Dark novel set in BANGKOK
Author Interview with Nina George (plus review of The Little Paris Bookshop set in FRANCE)
14th January 2016
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, set in France. Plus Nina talks to us openly about her passions and writing….
As if any reader needed telling that books and reading books are good for the soul! This is just one of the premises at the heart of this delightful novel. We join Monsieur Jean Perdu aboard his canal boat – his peniche – the Literary Apothecary, moored on the Seine. People visit him from far and wide to soothe their troubles through his recommended reads. He has the uncanny knack of finding a book that will hit the nail on the head for each of his visitors…
In his own history however, he struggles with what appeared to be a doomed love affair, that ended a couple of decades ago. We meet him just as he is contemplating a relationship with a woman in his apartment block, Catherine. But a letter which has been lying unread for many years suddenly catches his eye and he discovers that his ‘truth’ of the ending of the affair was way off the mark. Oh, the remorse, the guilt and shame, how can he atone? The range of emotions overwhelms him and he feels the only option open to him is to set off towards Provence in the footsteps of his great love. Just as he leaves, famous author Max Jordan leaps aboard the boat and both set off on their heady adventure along the French waterways, in the company of Kafka and Lindgren, two cats who have snaffled themselves on board for the voyage south.
Navigating their way out of Paris is a test for these amateur sailors, but soon they are gliding past scenes of French delights, châteaux, rolling terrains, and passing other similar vessels with all manner of crews. They stop, they eat, they meet people. They ruminate. And ponder the nature of life and where their little boat is taking them. They travel on through Montargis where the praline was invented, and gradually there is a burgeoning focus on food as the mood lifts and the boat heads ever further south on its journey, the Saône and Loire, and on to Sanary, where Perdu finally settles. Catherine intimates she would like to join him, as the sun sets on this little journey of the soul, a truly enchanting and moving read. As the journey progresses, there is a marked parallel with the charted stages of mourning and loss until finally, acceptance is reached at the destination, and life and love can resume…
A dreamy yet philosophical and thought-provoking narrative with a superb translation by Simon Pare.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
We were so very pleased to secure an author interview with Nina, and here is the Question and Answer session:
TF: Travelling along the waterways of France is an amazingly good way to “carry” a story. You must have had some experience of navigating your own boat that inspired you, can you tell us a little more?
NG: I live half time of the year in the very north of France, Brittany. The Coast there is legend for every captain – it also teaches me respect for every waterway in the world.
The channels of France are legend, too; they were built for the peniches, very narrow boats. Everyone today can hire a boat, get ready in two hours and go on a trip all over the waterways of France.
But what inspired me many years before I wrote the The Little Paris Bookshop in 2012, and the research prior to that, was totally different: I watched a movie with Gerard Depardieu. One very romantic scene took place under the trees beside one of these canals. After he had seduced a woman, Depardieu jumped into the water. I was thrilled: I had never heard of these canals and so I started to research. I found out that you can travel by boat, on a peniche, from Paris to Scandinavia or even to the Mediterrean Sea.
When it comes to Mr. Perdu, I wanted him to go on a classical “quest“.
I love to have my characters moving around – to get them on roads, trains, even to get them running – because ‘moving’ is a strong, very strong metaphor.
And then it came into my head: I put the bookshop from the Rue Montagnard direct onto a peniche, and at the beginning of the Second Chapter, I start the engine on the boat with the books going down the waterways. Water, fluid, quick, dark, sensitive: This is the best “path“ a character of mine was ever going to find for himself.
I am a „watersoul“. I have studied the Chinese Way of Elements; every year or so, a special element takes precedence, Water, Fire, Metal, Wood or Soil. It depends on your personal element, you need to be near it… so: I was born in 1973, and the commanding element is Water.
TF: At the heart of the story you have the therapeutic effect of books, how they are medicine for the mind… I am guessing that books have always been a part of your life?
NG: I was reading before I started writing. By the age of four, I started to love books. My mother even told me when I was a toddler, crying, it always helped to take me to the city library. There I calmed down.
Later on I was the kind of girl that “devours“ books – I used to take out five books per week from the library. Reading educated me.
