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All stories relating to controversy

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Book links roundup: Barbara Gowdy named Guggenheim fellow, Nigella Lawson’s online literary controversy, and more

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Canada Reads day three: On a Cold Road is frozen out, more protests

Canada Reads author Dave Bidini performs with the BidiniBand at the Toronto Reference Library (Photo: Tanja-Tiziana Burdi)

Dave Bidini’s rock memoir, On a Cold Road, is the latest title to be voted off CBC’s Canada Reads.

Although the book was overshadowed all week by discussion about the other four titles, On a Cold Road’s demise was met with an emotional response. During a post-show Q&A, celebrity defender Stacey McKenzie broke down while reading a passage from the book in which Bidini’s hardworking band, the Rheostatics, fulfills a dream of performing at Maple Leaf Gardens.

While the panelists were on their best behaviour today, this morning Q&Q received a press release from Gabriel Fritzen, a German-Canadian who is demanding an apology from panelist Anne-France Goldwater and the CBC for “libelling survivors of Iran’s holocaust,” after Goldwater suggested on Monday’s show that Marina Nemat’s memoir, The Prisoner of Tehran, was not a truthful account of her experiences in an Iranian prison.

Fritzen, who lives near the Bergen-Belsen concentration camps in Northern Germany, is supporting Nemat by inviting a group of high school students and teaching staff from Aurora, Ontario, to attend a live taping of Canada Reads at his expense, and by attending the event himself carrying a poster of Nemat. “I owe it to the memory of those who were brutally murdered an hour’s drive from my home to show tangible support to the victims of the ongoing holocaust in Iran like Ms. Nemat,” Fritzen writes.

Tomorrow is the final day of what has become the most controversial edition of Canada Reads, which has been airing annually since 2002. Actor Alan Thicke will play defense for Ken Dryden’s The Game against hip-hop artist Shad, who is representing Carmen Aguirre’s Something Fierce.

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$10,000 Alberta prize now open to books published out of province

Organizers of the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award, now in its third year, have taken steps to quiet a muted strain of controversy that has attached itself to the prize since its inception.

The $10,000 award, organized by the Edmonton Public Library and voted on by Alberta readers, had until now been open to all books published in Alberta, regardless of the author’s origin or city of residence. But Alberta authors who happened to be published outside the province – someone like, say, Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Lynn Coady, who lives in Edmonton but is published by Toronto-based House of Anansi Press – would be ineligible for the award.

That is all going to change this year, judging by new criteria posted to the EPL website:

This year, works of fiction and narrative non-fiction (i.e., first edition full-length novels, short story collections or books of poetry) will be accepted by any author who has been a resident of Alberta for a minimum of 12 consecutive months immediately prior to the publication of the submitted work, and who currently resides in Alberta, no matter where the book was published. The change makes this truly an Alberta award and recognizes the exceptional writing talent in our province while encouraging readers to support Alberta authors.

As it turns out, both of the prize’s prior winners – Helen Waldstein Wilkes’ memoir Letters from the Lost (AU Press) and Michael Davie’s novel Fishing for Bacon (NeWest Press) – are by authors currently residing in B.C.


Ling Zhang responds to accusations of plagiarism

This week, the controversy dogging Chinese-Canadian author Ling Zhang’s second novel, Gold Mountain Blues, flared up again as prominent Chinese-Canadian authors Wayson Choy, Sky Lee, and Paul Yee signed a letter asking Penguin Canada to delay publication of its English-language translation of the book. Zhang has been accused of plagiarizing work by Choy, Lee, and Yee, as well as other well-known Chinese-Canadian writers. In their request, the trio criticize Penguin’s efforts to substantiate the accusations and they’ve asked for the delay so that an independent review might take place. (For more details on the controversy please follow the links to previous posts on Quillblog.)

