Heartfelt novel set in LONDON and BRISTOL
Introducing V & Q Books: “Remarkable writing from Germany”
17th September 2020
Introducing V&Q Books: “Remarkable Writing from Germany”
Imagine you had a treasure chest of books no one else could read. Would you hoard them or would it feel frustrating? As an avid reader of German literature living in Berlin, it was the latter for me. I wanted to talk to my British friends and family about all the amazing books I was reading, but they couldn’t join in the conversation. That was what first propelled me to become a literary translator – an evangelical drive to get the literature I loved into other readers’ hands. Part of that is because it often illuminates the place where I live in a very deep way. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to co-edit the anthology city-lit Berlin with Heather Reyes. The series gives readers snippets of literature to introduce them to a particular city. Heather found the English extracts, and I sought out German writing about the city I’ve loved since before moving here in the mid-1990s. It was a valuable experience – what works, and what doesn’t? How does literature reflect, distort, remake the place where it’s set?
Fiction captures place in so many ways. It can be a straightforward backdrop, a city’s houses and parks, bars and back alleys – but in Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, for instance, Edinburgh is also part of people’s characters. John Rebus doesn’t mince words, he’s had a tough time of it and he wants justice to be done. The same goes for the Leipzig writer Clemens Meyer’s work, often set in his home city, where we see mean streets and scarred characters, their lives riven by poverty or changed by the end of communism. You could take both writers as guides to their home towns, and you’d get a very different tour from the usual.
After a decade or so in the translation business, I’m now also a publisher. As head of the V&Q Books imprint, I get to choose what we call “remarkable writing from Germany” to sell in the UK and Ireland. The tricky thing is narrowing that choice down to five books a year. It was clear from the beginning that our titles had to have strong voices and a deep sense of place. We’re not publishing guidebooks, literary or otherwise, though. It’s fiction we’re mainly interested in – writing that grips readers, challenges or entertains them, breaking down a few clichés along the way. If our books are informative, all the better, but I want them to move people, make them laugh or think or remember.
Ideally, writers are free to travel, research settings or eras, to settle in new countries and write about them in their own languages and styles. How many British readers got their first whiff of Berlin’s tawdry glamour thanks to Christopher Isherwood? Or writers can live in one place and write about another, like the amazing David Peace, who sets his ground-breaking fiction both in Japan, where he lives, and in England, where he’s from. Germany’s position in the middle of Europe, its vibrant cultural life – and also its recent openness for refugees – mean it’s a country that attracts outstanding writers from all over the world. What we want to do at V&Q Books is tap into that reservoir. We want to reframe the concept of “national literature” as all the literature written in a country, no matter what language it happens to be in.
To begin with, though, we’re launching with three books translated from German. Their settings couldn’t be more different. Lucy Fricke’s Daughters is a road novel, starting in Berlin and stopping off in Switzerland and Italy before heading all the way to Greece. Two women with difficult dads make a journey of… well, not quite discovery but maybe something like recovery. There’s sun, sea, ouzo and antidepressants. Sandra Hoffmann’s Paula is set in Germany’s Swabian region, where the author grew up not knowing who her grandfather was – her grandmother Paula never told anyone, leaving Hoffmann to wonder why she looked and felt so different to everyone around her. Her rural surroundings are a source of both oppression and peace. And Francis Nenik’s Journey through a Tragicomic Century is an unconventional non-fictional tale of the German communist Hasso Grabner, who went from Buchenwald concentration camp to Corfu to the GDR, helping build up the country only to be rejected once again by the powers-that-be.
It’s a delight to throw open the treasure chest and let out these books. I hope you find something to take you places in your mind.
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