Frankfurt Book Fair 2014
World literature: alive, well and doing great business
Victor Schiferli – 7 November 2014
My first visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair was in 1993 – the year that the Netherlands and Flanders were joint guest of honour at the Buchmesse for the very first time. In those days I was working as a junior for what was then known as the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature (NLPVF) and I could hardly believe my eyes as I took in the halls filled with books, stretching as far as the eye could see. Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander was in attendance, and Harry Mulisch and Cees Nooteboom were enjoying their respective literary breakthroughs in Germany. At a reception I found myself standing next to an immaculately tailored young woman with a pageboy hairdo with whom I exchanged a few polite words – she turned out to be Donna Tartt. In short, world literature was alive and well and doing great business in Frankfurt.
Twenty-one years on, the NLPVF has become the Dutch Foundation for Literature and I am now the man responsible for persuading publishers to have Dutch-language fiction translated into German, English and the Scandinavian languages, ‘my territories’ as I often think of them. There’s nothing more inspiring than talking books with publishers from around the world: people with a deep love of books, all in search of that fine and sometimes elusive balance between artistic and commercial value. However wonderful a book is, the key lies in communicating and appreciating its potential. What is its place in the literary landscape? Is it better to market it as a thriller or a literary novel? What comparisons can you make to take people right to the heart of the book? This comparative shorthand can conjure up some wild juxtapositions: ‘It’s Charlie Chaplin meets Kafka!’ ‘Think Fifty Shades of Grey done by Nabokov!’ Far-fetched as they may seem, these touchstones are an indispensible way to get across the theme, the essence of a book.
Buying, selling or a combination of the two – that’s the name of the game in Frankfurt. You’re either on the look-out for promising new titles or you’re out to share them with the rest of the world. I’m a seller: with my colleagues Barbara den Ouden (see below), Maarten Valken (non-fiction), Tiziano Perez (fiction for China, Brazil and Japan), Reintje Gianotten (fiction for Germany), Agnes Vogt (children’s books) and Thomas Möhlmann (poetry), my efforts are dedicated toward sparking people’s interest in a book or literary project. There’s an important distinction to be made, however, between our foundation and the firms and agents selling rights directly. We are what is known as a grant organisation, our purpose being to provide information and subsidies that pave the way for literary success abroad. It’s a tried and tested strategy adopted by many fellow institutes abroad, particularly those who represent less widely spoken languages.
As fate would have it, I now find myself involved for the second time in working towards one of the most rewarding tasks that can befall a grant organisation: the chance to represent the guest of honour at the Buchmesse. In 2016 the Netherlands and Flanders will once again take centre stage at this colossal event.
The glow of this spotlight can already be felt in the added interest that German publishers are showing in new Dutch literature. Almost with out exception, the editors I speak to are keen to have at least one new Dutch or Flemish writer in their stable with a book due for publication in the autumn of 2016. Either that or they have plans for a special launch involving one of their current Dutch-language authors. Schöffling, for example, is not only looking to publish the new novel by Otto de Kat in 2016 but also plans to issue a hardback edition of his previous four novels.
Turning to the younger writers, De consequenties (The Consequences) by Niña Weijers is – to use the parlance of Frankfurt – ‘red hot’ following a recommendation by Cees Nooteboom and the sale of the French translation rights to Actes Sud. Birk by Jaap Robben is another title that has people talking. Both attracted a German bid immediately after Frankfurt (meanwhile, they have been sold to Suhrkamp and Ars Vivendi respectively). Weijers and Robben both feature in the Frankfurt 2014 edition of our Ten Books from Holland brochure alongside writers who already have a German publisher, such as Anna Enquist (I am currently discussing her work with Scandinavian and English publishers) and Herman Koch, now a walking billboard for the huge potential of Dutch books in translation! Other names generating a buzz are Joost de Vries, Jamal Ouariachi, Wytske Versteeg and Gustaaf Peek. De duimsprong by Miek Zwamborn has been purchased by Nagel & Kimche, and the new thriller Anders by Anita Terpstra was snapped up by another German publisher, Blanvalet.
