Just as Chelsea were winning the Europa League, and the Eurovision Song Contest had reached a pause between its two semi-finals (yes, there are two!), the written word had its own moment in the spotlight at a very well attended European Literature Night at the British Library.
Hosted by the excellent Rosie Goldsmith, the evening saw eight writers from across Europe discuss their work, before extracts were read by either the authors themselves or their translators. MacLehose Press was represented by Norbert Gstrein, who principally discussed his most recent work, Winters in the South.
In a wide-ranging interview, Norbert discussed the advantages of observing his native Austria from “one thousand kilometres away”, and also the curious experience of having only a small portion of his work available in English – a common occurrence amongst the assembled authors. He also commended his translators (Anthea Bell and Julian Evans), remarking that he found the English edition to be “a new book”. Julian then read from the opening to Winters in the South, describing it as “symphonic”.
The rest of the evening saw a varied programme, with the texts under discussion varying from a German literary novel centred on a mussel feast to a cultural exploration of twentieth-century Europe through the prism of the Lipizzaner horses. It was notable that several authors resisted being defined by their nationality or politics (when asked if he was Catalan or Spanish, Jordi Punto drew the biggest applause of the night by replying “I’m Jordi”), placing the emphasis on the outstanding quality of the books, rather than simply the fact that they were “translated fiction”.
All the authors were eloquent in their English, and Rosie Goldsmith orchestrated conversations that ranged from the hilarious to the sobering: many of the novels reflected to some extent on the horrors of fascism and communism, yet did so with a wonderful sense of absurdist humour. Jáchym Topol’s satire of holocaust tourism and Miha Mazzini’s romantic chronicle of a limping communist postman were particular highlights. The evening was then rounded off with a drinks reception provided by the Spanish embassy.
It’s been an exciting week for our parent company Quercus over in New York where a gathering of authors, editors, industry figures and friends met at the Italian Consulate in New York last Thursday to celebrate the launch of Quercus and its imprints in North America.
Along with Quercus co-founders Mark Smith and Wayne Davies, Jon Riley, editor-in-chief of the Quercus imprint, Christopher MacLehose, Publisher of the MacLehose Press, and Jo Fletcher, Publisher of Jo Fletcher Books were all in attendance.
Read more over on the Quercus USA blog.
English PEN have just announced the full list of recipients for their PEN Promotes and PEN Translates programmes and La Carroza de Bolívar by Colombian author Evelio Rosero is on the list for the latter.
La Carroza de Bolívar (The Bolívar Carriage or the slightly daft-sounding Bolívar’s Carnival Float) is Evelio Rosero’s most recent novel, and perhaps his most controversial. It concerns a contented gynaecologist, with two houses and an attractive wife, who decides to use the the regional carnival as a opportunity to mock the nation’s founder: Simon de Bolívar, El Libertador. But his actions are not taken kindly by his fellow citizens, who will not stand for any questioning of the founding myths. The local governor, the military and even a recently formed guerrilla unit mobilise to oppose him, and before long the doctor finds that his protest has placed him in mortal danger.
Evelio Rosero has good reason to be sceptical about the myth of El Libertador. He grew up in the city of Pasto in south Colombia, where, in December 1822, following a loyalist uprising, forces under Bolívar’s overall control looted the city for three days. Even today, almost two hundred years later, that “Black Christmas” is still remembered and mourned.
In La Carroza de Bolívar Rosero examines Bolívar’s generally spotless reputation and asks whether Colombia’s long history of violence can be attributed in part to the form of democracy he installed after the wars of independence. With all sides in the ongoing current civil conflict claiming to be his spiritual descendants, it is clear that his legacy divides the nation as much as it unites it.
Evelio Rosero was the winner of the 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Armies, a novel that was widely applauded for it’s brave portrayal of the full horrors of the civil war. In Good Offices, a much earlier novel, but only published in English in 2011, he exposed through satirical fantasia the iniquities of the the Catholic Church. With La Carroza de Bolívar, he has confirmed his reputation as a fearless sifter of truth from myth and dogma.
Man Booker International Prize finalist Marie NDiaye will be in the UK next week for the Prize Announcement Dinner on 22 May; and, apropos, she will also be taking part in her first UK literary events.
The official reading for the prize will take place at the South Bank Centre on Monday 20 May. NDiaye will be joined by fellow finalists UR Ananthamurthy (India), Lydia Davis (USA), Intizar Husain (Pakistan), Yan Lianke (China), Josip Novakovich (Canada), and Peter Stamm (Switzerland). Tickets to the reading are still available, priced at £10-£12.
And on Friday 24 May, she will take part in a reading at the Hay Festival with two fellow finalists, Lydia Davis and Intizar Husain. This is free but ticketed event. For details see the Hay Festival website. The Hay Festival winner’s event is the following day, so fingers crossed for that.
If should be stressed that if you have the slightest curiosity about the youngest finalist for the prize yet you are strongly advised to seek out tickets — it took a major shortlist to tempt her to London and she might not be back for a while! And if you have not read Three Strong Women, you are equally strongly advised to invest in the new paperback edition . . .
Best of luck to Madame Ndiaye, and indeed to all the finalists.
The shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was announced this morning, and Daša Drndić is on it. Here is the list in full:
Bundu by Chris Barnard, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns
The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean
The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson
Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia
Trieste by Daša Drndić, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać
Frank Wynne, literary translator and one this year’s judges said:
At the heart of this audacious, fractured tale, the poignant search of a mother for the son abducted as part of the Lebensborn programme shimmers liked a flawed jewel. Ellen Elias-Bursac’s luminous translation brings both pathos and veracity to the often disorienting blizzard of facts, of names and voices in Daša Drndić’s documentary novel. Sprawling, terrifying and meticulously detailed, Trieste captures the true horror and confusion of war.
Daša will be in the U.K. next week for two public readings. Details below, but do try to make one of them. Hearing her read from Trieste is a truly unforgettable experience. For now, many congratulations and best of luck to Daša. The winner will be announced on 20th May.
Tuesday 16th April
“Meet the voices of modern Croatian Literature”
18.30-20.30 @ The Nightingale Room, Keats House (library),
Keats Grove, Hampstead, London, NW3 2RR
Wednesday 17th April
“Contemporary Croatian Literature: Inside and Out”
Chaired by Josip Novakovich, and Roman Simić-Bodrožić
18:30 – 20:30 @ Europe House, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU