The fifth talk of the BookBlast® 10×10 tour, a nationwide celebration of independent publishing, features Peirene Press which focuses on European & World Literature, much of it in translation. It was founded in 2008 by Meike Ziervogel who is both a novelist and a publisher. She grew up in northern Germany and lives in North London. In 2012 Meike was voted as one of Britain’s 100 most innovative and influential people in the creative and media industries by the “Time Out and Hospital Club 100 list”. Meike is the author of four novels, all published by Salt. Her alter ego, “The Nymph” regularly writes about The Pain & Passion of a Small Publisher for Peirene online and is a must-read blog.
On Thurs 4 Oct., @BrightonWstonesMeike will lead a discussion with translators Jamie Bulloch and Nashwa Gowanloch, with as its theme: Inside Out: Voices of the Diaspora.
Book extract: Shatila Stories, translated from the Arabic by Nashwa Gowanlock, with photographs by Paul Romans, is a piece of collaborative fiction unlike any other. If you want to understand the chaos of the Middle East, or you just want to follow the course of a beautiful love story, then this book is for you. Nine Syrian and Palestinian refugees took part in a creative writing workshop run by Peirene in 2017 in the Shatila refugee camp which was made infamous by the 1982 massacre. Founded in 1949 for 3,000 Palestinians the camp now houses up to 40,000 refugees following the Syrian crisis. The workshop participants were commissioned to create a piece of collaborative literature. The group consists of six women and three men between the ages of 20 and 43.
Meet the translator in person on Thurs 4 Oct. @nashwagowanlock
“Chaos everywhere. Thundering sounds rip through my ears. I blink and blink again. I take snapshots with my eyes. Racing feet, dragging feet; old people, young people; cars of different colours, of different shapes; grey sky, swaying trees. Hundreds, thousands are waiting at the closed gate, paperwork in hand, hoping to pass through. They want to cross the border. A scene worthy of the Day of Reckoning. Worry and fear are paramount. A pallor has settled across everyone’s face, no matter how dark or fair their complexion. Desperate eyes.
“I bid farewell to the country that I have lived in since my very first day. We are leaving for a safer place. We are on our way from Damascus to Beirut.
“The confusion around me helps to dispel anxious thoughts about the future. I distract myself by contemplating my reflection in the car window. The mirror image shows a young woman with large, tired eyes. She wears a brown scarf and a brown coat. My gaze travels down to her feet. The red winter boots look out of place considering the circumstances.
“And so our journey begins. First to the Hermel border region, an agricultural area surrounded by mountains, with the River Asi running through it.
“Afterwards all I will remember is the small white car we leave in and how we have to squeeze into the back seat, sitting on our hands because there is no room for our arms. I’m next to my younger brother, Adam. Next to Adam sit our parents. Marwan, my husband, is in the passenger seat beside the driver, who tries to deal with his fear by cracking jokes that no one pays any attention to. He has a black beard, wears glasses and uses a white rag to wipe the windscreen, which is fogging up from our breath. Eventually I can free my hands and I drape Marwan’s black jacket around me, hoping it will form a barrier between my ears and the pounding of my heart.
“Scenes of shooting and shouting and panic and fear and blood flicker through my mind, like watching an old television set connected to a faulty aerial. Yet I manage to fall asleep, and as I drift off I suddenly feel pleased that I’m able to do just that – close my eyes and succumb to oblivion. But soon I’m stirred again by the sound of a frightened dog. Every now and then, I hear the melodic call of a cricket trying to attract a mate. Then once more the night wraps me up in a black blanket.”
Book extract: The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. Ricarda Huch, (1864-1947), was an historian, novelist and philosopher who also wrote novels, poems and a play. She won from Thomas Mann the title ‘The First Lady of Germany’ – and even had an asteroid named in her honour. She stood up to the Nazis, was the first woman to receive the Goethe Prize, and to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts.
The Last Summer may be a novel of letters from the last century, but it has an astonishingly modern feel. Now for the first time in English. Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. To counter student unrest, the governor of St Petersburg closes the state university. Soon afterwards he arrives at his summer residence with his family and receives a death threat. His worried wife employs a young bodyguard, Lju, to protect her husband. Little does she know that Lju sides with the students – and the students are plotting an assassination. There are disturbing parallels with what is going on now, as ruling liberal elites tumble to be replaced by a new form of right-wing, anti-intellectual populism. A century on, Mrs von Rasimkara’s words resonate: “Fear is the worst. I think that fear has unnerved me so much that I can no longer take pleasure in anything, nor can I even summon any from myself. I am permanently afraid, day and night, even when I’m asleep.”
Meet the translator in person on Thurs 4 Oct. @jamiebulloch
“My stay here is fascinating from a psychological viewpoint. The family has all the virtues and defects of its class. Perhaps one cannot even talk of defects; they merely have the one: belonging to an era that must pass and standing in the way of one that is emerging. When a beautiful old tree has to be felled to make way for a railway line, it’s painful to watch; you stand beside it like an old friend, gazing admiringly and in grief until it comes down. It is undeniably a shame about the governor, who is a splendid example of his kind, but I believe that he has already passed his peak. If only he could realize this and resign from his position, or if he did it to avoid imperiling his life, nobody would welcome this more heartily than I. But he is too proud; he believes that only those who work and achieve something have a right to live. He cannot conceive of a life without work, which is why he wants to work and why he believes that if he does what the doctors advise, he will gradually recover his former strength. Recently he fell asleep while sitting at his desk, allowing me to observe him undisturbed. Without those handsome, dark and passionate eyes of his animating it, his face seemed terribly limp and exhausted, although this could not erase the impression of mature virility he gives overall. When he awoke he immediately sat up straight, cast a rapid glance at me and was visibly heartened by the fact that I appeared to have noticed nothing. It is typical of him that he is loath to admit to being tired or sleepy. So he finds it most agreeable that I can relieve him of the small amount of work he is doing during the holiday, or at least mitigate the burden. He tells me this, but he would not like anyone to think that he’s too weary to undertake the work on his own; indeed, merely to think it would make him unhappy.
“As often with people who in office are regarded as strict and merciless, he is affable in company, infinitely good-natured even, when he encounters affectionate compliance and submission. Insubordination leaves him speechless, as the only thing he feels intuitively is his own will, and he is naive enough to assume that it must be just as authoritative for others. To me he seems like a beautiful and loyal, if a little careless, sun, assiduously sustaining its world. He rises, shines and warms with all his might, harbouring no doubt that the planets fulfil their mission by orbiting him throughout their life. Essentially he doesn’t believe in the existence of comets and anomalies, unless they are from within him; I could imagine that the actual desertion of a satellite would send him mad rather than make him angry. In general, his children do as they please, although in theory they refrain from infringing upon his authority, for they are his own children and he is a man of strong instincts, and ultimately he likes his comforts, which is compatible with his industriousness; at home he wants to be at ease.
“Velya is a charming young man, although he is out of place here. He has the soul of a Neapolitan fishing boy or a princely favourite, wearing attractive clothes, coming out with striking, bold utterances and drawing little distinction between dreams and real life. The two daughters are not so like twins as I’d first imagined, not even in appearance. Both are on the shorter side, and have masses of blonde hair above their dainty faces. They are as different as a tea rose is from a moss rose.”
Reviewed in The BookBlast® Diary read HERE
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