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Category: Books

Writer Ernesto Sabato, who led probe of crimes committed by Argentina's dictatorship, dies at 99

Sabato Writer Ernesto Sabato, who led the government's probe of crimes committed by Argentina's dictatorship, has died. He was 99.

Sabato died Saturday of complications of bronchitis at his home near Buenos Aires, his friend and collaborator Elvira Gonzalez Fraga told Radio Mitre.

He was a widely admired intellectual and author of works such as "On Heroes and Tombs" when President Raul Alfonsin asked him to lead an investigation into crimes committed under the soldiers who led Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

Sabato called his work of helping to document the murders, tortures and illegal arrests committed by a regime he had initially supported a "descent into hell." The commission's report, "Never Again," served as the basis for prosecuting key figures in the dictatorship after the return to civilian rule.

Official and independent agencies estimate that 12,000 to 30,000 people were killed by government forces seeking to wipe out leftists.

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Owen Laster, literary agent for Gore Vidal, James Michener, Judy Blume and others, dies at 72

Owen Laster, a literary agent and executive of old-fashioned self-effacement and intregity whose many clients included Judy Blume, Gore Vidal and the estate of Margaret Mitchell, died Wednesday in New York. He was 72.

Laster, who retired in 2006, died in his Manhattan apartment after a brief illness, said his friend and attorney Richard Snider.

In a career that lasted more than 40 years, Laster represented such authors as Ralph Ellison, Robert Penn Warren and Susan Isaacs. Among his more notable projects were the authorized sequel to Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind," Alexandra Ripley's million-selling "Scarlett," and the posthumous release of Ellison's "Juneteenth," the novel Ellison spent decades trying to complete after receiving high acclaim for his debut, "Invisible Man."

Gerald Howard, an editor at Doubleday, said Laster "was always honest, straightforward and unfailingly pleasant -- a true gentleman of the old school. And he takes a whole lot of publishing history with him into the great beyond."

After stepping down from William Morris, where he had served as head of worldwide literary operations, Laster said he had become less "enamored" with the business because profit had become more important than quality, even if he was among the enriched.

"The dollars have changed -- I retired a much wealthier man than I would have under the old system," he said in an interview with the Editorial Department, an industry consulting firm. "James Michener, when I became his agent, was doing $600,000, $700,000 a year. Now it would be more like $10 million. I have to say, I went with it, I benefited from it, my big authors were huge, the hits were megahits."

Some successes were unexpected. Laster recalled taking on "The 25th Hour," a debut novel by David Benioff. Unable to interest a large publisher, Laster sold it to Carroll & Graf for $7,500. But he and Benioff made far more. The book was adapted into a Spike Lee film and the paperback rights went for $500,000.

"Thirty publishers had turned it down," Laster said.

Laster, a graduate of Syracuse University, was not married and had no children, Snider said.

-- Associated Press

Hisaye Yamamoto, pioneering Japanese American writer, dead at 89

Hisaye Hisaye Yamamoto, a master of the short story whose most moving work delves into the psyches of Japanese Americans who lived through the World War II years, died in Los Angeles on Jan. 30 at age 89.  

In this excerpt from one of her most admired stories, "Seventeen Syllables," Rosie, the teenage daughter of a Japanese immigrant farmer and his poetry-writing wife, has just witnessed her father's violent reaction to her mother's first-place prize in a haiku contest -- he smashes the prize with an ax, douses it with kerosene and burns it:

 Rosie ran past him and toward the house. What had become of her mother? She burst into the parlor and found her mother at the back window watching the dying fire. They watched together until there remained only a feeble smoke under the blazing sun. Her mother was very calm.

"Do you know why I married your father?" she said without turning.

"No," said Rosie. It was the most frightening question she had ever been called upon to answer. Don't tell me now, she wanted to say, tell me tomorrow, tell me next week, don't tell me today. But she knew she would be told now, that the telling would combine with the other violence of the hot afternoon to level her life, her world to the very ground.

It was like a story out of the magazines illustrated in sepia, which she had consumed so greedily for a period until the information had somehow reached her that those wretchedly unhappy autobiographies, offered to her as the testimonials of living men and women, were largely inventions: Her mother, at nineteen, had come to America and married her father as an alternative to suicide.

Read more about Yamamoto's life: "Hisaye Yamamoto dies at 89; writer of Japanese American stories."

