Tell us a little bit about yourself. I dropped out of university in the early 1970s and ran away to Paris where I spent eight years soaking up the French language and culture. I enrolled at the radical university of Vincennes and did various jobs, from telephone operator on the SNCF enquiries line to picking grapes, milking goats and teaching English in companies. When I came back to the UK in 1981, I found that I was unemployable, so I announced myself as a translator.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? I lived in a house full of books. My father collected books and had very eclectic tastes. We used to go to Portobello Road market together every Saturday and he taught me how to identify a first edition. I had unrestricted access to his entire library. We lived in a small suburban house where there was no privacy. I shared a bedroom with my sister and the only place I could be alone was the loo. During school holidays, I think I spent most of my waking hours locked in the toilet with a book. I was a serial reader, so I’d find an author and then read everything by them. I graduated from Enid Blyton to Angela Brazil – I loved boarding school stories – and Agatha Christie. As an older teenager, it was Sartre and Camus, Zola and Isaac Bashevis Singer.Continue reading Interview | Ros Schwartz | Translator of the Week
Our eclectic November top ten reads rejoice in strong women and have a radical, cosmopolitan flavour. We continue our celebration of 15 years of the Childrens’ Bookshow, highlighting two more books featured in this year’s tour. Happy reading! Georgia @bookblast
Rasputin and Other Ironies by Teffi (Pushkin Press) buy here Translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson
“A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips. They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning? I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him . . .” Teffi’s portrait of Rasputin, and her description of his unwanted advances, is a disturbing reminder of how sex-pests using positions of power to get their dirty way are not a new phenomenon. All of the women saying #MeToo on Twitter are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before them.
Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaya – who wrote under the pseudonym Teffi – was born in 1872 into a family prominent in Saint Petersburg society. An essayist, poet and playwright, she became so popular that there were Teffi sweets and a Teffi perfume. She supported socialism and the 1905 revolution, and worked for the first Bolshevik paper, New Life, which was later shut down by the Leninist authorities. She left Russia in 1919 and settled in France, where she died in 1952. Her engaging, witty and empathic writing belies a bleak undertow of loss and nostalgia for lost worlds as she writes about life before the revolution, fellow writers, emigration, and life in Paris.
Oriana Fallaci by Cristina de Stefano (Other Press) buy here Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss
Our monthly round up of deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn now that summer is over.
Uncovering a Parisian Life
The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press) buy here
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.
The BookBlast® Diary will be running a review and an exclusive interview with the Author at the end of the month.
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. My father was a teacher, a bookseller and a publisher. He was a reader. I grew up around books in our family house. My mother was not a reader of books, more of magazines, but I remember growing up listening to all the stories she told us at night time.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? Growing up in Tripoli, I spent most of my time after school at my father’s bookshops, sometimes at the Arabic bookshop and sometimes at the English Language bookshops. I wasn’t the only one, my siblings and cousins were there too, so it was a bit of fun and a bit of work. When I was young I did think I would be in the book life. Continue reading Interview | Ghassan Fergiani, Darf Publishers | Indie Publisher of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A writer or diplomat.
The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing email@example.com
Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer.Continue reading Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week
Rakha’s tale of a man’s “transformation during twenty-one days from a Europeanized intellectual to a semi-madman who believed he could perform magic deeds to resurrect the Islamic caliphate” is a very readable feast — taking in love, friendship, work and (in)sanity . . . identity, faith and the nationalist movement . . . Ottoman Turkey, neoliberalism, politics . . . digital photography, the internet and Cairo café life . . . Amgad Salah’s conversion from a lost hobo into an unarmed terrorist . . . laced with a smattering of zombies, camels, masturbation and ecstasy (chemical or otherwise). The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars is one helluva read.
