of poetry by a Belarusian resident in America has attracted some attention, published in a bilingual English/Belarusin edition in 2008. It is:

Factory of Tears / Фабрыка слёз, by Valzhyna Mort.

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Links I found interesting for 22-02-2015

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The Translation of Anne Frank

Having last read it six years ago, I have been rereading Anne Frank's diary, the 2003 definitive edition of Het Achterhuis in the original Dutch, which includes the most recently rediscovered pages, and also comparing it page by page with the classic English translation of 1952, The Diary of a Young Girl. I have found some things that really surprised me. I was sufficiently intrigued to also get hold of Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, by Francine Prose, which has a lot of useful detail on how the Diary came to be written and published (and also some unedifying details about the creation of the Broadway play, the movie, and its use by revisionists, but I recommend it as a book anyway). I'm assuming below that you have read the book and have at least vague memories of it; if not, go and get it now.

The life of the diary

There are three published versions of Anne Frank's diary, each of which has been translated. The best known, and the one you have probably read, is the 1948 edition, translated into English in 1952, which I'm referring to below as the "classic text". However, that text was itself constructed from the original diary entries, partly by Otto Frank and his editors, but mainly by Anne herself.

When the Frank family went into hiding in July 1942, Anne had already started keeping a diary (the "a" text). In early 1944 several things happened which kicked her creativity up a gear. On 6 January she wrote of a vivid dream about a schoolfriend called Peter (who she starts to identify with her housemate Peter van Daan), her two grandmothers and (not for the first time) her friend Lies (real name Hanneli, who the following year actually met up with Anne and Margot Frank in Belsen shortly before the sisters died). The dream marks the starting point for a lot of things in her inner life, including her romantic interest in Peter van Daan.

On 28 March the household heard the Dutch education minister in exile, Gerrit Bolkesteijn, making a radio appeal for people to keep their letters and diaries after the war; by Anne's account, everyone in the room immediately thought of her diary. Anne returned to the "a"-text and started to revise it with a deliberate view to publication, producing the "b"-text. She was averaging 11 large manuscript pages a day over the summer, as her infatuation with Peter van Daan cooled off and she invested her emotional energy into her own work. By the time of her last entry on 1 August, the "b" text was complete from June 1942 to March 1944.

That came to an end on 5 August when the eight fugitives were taken away, seven of them to their deaths; Anne's diary was preserved by their helper Miep Gies, but one of the "a"-text notebooks, covering the entire year of 1943, was lost and has never resurfaced. So for June to December 1942, we have both "a"- and "b"-texts; for December 1942 to December 1943, the "b"-text only; for December 1943 to March 1944, "a"- and "b"-texts again; and for March to August 1944, the "a"-text only.

After the war, Miep Gies gave Otto Frank the diary on the day that he learned his daughters had died in Belsen; though aware of its existence, he had not read it previously. It must have been pretty gruelling for him, but he decided to try to publish it, as that had clearly been Anne's own intention. The "c"-text, which is what we now know as the classic version, is therefore ultimately his choice of material largely from the "b"-text, though he apparently included several "a"-text passages that Anne had deleted in her revisions. He was also constrained by length and by the desire not to give offence to the living. (There remains even now a 24-word section that has never been published, presumably relating to someone who is still alive.)

The 1991 "definitive edition" (subsequently updated to include five new pages) edited by Myriam Pressler, claims to include pretty much everything. Of course it doesn't; where a passage was thoroughly revised by Anne between the "a"- and "b"-text, only one is used, and Pressler doesn't indicate which (though I assume it's usually the "b"-text). Anne's use of Dutch has been tidied up – everyone in the annexe had been born in Germany, and all were native speakers of German, and though they tried to keep to Dutch even at home, the adults in particular often slipped into their native tongue, and it had a bit of an effect on Anne's writing style too.

There is also a "critical edition" from 1989 which presents the "a", "b" and "c" texts in parallel. I am now sufficiently obsessed that I may have to go and buy it, if I can be sure that it has been updated to include the latest findings.