-- Elaine Woo 

Photo: Hisaye Yamamoto in 2007. Credit: Mario G. Reyes / Rafu Shimpo

'Redwall' author Brian Jacques dies at 71

Brian Jacques, author of the bestselling "Redwall" adventure books for children, has died in England. He was 71.

Jacques died Saturday in a hospital where he was being treated for an aneurism on his aorta, the Liverpool Echo newspaper reported.

Jacques (pronounced Jakes) was a milk delivery man when he wrote the first Redwall story for children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool, one of the stops on his route. The book's hero was a timid mouse named Matthias who found the courage to protect his home, Redwall Abbey.

"I wanted to write something visual that I could read to the children," Jacques said in an interview published on the website of publisher Random House.

"This was when I created the idea of Redwall Abbey in my imagination. As I wrote, the idea grew, and the manuscript along with it."

After his former English teacher, Alan Durband, showed the story to a publisher, the first of the 21 Redwall books appeared in 1986.

He said he chose animals as his characters because they were more popular with his target audience, kids aged 9 to 15. His inspirations included the books he read as a child, such as Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows," H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines" and the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey."

"A dirty rat, a sly fox, a slippery snake, an heroic mouse, a homely mouse, a friendly badger … these are all prevalent in the folk tales of Europe and they suit the medieval setting well," Jacques said.

Born in Liverpool, Jacques left school at 15 to become a merchant seaman. Later he became a locomotive fireman, longshoreman, police officer, standup comedian, postmaster, and bus and truck driver. He also sang in a folk group, the Liverpool Fishermen, with his two brothers, and was a broadcaster for BBC's Radio Merseyside.

Jacques is survived by his wife, Maureen, and their two sons.

-- Associated Press


British author Dick King-Smith, whose children's book was basis of 1995 movie 'Babe,' dies at 88

British children's author Dick King-Smith, whose novel "The Sheep-Pig" inspired the hit Hollywood movie "Babe," has died in England. He was 88.

His publisher, Random House Children's Books, says the writer died in his sleep early Tuesday morning at his home near Bath, about 100 miles west of London, after suffering from poor health in recent years.

King-Smith was honored by Queen Elizabeth II when he received an OBE last year for his services to children's literature.

The writer worked for 20 years as a farmer before he trained as a primary school teacher. In his 50s, he began to write his first story, "The Fox Busters," about chickens taking their revenge on foxes.

He had since published over 100 books, selling more than 15 million copies worldwide.

-- Associated Press

E. Gene Smith, collector of Tibetan texts, dies at 74

Ellis Gene Smith, who is believed to have compiled the largest collection of Tibetan books outside of Tibet, has died in New York. He was 74.

Smith died Dec. 16 at his Manhattan home, the New York Times reported. Jeff Wallman, executive director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in New York, said Smith had had diabetes and heart trouble in recent years.

Smith and a small group of friends founded the center in 1999. It holds nearly 25,000 books dating from the 12th century, including many of the seminal texts of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as secular works on a range of topics.

Smith was a scholar who became so interested in Tibetan culture that he converted to Buddhism as a young man and began acquiring the books. He was known for his vast knowledge of Tibetan literature and his passion for saving it.

His effort saved the books from isolation and destruction and made them accessible to scholars and Tibetan exiles around the world.

Tibetan is one of four great languages in which the Buddhist canon was preserved, said David Germano, a professor of Tibetan studies at the University of Virginia.

"In addition to the scriptural canon," he said, "there were histories, stories, autobiography, poetry, ritual writing, narrative, epics — pretty much any kind of literary output you could imagine."

The canon was threatened after China invaded and occupied Tibet in the 1950s. Refugees who fled smuggled some books out, but the Chinese destroyed many others.

"With the close of the Cultural Revolution, you essentially lost much of the Tibetan Buddhist literature," Germano said. "It was lost to the war; it was lost to the destruction of the monasteries, libraries and collections of books in Tibet that were systematically sought out and burned during the Cultural Revolution."

The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center has started to digitize its collection and make the texts available over the Internet.

"The idea is to deliver the tradition back to the owners of the traditions," Smith told the Buddhist magazine Mandala in 2001.

Smith was born Aug. 10, 1936, to a Mormon family that traced its lineage to Hyrum Smith, the elder brother of Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith.

