Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Invercargill, a small city at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. But my formative years (if they ever ended) were spent in Rotorua, a tourist town in the centre of the North Island. Rotorua – “Rotovegas” to the locals – is stepped in Maori history and is a geothermal wonderland known for strong wafts of sulphur, hokey motels and hotels, putt-putt golf. The McDonalds in Rotorua has Maori carvings on the walls.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? I grew up in a flat above an old peoples home with my single parent Mum, who was a night nurse for the elderly residents downstairs. The sign at the top of our drive read: “Residence for the Elderly,” I walked past it to school every day. Books: loads. From Men and their Mothers, and other pop psychology, to Sweet Valley High. At fourteen, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on the back porch, while the elderly residents ate shortbread and drank tea in the lounge below me. They read Mills and Boons in large print, when they weren’t listening to the TV.Continue reading Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Chatham in Kent and grew up in the surrounding towns – called the Medway towns – so in and around Rochester, Chatham (on various estates), Gillingham. I left when I was seventeen and moved to London, but even though I’ve not lived there for a long time, Medway remains a potent influence.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? My mother and grandmother were avid readers, and I was taught to read and love books from a very early age; but they were busy, working class women who’d left school early so the books in our homes tended to be Catherine Cookson and romances, Mills and Boon etc. Having said that I had lots of classic children’s books and I had a couple of teachers who were pretty amazing in encouraging me to read widely. When I was teenager I skipped school to go the library in town and would read anything and everything curled up in a chair by a window that looked out over the River Medway. I read a lot of Dickens, Daphne du Maurier and Stephen King. I used to read any of the Penguin Classics, because that seemed to be a foolproof method of reading; I was hungry to learn, but hated school. I suppose my earliest influences that I was consciously reading to learn to write were Angela Carter, Plath and Sexton and John Steinbeck. I loved his work.Continue reading Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week
On 9 November, the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to emigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The vast majority drowned in the Mediterranean. As a death toll, the figure is numbing. As a proportion of the EU’s population of 510 million, it is less than 0.007 percent – smaller than the population of, say, Skelmersdale or Haywards Heath – an influx that could easily be accommodated within our large, wealthy continent.
Jenny Erpenbeck, the brilliant German novelist whose four previous books have probed her country’s troubled 20th century history, has now turned to the greatest challenge it has faced in the 21st: the refugee crisis. Her latest book, Go, Went, Gone, eschews the magical realist elements of its predecessors in favour of a crisp documentary approach. It also draws on that classically German genre, the Bildungsroman, a novel charting the moral education of its protagonist.Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck
“In this beautiful memoir of a life lived in and through translation, Mireille Gansel defines the process of bringing words from one language to another as a kind of seeking, tied to the land. Transhumance refers to the seasonal movement of a shepherd and his flock to another land, or humus. It is the opposite of settling and farming: it is a form of nomadism, a search for richer grass, and it provides an apt image for her own trajectory as a translator.” From the foreword by Lauren Elkin
Translation as Transhumance is a rich and resonant read. The lucid, concise prose of award-winning translator, Ros Schwartz, brings alive an exceptional life dedicated to translation as activism. At the book’s launch in Caravansérail, the French-English bookshop and gallery near Brick Lane in the East End, Mireille Gansel spoke to a packed audience about the adventure of translation, of how “it gives you something – a perception of the other,” and of how “Langue natale is not mother tongue, it is a native language. For me it means the language where you come to the world, where you are born to yourself, discover yourself – you are inside intimacy.” A powerful, humanitarian empathy lies beneath Gansel’s narrative. “You end up translating the spirit and the sense of what is underneath the words . . .” said Ros Schwartz, “This book articulated so many things for me that were half-formed ideas, thoughts, about what I do.”Continue reading Review | Translation as Transhumance, Mireille Gansel | Book of the Week
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. My mother was a reader. Of modern classics mainly. She used to go with her father to the local library in our small home town. There weren’t hundreds of books in the house as I grew up, but enough to spur my interest.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? Yes, I wanted to work in publishing, and in England, after obtaining my degree at Sorbonne Nouvelle. I had no connections whatsoever, I was a complete outsider. My MA tutor told me right away it’d take me 10 years to get anywhere in that milieu. I didn’t believe him but he was right. After 10 years, even after I had somehow managed to get hired by the venerable John Calder, Judy Daish and Clive James, I was nowhere near a proper start in publishing. Having said that I was never really good at holding down a job! Working for Clive James was obviously a unique experience with a long-lasting influence on me.Continue reading Interview | Cécile Menon, founder, Les Fugitives | Indie Publisher 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
Jean Anouilh’s (1910-87) work ranges from high drama to absurdist farce. He is best known for his 1943 play Antigone, an adaptation of Sophocles’ classical drama; and a thinly veiled attack on Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government. His complete works are available in Gallimard’s La Pleiade series and La Table Ronde’s paperback imprint La Petite Vermillon.