The upcoming guest-of-honour status in 2016 provides an ideal context for realising plans which are a little out of the ordinary: a book of Amsterdam stories to be published by DTV, a Dutch-Flemish edition of literary magazine die Horen and an anthology of modern Dutch poetry in the pipeline at Aufbau in Berlin. The Dutch classics are very much part of this story. I have suggested to several German publishers that now is the perfect time to look to Multatuli: a 2016 hardback edition of a newly translated Max Havelaar – the novel at the very roots of Dutch literature – would of course be a major literary event and a coup for the right publisher. At and shortly after the Buchmesse, Lilienfeld purchased the rights to two more recent classics: Letter en geest (Letter and Spirit) by Frans Kellendonk and Oeroeg (The Black Lake) by Hella S. Haasse. Another title on the brink of its German debut is Kort Amerikaans (Crewcut) by Jan Wolkers, to be published by Alexander, while American readers can look forward to a new translation of *Turks Fruit *(Turkish Delight) courtesy of Tin House.
With Simon Winder – both a celebrated non-fiction author and publishing director at Penguin – I discussed the progress of The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories, an anthology being compiled by Joost Zwagerman. And with his younger colleague Josephine Greywoode we looked at a number of potential titles for the Penguin Classics series –Hermans, Multatuli, Couperus were three of the names that came up. At long last contracts have been signed for the first English-language publication of *De morgen loeit weer aan *(The Roar of Morning), the rights to which had once been purchased by Faber and Faber only for the project to be shelved: Yale University Press was receptive to my arguments and will now publish Tip Marugg’s masterpiece. Yale Press Director John Donatich, who publishes Patrick Modiano among others, confided in me about the difficulty of generating publicity for translated authors in the US. I used to happily compare the work of Dutch authors to Modiano (Marga Minco being a case in point) until I discovered that for most publishers it conjured up the association of an outstanding author who is difficult to sell. But how fortunes can change. Out of nowhere a massive cheer rose up in the halls of Frankfurt this year. It emanated from the Hanser stand, where they had just heard that ‘their’ Modiano had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. What a joy to see the literary gods smiling on Hanser, Donatich and the other true believers.
Among Scandinavian publishers, Hermans’ Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep) was the focus of attention: the book has now been filmed with a cast of big-name Norwegian actors. Time for a tie-in if ever there was one! Swedish publisher Svante Weyler eyes the cover and has a go at pronouncing the title: ‘Noit meerrr zlappen… What does that mean?’ I explain that it’s a line delivered by the protagonist: he sees his friend Arne lying there and says ‘This is not sleep, this is beyond sleep.’ ‘Oh, so it basically means: You’re dead,’ he concludes. Yes, that pretty much sums it up, I say. ‘Or game over!’ he laughs. His interest peaked by the news that the existing Swedish translation is out of date and out of print, he asks me to send him a copy.
Scandinavia has also embraced Een dwaze maagd (A Foolish Virgin) by Ida Simons, which was sold to Denmark, Sweden and Norway and Peter Buwalda’s Bonita Avenue, now set for publication in Norwegian and Danish. Boven is het stil (The Twin) by Gerbrand Bakker is to be published in Sweden by incognito and in Norway by Bokvennen. It’s inspiring to see how success in one country paves the way for success in others, while the appetite for fresh talent (Weijers, Robben etc.) and faith in the true classics (from the long-established Hermans and Multatuli to the recently rediscovered Ida Simons) remain as strong as ever.
Barbara with Hripsime Madoyan, Head of Publishing at Antares, who acquired the Armenian rights to Een dwaze maagd shortly after the Frankfurt Book Fair.