Part confessional, part letter to a friend, part philosophical treatise and a journey of self-discovery: Mustafa Çorbaci’s stream of consciousness carries the reader along in a weird and wonderful coherent swirl of words that conveys his thoughts, impressions and emotions as his world is turned upside down. “My marriage had been a Greek tragedy, which begins and ends within twenty-four hours. Blink and it’s over.” A journalist for over a decade, “in the last seven years he hadn’t budged from in front of the screen.” He eventually leaves his job and travels, ending up in Beirut.Continue reading Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week
Born in France, Pierre Loti loved the East. No one could understand his desire to exchange the greyness of France for ‘the far horizons of a sailor’s life’ better than Lesley Blanch, author of such celebrated evocations of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia as The WilderShores of Love, The Sabres of Paradise and Journey into the Mind’s Eye. In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as Loti’s innumerable publications. Her book is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one brilliant escapist writing about another. Who, then, was Pierre Loti?
Loti was born in 1850 as Julien Viaud, son of a respectable Protestant family living in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Ocean. His father was an official in the Mairie. In 1867 he entered the French navy, in which he would continue to serve until 1910. This extremely unconventional man proved a good officer. Most of his superiors appreciated his ‘agreeable character, very good education’, and later his literary fame, though some fellow officers noticed a cold manner.
The French navy was sufficiently broad-minded to employ an officer who wore rouge, dyed his hair and adopted disguises. More unsettling even than dressing as an acrobat, a Turk or a Bedu, Loti often wore the uniform of a rating rather than an officer. Moreover his friendships with handsome sailors, (Julien, Leo, Samuel, many others}, which such clothes facilitated, were no secret. As his daughter-in-law told Lesley Blanch: ‘Loti loved both men and women passionately and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that too.’
As the highlight of this special event for International Women’s Day, Elisa Segrave examines stories from her mother’s hitherto hidden wartime experiences at Bletchley Park, Bomber Command and post-war Germany. Georgia de Chamberet takes a look at the life and many worlds of Lesley Blanch, a woman whose aura of seductive glamour and erudition inspired the generation that followed her. Chaired by Claudia Fitzherbert, books editor of The Oldie.
During the day there will be numerous author signings by women who write about women, including Dame Professor Hermione Lee and Amy Mason. So come along for a bit of book browsing and then stay on for the talk and a glass of wine afterwards.
The BookBlast® Diary is the offspring of BookBlast® writing agency which was founded in 1997. Georgia de Chamberet was dubbed “L’enfant terrible of British publishing” by Le Figaro newspaper. BookBlast® has always been cosmopolitan in spirit, and gravitates towards the best independent-spirited and diverse writing.
A brand is your personality, so the saying goes. In the same vein as Flaubert’s statement that “Madame Bovary c’est moi“, I often say that “BookBlast® c’est moi“. As a blasty kind of person, I am an active idealist when it comes to cross-pollinating ideas, connecting the dots and contributing to making major writing projects happen, by whatever means possible.
The agency’s early successes include Empire Windrush: Fifty Years of Writing About Black Britain ed. Onyekachi Wambu; and XCiTés: the Flamingo Book of New French Writing which showcased a new generation of French writers unpublished and unknown in English at the time — Frédéric Beigbeder, Tonino Benacquista, Virginie Despentes, Michel Houellebecq, Abdourahman Waberi among them. I have moved from a background in print anthologies to curate an ever-expanding online anthology showcasing the best of independent publishing.
BookBlast® Celebrates Independent Publishing
Books and writing and ideas are to be savoured as slow reads: an antidote to the demands of the hectic world around us. Independence matters in this increasingly corporate age.
Mavericks from a ‘traditional’ book publishing background, alongside newcomers, have embraced the new digital opportunities on offer. Indie publishers like Peirene Press, Comma Press, Darf Publishers and Bitter Lemon Press are showcasing writers from around the world. And Other Stories, Unbound and The Pigeonhole are successfully applying new business models to their ventures. Many of the new breed of indie booksellers are releasing their own books thanks to the digital revolution. Book buyers who choose to support indie bookshops know they will get great service and stumble upon titles they have never heard of − with the added bonus that to support your local economy feels good. The Hive Network and Wordery offer readers a combination of high street and 24-hour online retailing. Whether reading printed books, on an e-reader or a tablet, we are lucky to have such choice. Independence matters! Continue reading Viva BookBlast! | est. 1997