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Novel set in BERLIN, Germany (Mussels and MUCH more)

19th June 2013

The Mussel Feast by Birgit VanderBeke, novel set in Berlin

In this blog Ann Reddy, a regular contributor to the TripFiction blog and website, shares her thoughts on The Mussel Feast, and we also asked Meike Ziervogel, founder of Peirene Press, to take us through how she came to set up her publishing house.

1908670088.01.ZTZZZZZZAnn Reddy: Are you a sucker for packaging? I admit to liking a stylish package with an elegant design but equally the contents have to match up to the expectations. So how could I resist this beautiful book cover entitled The Mussel Feast? I adore mussels too!

This novella is published by Peirene Press. They publish contemporary European fiction, novels which are described as ‘Two hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film’. (Times Literary Supplement).

I read it over a few evenings and it lived up to all expectations; a beautiful, elegant cover containing an intriguing story of a German family sitting at the dinner table with a pot of mussels in the middle.

The mother and two teenagers are awaiting the return from work of the father who has been on a business trip. It is written as a monologue by the daughter and describes in detail the preparation of the mussels and the relationships of a dysfunctional family that suffers both physical and emotional abuse from the father. At times it is sad and at others amusing, strange but true. The evening passes and more and more is revealed about where the family came from and their passage from East to West Berlin. The father is always striving to be better and I would say superior to others. The book describes both Grandmothers back in the East and why it is they only visit one of them. It is like an onion being peeled, silvery layer by silvery layer, with each page revealing more of how the family is falling apart.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is beautifully written, none of the poetic language is lost in the translation from German to English. I want to read more of Birgit Vanderbeke’s work. This was her first publication and she won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and the book is now a school text in Germany.

Meike Ziervogel: Peirene Press publishes contemporary European literature. As such it addresses an underserved niche: world class literature in translation. The books are thought provoking, well designed, short – always under 200 pages, so they can be read in the same time as it takes to watch a DVD.

Peirene takes its name from A Greek Nymph who turned into a water spring. The Poets of Corinth discovered the Peirene source and, for centuries, they drank this water to receive inspiration. The idea of metamorphosis suits the art of translation beautifully: What begins as a foreign book turns into an enjoyable English read.

I set up Peirene in the summer of 2008. Our first book came out in February 2010, in December 2010 all our titles were nominated as Book of the Year in the Guardian, Independent on Sunday and Booktrust. In March 2011 Peirene won the Independent publishers’ Newcomer of the Year Award, last year one of our books, Beside the Sea by French writer Veronique Olmi was staged as a play at the South Bank Centre in London and three of our books have now been long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the major prize for foreign fiction in the UK.

One of the main features of Peirene’s books is that they have a strong, recognizable branding. This was a deliberate choice. Because I don’t just want to publish books. Peirene has a another objective: To create a cohesive community of readers and booklovers. We would love readers to buy the Peirene books not for the individual title but because they trust Peirene – and myself – to make a good selection. A sort of European literary book society which sends you a few times a year – via subscription – a small, fascinating book you can read in an evening.

Moreover, we curate our books according to themes. Each year we bring out a new series, three books chosen from across Europe connected by a single theme. We also number our titles, because we hope that readers will become as passionate about our books as we are and collect them.

To enhance the community spirit, we run Pop-up Stalls, Coffee mornings, Supper Clubs, a masterclass in novella writing and the Peirene Salon where readers, critics, writers come to my house. These evening are not boring readings but parties with performances, conversation, food and wine. We are funded by a lovely wine sponsor, the Wine Bear, which means the hospitality is excellent and wine is themed.

We also place great emphasis on creating a virtual society. We are very happy twitterers, we have a vibrant facebook page and I write a weekly blog – The pain and passion of a small publisher. This blog tells a story, a kind of soap opera where you’re invited to observe the dramas I have to face in running a publishing house in the 21st century. And let me just say, this blog is a huge pleasure to write if only because it allows me to express my views and feelings.

Thank you to Ann and Meike for sharing their thoughts.

Do come and follow TripFiction on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest (an sometimes on Instagram, too) – we chat and flag books that are strong on locale, we talk travel and combine the two… and lots more….

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