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“Literally Swiss” – an evening with Writers from Switzerland and the UK

11th February 2018

Literally Swiss

Rosie Goldsmith against the specially commissioned artwork by Nicolas Feldmeyer

Literally Swiss – an evening hosted by the erudite and inspired Rosie Goldsmith, who is a great champion of  of European Literature. It took place on 9 February 2018 at The Tabernacle, London.

Literally Swiss is an exciting new concept showcasing, quite literally, some of the best writing in English and some of the best Swiss and British writers with Swiss links. It was a cabaret of entertaining speakers and authors, set against the backdrop of an artwork by Nicolas Feldmeyer specially commissioned for the event. Musical sets by Heidi Happy made for a convivial evening, with wine from Switzerland (Swiss wine is fabulous, by the way! Pinot Noir and Johannisberg will delight wine lovers beyond the landlocked country – if only the vintners would export, but they don’t, they keep it largely for themselves and their fellow countrymen. It’s one of the many good reasons to visit the country!).

First up was the wonderfully entertaining Alain de Botton. Born in Switzerland he grew up bilingually and can now refer to his country as gloriously boring. Can Zurich, for example, be exotic? Um, possibly not, but all the good solid values of life are still there.

Yes, stereotypes soon popped up, there was even (shock horror!) mention of chocolate, Heidi (the ‘happy’ cowgirl in the eponymous novel by Joanna Spyri), mountains and cuckoo clocks, (which actually originated in Bavaria, although the Swiss, having a good eye for commerce, have now adopted the clock as their own).

Literally Swiss

Alain de Botton, Monique Schwitter, Nicolas Verdan and Xiaolu Guo with Rosie Goldsmith

But it was Deborah Levy – who has had two novels shortlisted on the Man Booker – who had no links to the country but hoped at some point to perhaps set a novel there. She then went on to talk about Bavaria. This region of Southern Germany has the undulating hills, which eventually rise to small mountains (a bit like Switzerland, I guess). Confusing Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland is a fairly common thing – they all have mountains and snow, after all, and as countries can seem interchangeable to the untutored eye; but I am sure the citizens of each country would rather object to being lumped together as one mountainous, snow covered land mass.

Nicolas Verdan‘s The Greek Wall, his first thriller, did very well in Switzerland and he has used his journalistic experience to good effect. Being of both Swiss and Greek extraction he has called on his heritage to inform his work, focussing on the plight of refugees who have been flooding into the country. Monique Schwitter held her audience as she read to her audience and has turned outdone prize-winning piece of fiction after another. Xiaolu Guo is a gifted Chinese-British novelist and filmmaker, who was born in China and has lived in the German speaking world, including Switzerland. She pondered how avant-garde Switzerland really is, with its “modest pride” and that there are “so many nations coming into Switzerland”, making it a truly cosmopolitan centre.

Deborah Levy, Peter Stamm and Pedro Lenz with Rosie Goldsmith

Ah, and then Peter Stamm arrived on stage and continued where Alain de Botton left off, charismatic, entertaining and engaging. I recently read and reviewed his novel “To The Back of Beyond” which is the wonderfully laconic story of a man who simply walks out of his everyday life and sets off for the hills.

Stamm in his discourse on stage pondered whether any of his fellow compatriots actually know all the words to the Swiss National Anthem, and shared the fact that a staggering 70% of people in Switzerland work in the service sector and only 4% now in farming (who knew!).

Finally Pedro Lenz chatted amiably and then gave a hugely entertaining reading in Swiss German of his novel that has now been tranlsted into Glaswegian dialect, titled “Naw Much of a Talker”. He too kept his audience riveted.

The event was sponsored by Pro Helvetia (the Swiss Arts Council), supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK and the European Literature Network.


Tina for the TripFiction Team

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