For it is through books that humans learn to be human. They learn courage, love and compassion, and they learn about other cultures. They learn to get angry, to behave themselves and to fight; they learn to think for themselves. Readers are the saviours of the world; they make it warm, loving, understanding, tolerant and complex. In contrast, TV people, video gamers and non-readers make the world grey, poor, dull, simple, dumb and indifferent.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog healed me, I was finally able to weep.
Harold Fry and Smithy Ide healed me.
Anna Gavalda and Jon Stefansson healed me.
I’ve lived in the world of books ever since I was a baby. It was only in their presence that I could find peace. I could read before I went to school, and books are my friends, my family, my exile and my love.
I think that books are about more than fame, popularity and power.
TF: I am interested to know a little more about how the title morphed from the original German “Das Lavendelzimmer” (The Lavender Room) to “The Little Paris Bookshop”?
NG: Das Lavendelzimmer has been translated into 32 other languages now; also into Chinese, Russian, Hebrew and Finnish. Nearly all of the publishers changed the title; in France it is published as “The Forgotten Letter“, and in Norway it will be titled “The Book Apothecary“. It really depends on the mentality and cultural associations. In Germany „Lavender“ is a strong metaphor for “Provence“ or “South of France“, for “Summer, Scent and Romance“. But in the Netherlands Lavender is a metaphor for “Old Ladies“, and in France for “something you put in your Jam or in your closet“. I think Crown in the US and Little, Brown in the UK chose the best title: Paris means Old Europe, Bookshop is a trigger for every real and serious reader – and the rest should be discovered by the readers.
As my grandmom always said: “Never judge a book by its cover, title or back. You have to take time to explore it yourself. The same method, dear little Nina, you have to practice with people: Never judge them because of their cover, clothes, skin, name, religion or whatever others say about them.“
TF: Grazia Magazine says of your book “A story that does the heart good”. It is very true, uplifting and positive. Would you say that reflects your own attitude to life?
„Jein“. This is a german word for an ambiguous yes and no. My father often called me: „Sunshine“, because I am strong and not able to give up – and I like to be optimistic. I am a strong motivator of people, I know, and I like that – because i think, it is so necessary to motivate each other. In Germany there are a lot of „Kleinmacher“, this is a term that describes people who negate anything you do.
In the other half of my heart, I am melancholic, lonesome, sometimes I am the biggest doubter in the world. I suffer from racism, sexism and the idiocy of the masses without emphathy.
TF: The book has a warm old-fashioned feel to it (which is meant utterly positively). Is that something you set out to achieve, I wonder?
NG: Maybe it is just my art of writing; a craft and technique. Every story has its own sound and rhythm. With The Little Paris Bookshop I took my time to build up an intense style. And I have to admit: Every book is only as good as the translator. Simon Pare did such a amazing job.
TF: You yourself are a great supporter of author’s rights. Can you tell us a little more about that?
NG: If I start, I’ll never stop!
We need a conscientious vision of the digital society.
We need a charter to protect our publicity rights in the digital age.
As Edward Snowden once said: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
Day in and day out, each one of us casts a huge shadow of data: online banking, tweets, emails, Google Maps, hotel reservations, rating apps, shopping, and the list goes on. All over the world, the total volume of data is growing by as much as two zettabytes per day. If you picture this amount as tiny grains, it equals all the grains of sand that exist in the world. Times two.
By 2020, this volume will have increased five-fold.
For the most part, we are not talking about surveillance or creating personal profiles that some entity will use against us some day—although this has long been done in many subtle ways. Every day. Every hour. Whenever you “like” something, you reveal a lot about your attitudes toward religion as well as your personal preferences, sexual interests and political views. And how much alcohol you drink. You also broadcast your movements, your reading habits, how fast you can type and how long you talk on the phone. All these things are pieces of a puzzle. Worth a great deal, they have become a kind of currency in their own right.
But this information is not of much interest to intelligence agencies, who really don’t care what kind of alcohol you prefer. At most, they care about who you drink it with. These details are, however, of interest to advertisers. And insurance companies. One U.S. insurer, for example, uses consumer behavior to estimate future risks in order to calculate appropriate risk premiums. So do loan departments.
Data streams from advertisers and online vendors, such as bots and scripts, account for 60% of the daily traffic on the Internet. This includes popup banners—ads that we encounter online. Along with pornography and piracy of creative works, these data streams make up most of the traffic on the World Wide Web. Quite apart from the drug, arms and human trafficking that takes place on the darknets.