Anouilh is from Andorra. In the small village of Cerisols where his father is a tailor, all fifty inhabitants are named Anouilh. Andorra is a separate-apart place — and Anouilh is a separate-apart person.
He is well known as the great contemporary playwright in London, New York, Paris, Spain . . . and he is completely unknown as a personality and takes great care to remain so.
The scathing wit of his plays then, which is so famous translated, adapted, from whom does it come? What is Anouilh? Does anyone know if he is thirty or seventy? Has anyone seen him? Does he never eat in restaurants, go to public places? At opening nights of his plays, while sophisticated revelations of the decadence of society flash across the stage alternately with visions of a certain fleur bleue lost purity — drawing peals of laughter from the audience one minute and gasps of shock the next, even sometimes tears — there is a slight man seated high among the public in the cheapest seats, incognito. He is hidden like a mole from the lights. His face is gentle. There is apparently no connection between him and the biting power on the stage . . . unless it is in the intensity of the small eyes behind the steel-rimmed spectacles.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Jean Anouilh interviewed by Gael Elton Mayo | Queen Magazine, 1956
“The city is destroyed, plundered. A very interesting city. Polish culture. An ancient, rich Jewish colony. These frightening bazaars, dwarfs in hooded coats, hoods and side-locks, the aged, a school street, ninety-six synagogues, all half-destroyed, and stories – American soldiers were here, oranges, cloth, thoroughfare, wire, deforestation and wasteland, endless barren land. Nothing to eat, no hope, war, everyone is equally bad, equally foreign, hostile, inhuman, before life was traditionally peaceful” – from Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary in which he describes his experiences with the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war.
To actually feel what it was like to be caught up in the most momentous event of the 20th century, and to walk in the shoes of those who either stayed and wrote under the increasingly tricky conditions of censorship, or fled to become émigrés pining for a lost world, or visited from abroad wanting to see revolution in action . . . read Pete Ayrton’s anthology Revolution!Writing from Russia 1917. Of all the books marking this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution, this is the one to go for.Continue reading Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? Born in London and grew up in New York until I was sent to a public school in the UK at the age of 13; an unsettling experience.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? Lots of foreign writers. My mother was Russian and keen for me to read the Russian classics – which I did.
You founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 and worked as a successful publisher showcasing writers from around the world for many years. How easy was it to transition to being a freelance writer-editor? I was still working at Serpent’s Tail when I completed No Man’s Land, my first anthology which was on First World War writing. The transition was seamless; the anthologies contain many writers who should be republished including writers never before translated into English. I hope they function to encourage readers and publishers to search out the original texts that the extracts are taken from.Continue reading Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a child — yes, my parents encouraged me to study and explore books. After studying French in high school and living for a summer with a French family in Clermont Ferrand, I have loved reading in other languages.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? I’m relatively new to the business of publishing, although I’ve written a book (Capital Dilemma: Germany’s Search for a New Architecture of Democracy) I only co-founded New Vessel Press with Ross Ufberg in 2012. We’re both passionate about literature and foreign literature in particular — I read French and German and Ross reads Russian and Polish — but neither of us has prior experience in publishing. We’ve been learning as we go along which has made building a new house a challenge but great fun. Nowadays the publishing world is changing so rapidly that I’d venture that we have just as much of a clue as to where things are going as more traditional, established houses.Continue reading Interview | Michael Z. Wise, co-founder, New Vessel Press | Indie Publisher of the Week