After attending several colleges, he stayed at the University of Washington, where he studied Mongolian and Turkish and earned a bachelor's degree in Far Eastern studies in 1959.

As Smith began working on a doctorate degree, he started studying Tibetan with a visiting lama, Deshung Rinpoche, but was limited because of the lack of available texts.

"We had no Tibetan books," Smith told The New York Times in 2002. "Deshung said: 'Go and find them. Find the important books and get them published.'"

It became Smith's mission.

"Without his vision, many of us in the field would not be doing what we're doing," said Leonard van der Kuijp, a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Harvard.

Smith is survived by three sisters, Rosanne Smith, Carma Wood and LaVaun Ficklin.

-- Associated Press

Denis Dutton, who founded Arts & Letters Daily, dies at 66

Denis Dutton, an author, academic and founder of the popular Arts & Letters Daily website, died Tuesday in New Zealand, his family said. He was 66.

Dutton, a professor of philosophy at New Zealand's Canterbury University, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer but continued working until his health deteriorated rapidly a week ago, said his son, Ben.

Dutton was widely known for his Arts & Letters Daily, a groundbreaking early aggregator featuring links to commentary on arts, literature and events.

He established the website in 1998 and continued as editor after selling it to the U.S.-based Chronicle of Higher Education the next year. London's Guardian newspaper described it in 1999 as "the best website in the world."

Born in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 1944, Dutton was educated at UC Santa Barbara.

His recent work focused on Darwinian applications in aesthetics, explored in his best-selling book "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution" in 2009, which he described as a study of art as a product of evolution.

"Whenever you have a pleasure, whether it's a pleasure of sweet and fat or the pleasure of sex or the pleasure of playing with your children, or being in love, that does suggest that there is some kind of Darwinian adaptation that underlies the phenomenon," he said last year in an interview with Radio New Zealand's National Radio.

While at the University of Michigan in 1976, he founded the academic journal "Philosophy and Literature," later taken over by Johns Hopkins University Press.

He became professor of philosophy at New Zealand's Canterbury University in 1984. It was from there that he launched Arts & Letters Daily.

Survivors include his wife, Margit; two children, Sonia and Ben; and brothers Doug and Dave.

We'll have more later at

-- Associated Press

Elaine Kaufman, whose Manhattan restaurant was haven to literary and entertainment figures, dies at 81


Restaurateur Elaine Kaufman, whose Manhattan establishment, Elaine's, has long been known as a haven for show business and literary notables, has died in New York City. She was 81.

A statement issued by the restaurant's representative said Kaufman died Friday at a Manhattan hospital. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension.

More later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Elaine Kaufman at her restaurant in 2004. Credit: Joe Tabacca / For The Times

Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina dies at 73


Bella Akhmadulina, 73, a poet whose verses have been described as among the best in contemporary Russian literature, died Monday at her home in Peredelkino near Moscow. Her husband, Boris Meserer, told the ITAR-Tass news agency that she died from a heart condition.

Akhmadulina published her first poems in 1955 and quickly won nationwide popularity. Her poetry was praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor. Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Brodsky once described her verses as a "treasure of Russian poetry" and placed her above other poets of her generation.

In the 1960s, Akhmadulina and other poets drew large audiences striving for intellectual freedom. Her books of poems included "The String," "Fever," "The Candle," "Dreams of Georgia," "The Secret" and many others.

Akhmadulina often challenged Soviet authorities by defending poets, writers and others who were facing official persecution. She took part in the Metropol literary almanac that was published abroad in 1979 and angered the Soviet government. She published an open letter in support of dissident physicist and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Andrei Sakharov when the Soviet government sent him into exile internally.

Akhmadulina's first husband, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, also a prominent Russian poet, said on Rossiya 24 television that she was an example of "civic nobleness." "She fearlessly defended all those who were in trouble," he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered their condolences. In his blog, Medvedev said that Akhmadulina's death was an "irreparable loss" and described her poetry as "classic of Russian literature."

-- Associated Press

Photo: Bella Akhmadulina with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1997. Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Waldo Hunt

Pop-up-guru Pop-up cards and books became a modern mainstream hit because of the passion for paper art that possessed Waldo Hunt, an entrepreneur and movable-book collector who spent much of his career in Los Angeles. Hunt died one year ago in Porterville, Calif., at age 88.