We need to think of data and creative works as goods that are of similarly high value to Internet intermediaries. Authors’ moral rights and the right to informational self-determination (data sovereignty and data privacy) share the same judicial and constitutional roots. “Those who advocate “weak” moral rights would therefore also have to advocate a “weak” right to data privacy”. [Thomas Elbel, Berlin.]
Data is bought and sold just like creative works; data exploitation and trade are both a currency and a product. Creative works are also products, sometimes even reduced to the misnomer “content.” That is, mere filler.
In the language of social analysis, this is called “transfer of value.” In creative sphere, this value is being transferred away from the creator and toward the distributor. The person who procures the work (the intermediary) and not the creator—the author, the composer, the photographer—is the one who receives respect and remuneration for his or her efforts.
Although the digital distribution machine runs only on the fuel that people like myself create—my work, my accomplishments and experience, my economic risks, years of experience—the intermediary neither pays us decent compensation nor respects the complex of authors’ rights. It’s the same story for anyone who is not a professional artist; even their words, images or simply their personal data, their habits and embarrassing moments, are exploited, while they lose their decision-making authority.
The transformation of personal data into currency is also a transfer of value. Nothing comes for free. Any ostensibly free service is paid for by one‘s intimate data and by relinquishing one’s human rights and rights as citizens.
The beneficiaries are the GAFA companies and their Silicon Valley competitors (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, YouTube, Netflix and Spotify). Their distribution, collection and administrative skills are valued much higher than the effort that goes into creating the works, which are now downgraded to “content.” Even though the distribution machine would not even run without the creative endeavors. The intermediary’s abilities are rated even higher than the civil rights, human rights and constitutional power and sovereignty over our own preferences, shopping patterns, activities and reading habits. Not privacy but consumption and its distributors are what are valued now.
This means that anyone who says “yes” to data privacy cannot then say “no” to authors’ rights. Or “no” to legal protection of children and youth or protection against bullying.
Publicity rights are at stake in every case. These rights grant each one of us sovereignty and self-determination over everything that we produce, from professional works of art to WhatsApp photos to emails to our reading habits. In every format: digital and analog.
We must therefore ask ourselves: What kind of digital society do we want to live in? A community of integrity, or a consumer- and sales-oriented one, whose major players have no respect for the publicity rights and who sometimes hide behind words like “innovation” and “growth?”
TF: You were born in Germany, you have written a book set in France… what does being European mean to you?
NG: Being in the heart of world culture, art and respect for humans ideas, dreams and individuality. Europe is a metaphor for diversity.
TF: As you know, TripFiction promotes books that are strong on location, a resource for both actual and armchair travellers. What are you working on now and will locale feature strongly?
“Das Traumbuch“ (Book of Dreams) is set in London – but the novel that will be published prior in the US in Spring 2017 (German Title: „Die Mondspielerin“) will go straight to the heart of Brittany in the North of France: Into the „Finistère“, meaning “end of the world“. The novel is located in the region of the “Pays de Gauguin“, Kerdruc, Pont-Aven, Concarneau and all the famous villages, beaches, forests around there.
When I visited the locations for the first time – 2008 – I cried. Because I never knew that there is such beauty on earth. The Mondspielerin is a love letter to this part of the world. It starts with these lines:
It was the first decision she had ever taken on her own, the very first time she was choosing the course of her life.
Marianne decided to die. Here and now, down there in the waters of the Seine, late on this grey day. There was not a star to be seen, and the Eiffel Tower but a dim silhouette in the hazy smog. Paris emitted a roar, a constant rumble of scooters and cars, the murmur of the metro deep in the guts of the city.
The water was cool, black and soft. The Seine would carry her on a bed of freedom and peace to the sea.
Tears ran down her cheeks, strings of salty tears. Marianne was smiling and weeping at the same time. Never before had she felt so light, so free, so happy.
‘It’s up to me,’ she whispered. ‘This is up to me.’
… but then, she survied. And I follow her through France to the end of the world and into the Land of Gauguin and the very special Breton people.
Today, seven years later, I live there, where I cried out the first time. With the sea, the wind, the stones and the myths of the country, La Bretagne.
Sometimes you have to be able not to give up.
Thank you to Nina for her wonderful, in-depth replies.
For a bit more armchair travel in France, click here to peruse our full database.