The bakvis and her development

The first thing to say is that, as so often, it is much more rewarding to access the text in the original language. Nine times out of ten, if there's a poorly formed sentence in the Englsh text it's an artefact of the translation. Having said that, Anne's Dutch was fluent and effective but does occasionally veer into stream-of-consciousness, which is tricky to capture, or slang, which is even trickier. One very concrete example of the latter: she refers to herself ten times as a "bakvis", a slightly pejorative word for a younger teenage girl, now I think a bit dated, meaning the kind of fish you would fry for a quick meal. There is no elegant English equivalent. For example, from the 27 March 1943 entry:

Definitive edition (Dutch):    Ik ben dol op mythologie en wel het meest op de Griekse en Romeinse goden. Hier denken ze dat het voorbijgaande neigingen zijn, ze hebben nog nooit van een bakvis met godenappreciaties gehoord. Welnu, dan ben ik de eerste!
Classic English translation:    I’m mad on mythology and especially the Gods of Greece and Rome. They think here that it is just a passing craze, they’ve never heard of an adolescent kid of my age being interested in mythology. Well, then, I shall be the first!

"bakvis" -> "adolescent kid of my age" isn't brilliant but probably the best of a bad set of options (there are a couple of other odd choices in the passage too, "neigingen" -> "craze" and "met godenappreciaties" -> "being interested in mythology", neither of which quite hits the mark).

The received wisdom (because it's more or less what he said he did) is that in the editing process, Otto particularly suppressed Anne's conflicts with her mother, and her thoughts about her own developing body. Actually the main points of her tension with her mother are perfectly fairly represented, and the omitted details of individual quarrels do not always represent Anne's best writing. More titillating is the 24 March entry about exploring her own body, which is really very sweet but perhaps the market wasn't ready for it in the 1950s. ("ik dacht dat de urine uit de kittelaar kwam. Toen ik moeder eens vroeg wat dit doodlopende ding betekende, zei ze dat ze dat niet wist, hè die doet nu ook altijd zo dom!" / "I thought that urine came out of the clitoris. When I asked mother what it was for, she said she didn't know – yeah, right!" I paraphrase that last bit for tone rather than content.) Even so, the 5 January 1944 passage about her friend's breasts was always in the classic translation; I remember reading it as a teenager. There are some less comprehensible but minor editing choices, one of which I will mention later.

The dentist and the boyfriend

My big finding is this. I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else in my (admittedly not very thorough) research that the one person whose reputation really was protected by the original editors of the Diary was the dentist, Alfred Dussel (real name Fritz Pfeffer), who joined the van Daan / van Pels and Frank families several weeks after they had originally gone into hiding, and uncomfortably shared a bedroom with Anne. The sanitisation of his reputation starts with the very first reference to him on 10 November 1942:

Definitive edition (Dutch):    …een tandarts genaamd Alfred Dussel. Hij leeft samen met een veel jongere en leuke christenvrouw, waar hij waarschijnlijk niet mee getrouwd is, maar dat is bijzaak.
Classic English translation:    …a dentist called Albert Dussel, whose wife was fortunate enough to be out of the country when war broke out.
My translation:    …a dentist called Alfred Dussel. He lives with a much younger, very nice Christian woman, who he probably isn't married to, but that doesn't matter.

The English version (and I suspect the first Dutch published text, which I haven't seen) simply lies about Dussel's family situation, and the lie is probably Otto Frank's. The reason is obvious: the "much younger and very nice Christian woman" was still alive after the war, and actually retroactively married Dussel/Pfeffer in 1950 (with effect from 1937 until his death); it's entirely understandable that Otto Frank toned down the references for the sake of her feelings and those of Dussel's son from his first marriage. (Edited to add: See also my later post expanding on this point.) Here's another passage (from 13 June 1944, so Anne never had a chance to revise it herself) where her disparaging references to Dussel, who had living relatives, but not for Mrs van Daan, whose family had all been killed, were simply removed for the first publication:

Definitive edition (Dutch):    Mevrouw Van Daan en Dussel, m’n voornaamste beschuldigers, staan alletwee bekend als volkomen onintelligent en, laat ik het maar gerust uitspreken, ‘dom’! Domme mensen kunnen het meestal niet verkroppen als anderen iets beter doen dan zijzelf; het beste voorbeeld daarvan zijn inderdaad die twee dommen, mevrouw Van Daan en Dussel.
Classic English translation:    Everyone knows that Mrs. Van Daan, one of my chief accusers, is unintelligent. I might as well put it plainly and say “stupid”. Stupid people usually can’t take it if others do better than they do.
My translation:    Mrs. Van Daan and Dussel, my most vigorous accusers, are both known to be completely unintelligent, I might as well put it plainly and say “stupid”. Stupid people usually can’t take it if others do better than they do; the best example of that is indeed those two fools, Mrs. Van Daan and Dussel.

She also mocks Dussel's accent, most memorably copying his pronuniciaton, "oitschtekend", of the Dutch work "uitstekend" meaning "excellent" (14 and 27 March 1944). Anne's intense dislike of Dussel did not always bring out the best in her, and on the whole suppressing her remarks was a sound editorial decision (one that she probably started herself).

