This September we are running a more in depth look at the shortlists for the eight cuts gallery literature prize . All these people and projects are amazing. Please, although you can get to know them here, get to know their sites, and bookmark them all.
It feels like a good time for literature in translation. That statement also feels long overdue.
One of the most exciting things to happen this year has been the emergence of Peirene Press, a small publishing house devoted to bringing us the best literature in translation. There are so many things to love about Periene that it’s hard to know where to start or stop, so I will concentrate on three things
I first came across Peirene when the wonderful book blog Farmlanebooks put me onto their edition of Veronique Olmi’s chilling, intense, elegiac Beside the Sea, an almost-unreadable-but-just-about-not-so-with-the-result-it’s-unputdownable dissection of the dark side of a mother’s love. They have gone on to publish two more books of equal power, both looking at the world as seen through women’s eyes, Maria Barbal’s Stone in a Landslide and Friedrich Christian Delius’ Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman. I love that these books are produced and presented with incredible care (they look and feel exquisite) yet beneath the attention to detail of the thing itself these are three incredibly powerful stories – they are absolutely cutting edge but in a very quiet, understated way. And all the more powerful for it.
A quietly confident vision that extends beyond the books
Peirene is more than just a press. This is something I’m seeing more of, and I like it very much (I will say more about this in my piece on And Other Stories, another amazing literature in translation project). There is also a regular Salon featuring readings from the Peirene authors, and Q & A sessions at the home of one of the press’ founders. I love that they are building a community around their books, getting readers excited and drawing them in, and helping to pose and think about serious questions together. eight cuts gallery regulars will know this is one of our issues with modern “high literature” – it has abandoned the common pursuit of knowledge, truth and beauty in favour of frivolity and hipness. Peirene demonstrates that serious commitment to all these things is possible without sacrificing warmth and heart. Their blog also contains monthly reflections on aesthetics that manage to say just enough to stimuate the mind without ever drowning it.
A strong sense of positive curation
Peirene doesn’t just do “literature in translation”, plucking out worthy titles for our consideration. Its portfolio tells us as much of a story as the books themselves do. First, Peirene books are all a certain length, around 120 pages – they have been selected to redress a balance, form part of a whole, and, as with everything else, with care.
I’d like to quote at length from an article Meike Ziervogel wrote about setting up Peirene, because it epitomises what I love about their farsightedness. She states that she wants
“to create a community of booklovers. Peirene has a strong, recognizable branding. I would love future readers to buy these books not for the individual title but because they trust Peirene to make a good selection. A sort of European literary book society which sends you a few times a year – but not too often! – a small, fascinating book you can read in an evening.”
That this is a proper, thought-through collection is evident from next year’s books. 2011 sees the release of Tomorrow Pamplona, Next World Novella and Maybe This Time, books that see the world through male eyes. The juxtaposition is intriguing, and founder Meike has clearly thought about it a great deal, to the extent that she’s written a fascinating reflection on whether there is male and female fiction, or male and female expressions of character.
Peirene are not just presenting English-speaking readers with fantastic books they wouldn’t otherwise get to read, they are making readers think. Beyond and between their books. I have spent a lot of time asking mainstream publishers to explain what they bring to the table that couldn’t be achieved without them. This kind of quiet, expert, attentive, thoughtful curation, and the creation of a community, is the best answer I have come across.