Hunt ushered in the modern renaissance in pop-up books when he revived the art form in the U.S. in the 1960s with his firms Graphics International, which was eventually bought by Hallmark and Intervisual Books.

For decades, his team of master paper engineers dominated the market for pop-up, boasting large clients such as Random House and Disney.

In addition to his career, Hunt also amassed at least 4,000 antique and contemporary movable-book titles. He gave about 500 antique pop-ups to UCLA before deciding to showcase them in the Waldo Hunt Children's Museum, opened in 1994 within his Santa Monica offices.

"Wally was a truly gregarious guru," said paper engineer David A. Carter, who worked for Hunt for seven years."He was very, very popular in the European markets. He would get up there and be singing songs. His personality is what really drove it. He was a walking party, and he took care of business too."

For more on the pop-up guru, read Waldo Hunt's obituary by The Times.

Photo: Waldo Hunt displays some of his company's pop-up ads in 1986. Credit: Associated Press

Theodore Sorensen and ‘Profiles in Courage'

Sorensen Theodore Sorensen, John F. Kennedy's close advisor and speechwriter in the Senate and the White House who died Sunday at age 82, was the subject of speculation over who actually wrote Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1956 bestseller "Profiles in Courage."

In examining the available evidence for his 1980 book "Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy" — and "augmented by those who were intimately associated with the project" — Herbert S. Parmet concluded that Kennedy "served principally as an overseer or, more charitably, as a sponsor and editor" of "Profiles In Courage," while "the research, tentative drafts and organizational planning were left to committee labor."

But, Parmet wrote, "the burdens of time and literary craftsmanship were clearly Sorensen's, and he gave the book both the drama and flow that made for readability."

--Dennis McLellan

Photo: President Kennedy and Theodore Sorensen in undated photo. Credit: AP Photo/John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

Dutch author Harry Mulisch dies at 83

Harry Mulisch
Harry Mulisch, the Dutch author best known for his novels “The Discovery of Heaven” and “The Assault,” which became an Oscar-winning film, has died. He was 83.

His publisher said Mulisch died Saturday at his home in Amsterdam, where he had lived since 1958. He had cancer.

“With his death, the Netherlands loses one of its greatest literary sons,” said Robbert Ammerlaan, director of noted Dutch publishing company De Bezige Bij, in a statement Sunday. “Harry Mulisch leaves behind a peerless and unparalleled oeuvre.”

Born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, on July 29, 1927, to an Austrian-Hungarian father and a Jewish mother from Antwerp, Mulisch’s own life came to reflect the turbulent 1930s and war-torn '40s.

“I didn’t so much experience the war,” he once wrote. “I am the Second World War.”

His father, Karl, an army officer, had emigrated after Austria-Hungary was defeated in World War I. After Karl’s marriage to Alice Schwarz ended in divorce in 1936, Harry stayed with his father and was raised mostly by the family housekeeper. He grew up during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

During the war, Karl Mulisch worked at a bank that handled confiscated Jewish assets. His connections helped protect his son and ex-wife from being deported to Nazi concentration camps. After liberation, he was sent to an internment camp for three years for having collaborated with the occupying power.

For his son, the war became a recurring theme in novels, from “Het Stenen Bruidsbed” (“The Stone Bridal Bed”) in 1959 to “De Aanslag” (“The Assault”) in 1982 and “Siegfried” in 2001.

“De Aanslag” describes the coming of age of Anton Steenwijk, a boy whose family was killed by the Germans in retaliation for the murder of a collaborator. The sole survivor, Anton later tries to piece together what happened that fateful day. Translated into more than 20 languages, the book was made into a Dutch film that won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best foreign-language movie.

Mulisch published what was considered his greatest work, “De Ontdekking van de Hemel” (“The Discovery of Heaven”), in 1992. Bringing together mystical, biblical and historical themes, the plot pivots on how humanity has disappointed God, who now wants to withdraw his contract with man as set out in the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Mulisch receivedseveral awards, including the P.C. Hooft Prize in 1977 and the Dutch Literature Prize in 1995. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam, which he considered his crowning achievement -- “at least, as long as I haven’t received a Nobel Prize yet,” he was quoted as saying.

-- Bloomberg

Photo: Harry Mulisch in October 2008. Credit: Robin Utrecht / EPA


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