Spotlight | Jonathan Coe, Olivia Rosenthal, Claudia Durastanti & Others | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019

I was delighted to be invited along to some of the key talks held at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington. Beyond Words has become ‘The Big Event’ in London for the promotion of French books translated into English. The festival features bilingual live literature events, writers’ talks, musical performances, screenings of recent literary adaptations, staged readings and books galore – both classic and contemporary.

This is the first of two posts about just some of what was up for discussion at the #BeyondWordsFest

Translation: a success story

Since I researched and wrote Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK in March 2015, translated fiction has become an ongoing success story. Brexit fatigue has led to a surge in the sale of translated fiction in the UK – an unexpected boon. Reading writing from elsewhere is ever more crucial as Little Englanders tighten their grip on this offshore island which looks set to sink beneath delusions of grandeur, short of a miracle . . .
Continue reading Spotlight | Jonathan Coe, Olivia Rosenthal, Claudia Durastanti & Others | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019

Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week

The flooding was not going to subside. Linden had turned off the TV. He had felt slightly nauseous. The Seine’s upwelling had upset him, but his parents’ state worried him all the more. The bad timing of their visit to Paris stupefied him. How could their family weekend have turned into such an ordeal?

After a prolonged separation, the Malegarde family is set to celebrate the fortieth wedding anniversary of Paul and his wife Lauren, as well as his seventieth birthday. It is a shock for the elderly couple used to secluded rural life in the Drôme valley to arrive in a capital saturated by monsoon-like rain. Linden and Tilia, based in San Francisco and London respectively, join their parents in Chatterton Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. The family has not been reunited in such a way since they were teenagers.
Continue reading Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week

Interview | Tatiana de Rosnay | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in the outskirts of Paris, and I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Paris, France.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
My father who is French read scientific books, but he loved Jules Verne, and my mother who is British initiated me to Daphné du Maurier.

Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Anne Frank, Edgar Poe, Enid Blyton, C.S Lewis. Continue reading Interview | Tatiana de Rosnay | Author of the Week

Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week

The Horseman’s Song is the sixth in the Martin Bora series and follows on from the success of Road to Ithaca, Tin Sky, A Dark Song of Blood, Lumen and Liar Moon, also published by Bitter Lemon Press.

Bora felt kinship for the dead. The ancient and the new, the long buried and the exposed, those over whom people wept, and the dead whose name or gravesite no one knew. All of them claimed brotherhood with him tonight. It might be the balmy scent of the evergreens brushing against his boots, or the day closing like an eye, or knowing that Lorca was dead, as was Colonel Serrano’s son. The man from Mockau, too, was as dead “as all the dead of the earth”, in Lorca’s own words. It might be any of those things, but his narrow escape only made him kin to the bones of Spain.”

A whole generation was passionately entangled in the Spanish Civil War – politically, militarily and ideologically – preceding World War Two. Foreign volunteers actively participated, siding with different factions. Several countries defied the Non-Intervention Agreement, and also took sides, contributing arms, funds or fighters. Picasso’s Guernica is the most famous image of the 1936-1939 clash of bourgeois democracy vs. Fascist aggression. Continue reading Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week

Interview | Ben Pastor, novelist | Author of the Week

Author, BEN PASTOR, lived for thirty years in the United States, working as a university professor, before returning to Italy to write historical thrillers. Bitter Lemon Press have published six of her novels to date.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Rome, and grew up in the hill country southeast of the city. Ten elements typified our small town: Roman ruins; rainy springs; olive groves; sparkling red wine; farm women dressing in beautiful traditional garb on holidays; the Thursday fair; more steps than streets (a problem and a good exercise for my family doctor father); a tall church steeple from where you could glimpse the sea in the far distance; cats, dogs, and farm animals of all kinds; the feeling that the world was orderly, cyclical, and safe.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
All sorts (except pornography) and too many to count. As children, my sister Simona and I used to read avidly, and then have a picnic on top of the tall bookshelves of the family library. Years later, we found mummified little pieces of sandwiches behind the furniture when we moved out. Mother had a passion for nineteenth-and-twentieth-century literature: the great French, English, Spanish, Russian, Italian, American authors . . . Father loved geography, history and mysteries; all of us had a fondness for poetry and art. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Nicholas Nickleby, from Blood and Sand to Dead Souls, the steps to culture and to our picnic place were all there! Continue reading Interview | Ben Pastor, novelist | Author of the Week

Breaking News | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | Extinction Rebellion

Find out about Extinction Rebellion and and sign up here, at rebellion earth

Last week, thousands of protesters paralysed parts of central London, blockading four landmarks in the capital in an attempt to force the government to take action on the escalating climate crisis.

I went to Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge to find out for myself what Extinction Rebellion demonstrators were up to. And I caught Dom Goetz, a leader in the making, give a succinct fifteen minute roundup of what faces us all if emergency action is not taken NOW. Inertia and denial will lead to irreversible climate breakdown and mass extinction.
Continue reading Breaking News | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | Extinction Rebellion

Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives

Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396

Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”

The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.

Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions. Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

Podcast | Nicky Harman: Translating China & Top 10 Reads

Celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year of the Pig, I discuss translating China with Nicky Harman on the launch of Paper Republic’s roundup of the most recent publications in English translation. Their 2018 roll call features thirty-three novels, six poetry collections and three YA and children’s books.

Paper Republic is a unique resource you won’t find anywhere else on the web. Its co-founder, Nicky Harman, is a leading light of the translation community in the UK and a passionate promoter of Chinese literature and culture. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). Nicky is often away, but I managed to catch up with her for brunch on Valentine’s day to discuss the literature of a non-English speaking continent that is 4,834 miles away from this small offshore island.

Here is the Podcast of our conversation

Continue reading Podcast | Nicky Harman: Translating China & Top 10 Reads

BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads January, 2019

New year, and news could be better from France. Over 600 small businesses have been destroyed or damaged in Paris alone since the yellow vests protests at the end of last year. President Macron’s open letter to French citizens seems to have done little to quell dissent; ditto for his tour of the regions in an attempt to get Mayors and their communities to share what’s on their mind. The EU’s political landscape is set to change after the elections in May 2019. Thank goodness for books, films and music offering an essential breath of fresh air!

Here is our list of top 5 reads in French creating a buzz across the Channel for all you Francophiles out there . . . Continue reading BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads January, 2019

Spotlight | Sitting in Judgement: the 2018 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Judging the Banipal Translation Prize was a most enriching experience. It reminded me that literature can be a force for good – no bad thing! We need to be shocked out of a comfortable complacency that suggests that books should not attempt to bring about social and political change. The entries provided no shortage of shocks.” Pete Ayrton, Chair of Judges, the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

The Man Booker International, the IMPAC Award, English PEN’s Writers in Translation Programme* and the Society of Authors’ series of prizes for outstanding literary translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish are the leaders of the prize-giving pack.

Elevating world literature in translation for the UK market from other cultures and promoting cultural understanding is crucial as Brexit Britain becomes more inward looking. Even more so since language learning is on the decline following the abolition of a compulsory language GCSE in 2004. Continue reading Spotlight | Sitting in Judgement: the 2018 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation