You can’t help timing! It was a bit of an unfortunate night to be launching two books from the intrepid Dutch publisher of ‘voices from around the globe’ World Editions. It was on Tuesday 15th January, the night that the Parliament voted resoundingly against Theresa May’s Brexit agreement. Political reality intruded in garish technicolour upon our soft-spoken little gathering of international people, all curious about each other’s cultures.
The occasion was the forthcoming launch of two books by two multilingual, multitalented authors. But it was also a great opportunity for me to meet the publisher and talk about their commitment to world literature, how keen they are to get more women translated and why they have (sadly) had to lose the rounded corners of their first few books to appear in English (booksellers did not like stocking them, apparently, and some readers found them too childish).
I’ve read Franco-British author Tatiana de Rosnay for years, while living in France. In fact, she was the programme director of the Morges Literary Festival one year. Of Russian descent, having spent her childhood in Boston (and therefore speaking with an American accent), she has been living in France and publishing in both English and French for many years. She is perhaps best known for the novel Sarah’s Key, which has also been adapted for the screen, starring Kristin Scott Thomas. I personally loved her book Manderley Forever, about Daphne du Maurier and her most famous novel. Her latest novel The Rain Watcher is about a family reunion in Paris just as the Seine bursts its banks. Needless to say, it’s not just the river overflowing, but also a lot of unspoken family fears and resentments.
I was very excited to hear that Tatiana is now attempting to write a novel in both English and French simultaneously. This is partly because she has never been 100% satisfied with any of the translations of her work (the curse of the bilinguals!), so she has decided to experiment and see how her voice is different yet still recognisably her own in two languages. I can’t wait to read and compare that!
The second author was Pierre Jarawan, of Lebanese and German descent, who grew up in Germany (and is fluent in English). His novel The Storyteller (Am Ende bleiben die Zedern in German) is not autobiographical, but it has been interpreted as such, since it is the story of Samir, who leaves his adopted country Germany to find out about his father’s hidden past in Beirut. It certainly makes for topical reading in the light of the ongoing refugee crisis and international tensions across Europe and the Middle East.
Pierre said he deliberately wanted to bring the Arabic style of storytelling into this book and recreate the atmosphere of a country and a city. I was also fascinated to discover that Pierre is a renowned SLAM poet in Germany. SLAM poetry is hugely popular there, and quite different from the performance poetry that I’ve seen in the UK. It’s more similar to stand-up comedy, but with an underlying earnest or lyrical layer. For those who understand German, here is a recording of his Poetry Slam Final from 2012.
I also have my eyes on at least two more titles from their list for the first half of 2019: Mia Couto’s Woman of the Ashes, historical fiction set in Mozambique, and Paolo Maurensig’s A Devil Comes to Town, with the irresistible blurb:
Everyone’s a writer in Dichtersruhe. The residents have one thing on their mind: Literature. So when the devil turns up claiming to be a hot-shot publisher, unsatisfied authorial desires are unleashed and the village’s former harmony is shattered.