A virgin, a maiden and vulva galore
Barbara den Ouden reports
This year was my eleventh visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair and I’m happy to say it proved to be my busiest and most productive yet. For fiction I had plenty of meetings lined up with publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Mediterranean, while for graphic novels I had the opportunity to speak with interested publishers from around the world. The Frankfurter Buchmesse is always an ideal place to renew old acquaintances with editors, agents and translators alike, but 2014 turned out to be an especially good year for establishing new contacts.
There were two exceptionally hot properties in Dutch fiction this year, both centring on a young female protagonist: Ida Simons’ Een dwaze maagd (A Foolish Virgin) and Marente de Moor’s De Nederlandse maagd *(The Dutch Maiden). Even before the Book Fair, publisher Cossee had sold the rights to Simons’ rediscovered classic to twelve countries and I was delighted when they were also acquired by the Armenian publisher of Bordewijk’s *Karakter (Character) after we spoke in Frankfurt. The rights were still available in many of the countries under my wing and I had the chance to discuss the book with representatives from nearly all of them. Cossee’s stand was close to ours, which made it all the easier to combine our efforts.
In a happy coincidence, publisher Christoph Buchwald stopped by as I was chatting to a Russian editor about the book, which gave me the opportunity to introduce them. She had immediately recognised the book’s cover art as The Girl with Peaches by Russian artist Valentin Serov. A very short English sample of Een dwaze maagd is available, along with a German translation that dates from 1962, and a Turkish rights manager assured me after the Book Fair that he was looking forward to receiving a reader’s report based on these sources soon.
De Nederlandse maagd, 2011 winner of the prestigious AKO Literature Prize here in the Netherlands, picked up an international honour on Wednesday in the shape of a European Union Prize for Literature. In addition to 5000 euro in prize money and the sweet glow of victory, the award also paves the way for publishers to apply to the EU Cultural Programme for a subsidy to translate the winning works. I promised to dispatch an English or French sample translation to a host of interested parties, while inviting those who read German to check out Suhrkamp’s recent translation Die niederländische Jungfrau.
Patricia de Groot, currently combining her role as editor at Singel 262 with that of rights manager, told me she has already been approached by two Bulgarian publishers about De Nederlandse maagd. One of them is Colibri, an old friend thanks to their publications of Herman Koch and Connie Palmen. I talked to Colibri’s editorial director who shared the glad tidings that 2014 is already the most profitable year in the company’s history, thanks not only to a handful of bestsellers but also to the steady performance of many other titles, giving them a firm financial foundation. This year in general I was struck by the more positive mood among publishers from Central and Eastern Europe.
The charming rights manager from Romanian publisher Univers told me she is planning to publish A. Alberts’ De eilanden (The Islands) on the recommendation of translator Alexa Stoicescu. The role of translators in bringing Dutch literature to the attention of the world should never be underestimated. Just before the Book Fair, news reached me that Argentinian publishing house Edhasa is planning to publish Een mooie jonge vrouw (A Beautiful Young Woman) by Tommy Wieringa: a reader’s report by translator Micaela van Muylem was key in that decision. Another Argentinian publisher, Leonora Djament of Eterna Cadencia, was overjoyed that one of her authors, Julián López, is to be published by De Bezige Bij. The title of his book, Una muchacha muy bella, is – as you may have guessed – not a million miles away from ‘A Beautiful Young Woman’. Leonora was already on tenterhooks, wondering what Wieringa’s novella will be called in Spanish.
The good news began to roll in on our very first day in Frankfurt: Niña Weijers’ De consequenties (The Consequences) was sold to French publisher Actes Sud, while Murat Isik’s Verloren grond (Lost Ground) has been snapped up by German publisher Arche. Both of these impressive debuts were acquired on a pre-empt, which means neither publisher wanted to run the risk of a bidding war. On Thursday evening I heard that Danish publishing house Turbine is intending to put in a bid for Barbara Stok’s graphic novel Vincent and a few days after the Book Fair, Czech publisher Mladá Fronta got in touch to let us know that Vincent will also be published in Czech, bringing the number of international publications to ten. The Dutch Foundation for Literature’s active policy on graphic novels over the past two years is really paying dividends, with a notable rise in the number of translations and in a wider spread of countries too.