In response, Zhang has issued a statement in which she claims not to have read the works from which she has allegedly borrowed, and expresses her disappointment at the recent turn of events:

Gold Mountain Blues is the result of years of research and several field trips to China and Western Canada. The research data obtained over the years is voluminous enough to allow me to write another complete novel if I chose to. A hundred and fifty years of Chinese-Canadian history is a “common wealth” for all of us to share and discover. I have not read The Jade Peony, Disappearing Moon Café, The Bone Collector’s Son, or Tales from Gold Mountain. I have a great respect for the authors who have already explored this rich territory before me: Wayson Choy, Denise Chong, Paul Yee, and Sky Lee.  I welcome and encourage authors interested in Chinese-Canadian history to do the same. When I started to write this book, I hoped it would serve to bring the Chinese-Canadian community a little more closely together, by sharing such a long and meaningful history.  I am deeply saddened to see that things do not seem to be going in that direction.

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Daily links round-up: Free Kindles, James Frey, and more

Sundry links from around the Web:

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Chinese novel alleged to have stolen from Canada’s “literary elite”

The “Great Chinese Canadian Literary Feud” is now underway, according to a Toronto Star story by Bill Schiller. The author at the centre of the supposed controversy is Toronto’s Zhang Ling, whose previous novel, Aftershock, became a surprise bestseller in China when a film version was released there last summer.

For her latest novel, Gold Mountain Blues, Zhang is accused of stealing from a diverse group of Chinese-Canadian authors, including Denise Chong, Wayson Choy, Sky Lee, and Paul Yee. An English translation of the novel was due to appear with Penguin Canada by early 2012, but according to the Star, it has been put “in limbo until [Penguin] is satisfied that the author hasn’t been poaching from the works of Canada’s Chinese Canadian literary elite.”

It’s a damning accusation, but the case against Zhang is anything but cut and dried. The accusations of plagiarism appear to stem from an online smear campaign led by an anonymous blogger known as Changjiang. When the Star tracked down and questioned the man supposedly behind the posts, one Robert Luo, he “grew alarmed and then hung up.” Another of Zhang’s attackers, Cheng Xingbang, also refused an interview.

Meanwhile, Penguin has not said it is delaying publication of Gold Mountain Blues, only that it is waiting for the English translation to be complete before making an internal decision about how to handle the accusations. And two of the supposed victims of plagiarism contacted by the Star – Sky Lee and Denise Chong – were equally in the dark, as neither reads Chinese. As the Star reports, Chong, who is also published by Penguin, is hesitant to weigh in on the controversy:

Changjiang’s website accuses Zhang of borrowing the key character of Chong’s [1994 memoir, The Concubine’s Children] – her grandmother May-ying, the hard-drinking, smoking, gambling “concubine” of the title — then fashioning it into a character in Gold Mountain Blues.

Chong says that without a translation she can’t really comment.

But she did send an email to alert her agent once the controversy hit the Chinese blogosphere.

Reached in Montreal, reclusive Canadian writer Sky Lee, author of the groundbreaking novel Disappearing Moon Café (1990), an instant classic, admits she was “shocked and dismayed” when she first heard from a friend in British Columbia that someone might be poaching her work.

But then she realized that she couldn’t really evaluate the allegations first-hand. She doesn’t read Chinese either.

So she farmed it out to her trusted friend, Jennifer Jay, a historian at the University of Alberta who is fluent in Chinese, who spent a day reading an online version of Gold Mountain Blues.

Jay was careful in a telephone interview, saying she was not an expert, noting she had had limited reading time and, while intimately familiar with Disappearing Moon Café, she had not read it for a while. But she said Gold Mountain Blues did make her feel “alarm.”

“I’m not ready to say this author is a plagiarist,” she says. “At this point I’m saying it’s ‘problematic.’ ”

At the same time, says Jay, she has “a lot of sympathy” for Zhang.

“It must be a nightmare for the author to be going through this if she’s innocent,” she says.


Reviews sabotaged on Amazon U.K.