The other plot line that I found the Definitive Edition bringing to light is the start of Anne's relationship with Peter van Daan. It's sparked by a dream, sure, but several very entertaining conversations – about sexing the cat (24 January 1944), about contraceptives (23 March 1944), etc – were dropped from the classic version, and while I can see why this made sense in marketing to the parents of 1950s teenagers, I must say I find it personally much more satisfying to see the detail of how the romance started; and it also helps explain how quickly it fizzled out when Anne realised that actually, Peter wasn't all that bright, and they didn't have much in common apart from being cooped up together.

Changing tone

There are some other odd bits of editing, where the paragraphing is different between the original English version and the Dutch. I've worked on enough manuscripts myself to know how tricky this can be, but in almost every case I find the Dutch version better. Sometimes this leads to a real change of meaning, as in the discussion of Hanukkah presents:

Definitive edition (Dutch):    ‘Wil je Anne voor Chanoeka een bijbel geven?’ vroeg Margot wat ontdaan.
    ‘Ja… eh, ik denk dat Sint-Nicolaas een betere gelegenheid is,’ antwoordde vader.
    Jezus past nu eenmaal niet op Chanoeka.
Classic English translation:    “Do you want to give Anne a Bible for Chanuka?” asked Margot, somewhat perturbed. “Yes— er, I think St. Nicholas Day is a better occasion,” answered Daddy; “Jesus just doesn’t go with Chanuka.”

The words are the same, but the punctuation and paragraphing are not. In the Dutch definitive version, that final sentence is Anne's own reflective afterthought to herself; in the English classic text, it's her father's quip to Margot. Perhaps he simply remembered the incident differently to the way she wrote it.

Another example, in a particularly grim context, is of a real change of text between the two versions in the 9 October 1942 entry about the concentration camps, Anne here reporting what she has heard via Miep Gies and from English radio:

Definitive edition (Dutch):    Westerbork moet vreselijk zijn. De mensen krijgen haast niets te eten laat staan drinken. Er is maar een uur per dag water en een wc en een wastafel voor een paar duizend mensen. Slapen doen ze allemaal door elkaar, mannen, vrouwen en die laatsten en de kinderen krijgen vaak de haren afgeschoren. Vluchten is haast onmogelijk. De mensen zijn gebrandmerkt door hun afgeschoren hoofden en velen ook door hun joodse uiterlijk.
    Als ’t in Holland al zo erg is, hoe zullen ze dan in de verre en barbaarse streken leven waar ze heengezonden worden? Wij nemen aan dat de meesten vermoord worden. De Engelse radio spreekt van vergassing, misschien is dat wel de vlugste sterfmethode.
    Ik ben helemaal van streek.
Classic English translation: Westerbork sounds terrible: only one washing cubicle for a hundred people and not nearly enough lavatories. There is no separate accommodation. Men, women, and children all sleep together. One hears of frightful immorality because of this; and a lot of the women, and even girls, who stay there any length of time are expecting babies.
    It is impossible to escape; most of the people in the camp are branded as inmates by their shaven heads and many also by their Jewish appearance. If it is as bad as this in Holland, whatever will it be like in the distant and barbarous regions they are sent to? We assume that most of them are murdered. The English radio speaks of their being gassed.
    Perhaps that is the quickest way to die.
I feel terribly upset.
My translation:    Westerbork sounds terrible. People get almost nothing to eat, let alone drink. There is only one hour of water a day, and one washing cubicle and one lavatory for a couple of thousand people. Men, women, and children all sleep together, and the women and children often have their hair shaved off. It is impossible to escape. The people are branded by their shaven heads and many also by their Jewish appearance.
    If it is as bad as this in Holland, however will they live in the distant and barbarous regions they are being sent to? We assume that most of them are murdered. The English radio speaks of their being gassed, maybe that is the quickest way to die.
    I feel terribly upset.

These are small but puzzling details. It's probably fair enough to finesse the original description of the sanitary facilities, which were surely bad but not yet quite as bad as the rumours Anne was hearing. The line about immorality and pregnancy in the classic text has no counterpart in the definitive text, and frankly strikes me as unlikely to be by Anne; I look forward to finding out the truth if I get the critical edition. But the most jarring change is that Anne's morbidly sardonic remark about gassing being the quickest way (horrendously ironic, given her own lingering fate in Bergen-Belsen) is disrupted by the classic text, not only into a separate sentence but actually into a separate paragraph, badly breaking up the original flow of her thoughts.