On Friday I spoke to Hungarian publishers Gondolat, who are planning to publish Stephan Enter’s Grip, while Iperborea are considering following up the Italian success of Tommy Wieringa’s Dit zijn de namen (These Are The Names) with a translation of his previous novel Caesarion.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is nothing if not intense and even the diehards begin to flag a little towards the end of the week. On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking to the Italian publisher of Arnon Grunberg and A.M. Homes among others, who was still recovering after partying into the wee small hours at the Canongate event. Slightly the worse for wear, he listened attentively but bleary eyed to my account of Gustaaf Peek’s novel Godin, held (Goddess, Hero), a wonderful, sensual love story published in October. ‘There’s rather a lot of sex in it,’ I confided cautiously. The Italian publisher perked up instantly: ‘Sounds great!’ When I went on to admit I’d never read a novel that featured the word ‘vulva’ so prominently, he exclaimed gleefully ‘Vulva! I love it!’.
Other foreign rights sales:
- Ranne Hovius, De eenzaamheid van de waanzin: Aux Forges de Vulcain (France)
- Luuk van Middelaar, De passage naar Europa: Suhrkamp (Germany)
- Fik Meijer, Paulus: WBG (Germany)
- Maarten van Buuren, Een ruimte voor de ziel: Fischer (Germany)
- Klaartje de Zwarte-Walvisch, Alles ging aan flarden: C.H. Beck (Germany) & Notes de Nuit (France)
- Douwe Draaisma, De dromenwever: Galiani (Germany), translated by Verena Kiefer.
- Vincent van Gogh, De brieven: C.H. Beck
For more information, contact Maarten Valken at email@example.com
- Wouter van Reek, Het diepste gat: Adriana Hidalgo (Argentina)
- Janny van der Molen, Buiten is het oorlog: Bayard (France)
- Toon Tellegen, Is er dan niemand boos?: WMF Martins Fontes (Brazil)
- Karina Schaapman, Het muizenhuis: WMF Martins Fontes (Brazil)
- Anna Woltz, Honderd uur nacht: Scholastic (US)
- Bibi Dumon Tak and Noelle Smit, Het winkelwagentje: Tokuma Shoten (Japan)
- Jef Aerts and Marit Törnqvist, Groter dan een droom: Tokuma Shoten (Japan)
- Truus Matti, Mister Orange: Sakuhokusha (Japan)
- Thea Beckman, Kruistocht in spijkerbroek: Peshkom Books (Russia)
For more information, contact Agnes Vogt at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Special Dutch Literature issue (poetry, prose and image) of literary magazine Die Horen (Germany), 2016
- Anthology of young Dutch and Flemish poets: [SIC] (Germany), 2016
- Anthology of Dutch poetry since 1945: Aufbau Verlag (Germany), 2016
- Publication in twelve languages of poems by Rozalie Hirs: Kookbooks (Germany), spring 2015
- Anthology of 33 poems by Menno Wigman: Parasitenpresse (Germany), 2015/2016
- A Jeroen Mettes dossier (poetry and discursive prose) in Schreibheft magazine (Germany), 2015
- Second issue of e-magazine Caleidoscoop (Germany), due for publication in 2015, will feature both Flemish and Dutch poetry
- Anthology of six Dutch poets: Arc Publications (UK), 2016
- Chapbook and anthology of poems by Arjen Duinker: Arc Publications (UK), 2015 and 2016 respectively
- Anthology of eight Dutch female poets: Mosaic Press (Canada), 2016
- Anthology of ten Dutch poets: Milkweed Editions (US), 2016
For more information, contact Thomas Möhlmann at email@example.com