The U.K.’s Daily Mail (via MobyLives) reports authors and publishers who are accusing each other of skewing Amazon star ratings by creating fake reader reviews:

[PR firms] provide favourable reviews of new books, at a price. Nathan Barker, of Reputation 24/7, offers a service starting at £5,000. He said: “First we set up accounts. For a romance novel we’d pick seven female profiles and three males. We’d say we like this book but add a tiny bit of criticism and compare it to another book.” Mr Barker claims this is common practice among publishers.

The article goes on to describe hostile reviews received by authors Polly Samson and Rosie Alison.

One [review] compares Miss Alison’s writing to Mills and Boon novels, while another claims she “has no feel for fiction at all, no sense of what makes a plot tick along, no flair for language.” Another implies that the author’s success is connected to her marriage to Tim Waterstone, founder of the chain of High Street bookshops.

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Jacob Scheier’s first rule of awards controversies: don’t talk about awards controversies

Governor General’s Literary Award–winning poet Jacob Scheier has weighed in on the Ali Smith/Giller Prize controversy on Now Magazine‘s website. As you may recall, Scheier himself was at the centre of an awards scandal after winning the GG in 2008, when it was discovered that jurors Di Brandt and Pier Giorgio Di Cicco had clear ties to both him and his collection, More to Keep Us Warm.

I [want] to draw a significant parallel between that controversy and this year’s Giller uproar, a parallel that holds true for many, if not every, literary award controversy.

What happens in these ‘controversies’ is the mainstream media jumps on conflict, regardless of the facts (or lack thereof), and stamps the words  ‘scandal’ in a big bold writing. They use these words, of course, to get us to read about it. If they could, with any legitimacy, add the word ‘sex’ to the headline, they would.

But I don’t blame media outlets for that. I blame the fiction writers and poets, the ones who fuel these dust-ups, by writing their speculations on their blogs and Facebook pages for the media to pick up.


I would urge all writers when they hear the siren sizzle of juicy gossip to stay off Facebook and blogs, and, if you have to, put that gossip where it belongs: into a good story.

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Two views of Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize–winning author of The God of Small Things, has been in the news recently for her outspoken comments about Kashmiri secession from India. Last week, rumours began circulating that the author might be charged with sedition for a speech in which she said, in part, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.”

Although the Indian government appears to have backed away from charging Roy with sedition, on Sunday a mob gathered at the author’s Delhi home to demand she retract her statements. From the Guardian:

Around 150 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s women’s organisation surrounded the house chanting slogans such as: “Take back your statement, else leave India.” The BJP is fiercely opposed to Kashmiri independence.

Although Roy has received support from left-leaning commentators at the Guardian and on other websites (notably that of fellow author Hari Kunzru), Leo Mirani, also writing in the Guardian, feels the author’s overheated rhetoric has made her statements “irrelevant in Indian public discourse.” Mirani writes:

Who would want to live in Arundhati Roy’s India? Who would even want to read about Arundhati Roy’s India? The government of India has many faults, but even Roy has to admit that living in this country isn’t entirely intolerable. Confronted with the relentlessly bleak picture she paints, one in which the only good guys are murderers and mercenaries, who can blame middle India for retreating into their iPods and tabloid newspapers?

Roy has important things to say, but her tone and bluster ensure the only people listening are those who already agree with her. She is preaching to the converted. To the left-leaning publications of the west, she is an articulate, intelligent voice explaining the problems with 21st-century India. For the university lefties in India, she confirms their worst fears of a nation falling apart. But to any intelligent readers who may be sitting on the fence or for anyone from middle-class India taking their first tentative steps towards greater political involvement, her polemic serves to terrify and alienate.

Clearly, the 150 people who stormed Roy’s house on Sunday don’t feel that her statements are irrelevant. As for Roy herself, she has issued a press release in which she insinuates possible collusion between the protestors and the media (TV vans had appeared in the neighbourhood prior to the demonstrators descending upon her house):

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

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Daily book biz round-up: Rohinton Mistry controversy; Twain is #1; and more

Today’s book news:

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Hall of Honourers

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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