Erasing Anne's feminism

I'm nearly finished, but here's one more surprise. On 13 June 1944, the day after her last birthday, a very long entry was heavily trimmed down for the classic edition. One change, the elimination of mentions of Dussel, has already been noted. The classic edition ends the day with a remark about her period being two months late – which has actually been shifted for some reason from 3 May 1944. The definitive Dutch edition has another two and a half pages for the day (in my Dutch paper copy), one page of love for nature which really powerfully conveys he emotions at being confined to the Achterhuis, and then a page and a half of reflection on the situation on women in society, inspired by reading a book about how antiseptics saved women in childbirth (the first chapter of Men Against Death, by Paul de Kruif, about Ignaz Semmelweis). The bit about nature appears in the classic edition shunted to the following day (which has no entry in the definitive edition); the proto-feminist essay is simply omitted. It's not deep stuff, but it is interesting, and Anne hits a number of nails on the head:

Definitive edition (Dutch):    Het is aan te nemen dat de man door zijn grotere lichaamskracht van begin af aan de heerschappij over de vrouw gevoerd heeft; de man die verdient, de man die de kinderen verwekt, de man die alles mag… Het is dom genoeg van al die vrouwen geweest dat ze tot voor enkele tijd dit maar stil zo door hebben laten gaan, want hoe meer eeuwen deze regel voortleeft, hoe vaster hij ook voet vat.
My translation:    It can be assumed that men dominated women from the very beginning because of their greater physical strength; it’s men who earn a living, beget children and do anything they want… [ellipses in original] Until recently, women silently went along with this, which was stupid, since the longer it’s kept up, the more deeply entrenched it becomes.

It's amazing what you can pick up from a diet of classic literature (mainly by men) and magazines about film stars; and it's a matter for regret that these thoughts, unformed as they may be, were kept from two generations of readers.

In conclusion

Otto Frank had no experience of publishing books and was coming to terms with unspeakable events. If one judges him as a historian, he may not match perfect academic standards. But he was not trying to be a historian; he was trying to commemorate his daughter's memory by completing the work she had started and which he had always encouraged her to do; and there he clearly succeeded. Between them, the meticulously written notebooks have been transformed into something that is still pretty amazing, no matter what language you read it in. Go and check for yourself.

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What is the best-known book set in Azerbaijan?

See note on methodology

There is no competition here. Azerbaijan is at the edge of Europe, and there is one great (and fairly short) novel set there (with excusions to Dagestan and Iran) before, during and after the first world war, chronicling the love of an Azeri boy for a Georgian girl, and how it all concludes in British betrayal. (Be honest, did you know that the British had betrayed the first democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world back in 1919? You do now.) First published in German in 1937, by an author whose identity seems peculiarly elusive (though I am convinced by the argument that he was a Jewish convert to Islam, who wrote mainly in Berlin but died in Italy), it is:

Ali and Nino / Ali und Nino by "Kurban Said" (likely Lev Nussimbaum)

Only two other books really place here, and neither is wholly satisfactory on the geographical criterion. One is the biography of that Jewish convert to Islam, whose mother took tea with the young Stalin and whose grave became the punchline of a comic story by John Steinbeck, who probably wrote the previous book – obviously a major piece of detective work in itself, but at the same time largely set outside Azerbaijan as it chronicles the geographical (and other) wanderings of its subject and author. It's also a jolly good read, and I recommend it. It is:

The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss

The other book that places well, with far more owners than the first two on both LT and GR, but with the crucial disadvantage that it is mostly set in tenth century "Khazaria", which I believe does not overlap very much with Azerbaijan, though it's fairly clear that the opening chapters are indeed set in what is generally recognised as Azerbaijani territory today. First published in 2007, it is:

Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon

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Nebula novel nominees by Goodreads/LibraryThing popularity

A clear front-runner here, and a clear ranking of the others; though NB that last year’s winner was fourth of eight nominees on both GR and LT. Note also that The Goblin Emperor gets the highest average rating from those who have read it.

Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer17,8953.657453.79
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie4,4744.093264.16
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison2,7834.132524.27
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu1,5854.121473.90
Coming Home, by Jack McDevitt4023.77443.28
Trial by Fire, by Charles E. Gannon1234.00163.50
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What is the best-known book set in Sweden?

See note on methodology

This won’t take long. Think of a trilogy, published in 2005, 2006 and 2007, after the author’s death, which became a worldwide best-seller, combining kinky sex, computer hacking, and political intrigue at the highest level. Not since Harry Potter in the very first of these entries have I had a series which so completely dominated the books set in a particular country; and in contrast to Harry Potter, these three are very much set in the gritty reality of contemporary Sweden (with a certain allowance for dramatic licence). They are, of course:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Män som hatar kvinnor, by Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire / Flickan som lekte med elden, by Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest / Luftslottet som sprängdes, by Stieg Larsson

To turn to something much more wholesome, the fourth-placed book is also the first of a trilogy (I had thought there were more, but no, there were only three) for children, first published in 1945, about an eccentric and very rich nine-year-old who lives alone with her monkey and horse and is befriended by two local children. She is, of course:

Pippi Longstocking / Pippi Långstrump, by Astrid Lindgren

Nothing else really comes close.

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Links I found interesting for 20-02-2015

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Links I found interesting for 19-02-2015

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Links I found interesting for 17-02-2015

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Thursday Reading

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Tree and Leaf, by J R R Tolkien

Last books finished
Het Achterhuis, by Anne Frank
Reckless Engineering, by Nick Walters

Last week’s audios
Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, adapted by Dirk Maggs
The Night of 1000 Stars, by James Goss
The Wax Princess, by Justin Richards

Next books
Transit of Earth
The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson
Dragon’s Wrath, by Justin Richards

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My tweets

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What is the best-known book set in Hungary?

See note on methodology

There’s some room for dispute here. Once you have (again, and not for the last time) disqualified The Historian on the grounds of being set in too many countries, the top-ranked book ostensibly set in Hungary on LibraryThing is also the most tagged as “Hungary” on both LibraryThing and Goodreads. I confess I hadn’t heard of it. It is a 1942 novel about an elderly general who invites an old friend – who has reappeared after a long absence – for dinner, expressing a certain nostalgia for the old days of the Empire. This is by far its author’s best-known book. I have to say that it’s not completely clear to me that the setting, a castle near the Carpathians, is actually in present-day Hungary, and I would be grateful for enlightenment on that point. For now, I’m running with it as the winner. It is:

Embers / A gyertyák csonkig égnek, by Sándor Márai

The GoodReads rankings are very different from LT’s. Way at the top by ownership on GR, though only third on LT, and tagged “Hungary” second most often on LT and third most on GR, is a sweeping huge novel about the Holocaust, originally published in 2010. Again, I am a little uncertain about the setting – although a lot of it is clearly set in Budapest, there are also excursions to Paris and elsewhere, and I don’t know to what extent the book can truly be described as set in Hungary. It is:

The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer

Second by ownership on LT, and also on GR (once you have excluded some which are not set in Hungary) is a wonderful travel memoir of the 1930s. I fear it doesn’t qualify because not enough of it is actually set in Hungary (its sequel, which is in fact set largely in Hungary, scores a bit lower), but for the record it is:

A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Kate Seredy, who I had expected to do better, is some way down. Fatelessness by Nobel laureate Imre Kertész is mostly set in Auschwitz, which is not in Hungary. 

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My tweets

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What is the best-known book set in Portugal?

See note on methodology

There is a very clear winner here – most frequently tagged “Portugal” on both Goodreads and LibraryThing by a long way, and the “Portugal”-tagged book owned by the most users on both systems by an event wider margin, it was published in 1995 and helped win its author the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. The only reservation I have about giving it the top spot is that the setting, a city where the entire population is suddenly afflicted with the physical disability of the title, is not explicitly identified as being in Portugal. But they eat chouriço, and the sequel is apparently explicitly set in Portugal, so I’m satisfied. The novel is:

Blindness / Ensaio sobre a cegueira, by José Saramago

If you object to that not being clearly set in Portugal, I can offer you an alternative, in a clear second place (ie well ahead of the rest) on all measures. Published in 1982, 47 years after the author died aged 47, it’s a strange and fragmentary unfinished work, but one which is at least clearly based in Lisbon. It is:

The Book of Disquiet / Livro do Desassossego: Composto por Bernardo Soares, by Fernando Pessoa

Not a lot else to offer, I’m afraid; the other works of the first-named author above dominate international perceptions of Portuguese literature (even if none of the others is quite as popular as the second-named book above).

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My tweets

  • Tue, 10:20: RT @Eurostar: @nwbrux Hello Nicholas, we’re really sorry for the delays this morning – this is due to an issue on a Eurotunnel shuttle.
  • Tue, 10:45: The Tories’ Strange Facebook Strategy http://t.co/p1uJvMMsky It’s not the (huge) cost, it’s what they’re spending it on.

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