I thought I'd give you the benefit of the summer academy by starting off with a series of brief portraits of the publishers we visited during the week. In general, these visits were very enjoyable, and very much a two-way thing. We translators are interested in what kind of things they publish and what they're bringing out right now. And the publishers generally know that translators can be instrumental in getting their books published abroad. So all of them treated us very well, plying us with coffee, brochures, biscuits, cake and in some cases actual books.
Our first stop was Berlin Verlag, where the foreign rights person, Sabine Oswald, showed us around and gave us the goods. The company was founded in 1994 after a group of editors left Fischer, allegedly after a row about covers... and in fact they do have very nice covers. Not that Fischer don't, but still. The company, consisting of five separate brands and employing 28 people, is now owned by Bloomsbury but has a great deal of freedom. Berlin Verlag has published Elfriede Jelinek, Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Jonathan Littel and Zeruya Shalev, and discovered Ingo Schulze, plus they publish a number of contemporary German poets.
They also have absolutely gorgeous children's books, although Sabine Oswald commented that German and Anglo-American taste in illustrations and subject matter are very far apart. I agree, but I have to say I much prefer many German children's books to all the awful fairy and pirate fodder kids get served up in British bookshops. Apparently the Greeks like German children's books a lot too.
Their latest coup is Ingo Schulze's Adam und Evelyn, which is tipped to win the German Book Prize. As you might guess, it's a story about paradises real and imagined, and being an Ingo Schulze book, it's also about East Germany in 1989. It was originally thought up for Canongate's Myths series, but kind of got out of hand at some point and doesn't quite fit in any more.
Sabine also bigged up Gila Lustiger's Herr Grinberg & Co, ostensibly a children's novel but also available in an adult version with a different cover and a different quote at the beginning. I'm not sure what other differences there are. Apparently it covers all sorts of philosophical subject matter, from loneliness to friendship. Plus a title from the backlist, Keto von Waberer's Schwester, an eminently readable and painful emotional portrait of two sisters. I loved the very promising opening sentence.
Although they have had a Scandinavian and Eastern European focus in the past (partly depending on which languages the editors read!), Berlin Verlag is now looking closer to home, and has a lively young editor willing to drink beer in Berlin bars and listen to undiscovered authors at readings. The first fruits of this hard work take the form of the forthcoming Paradiso by Thomas Klupp, a road movie of a book about a thoroughly dislikeable character.
In general, this visit was one of the most enjoyable. Sabine was very generous on the free books front, very passionate about her work and a very impressive professional. She really seemed to love the books that Berlin Verlag publishes and managed to instill some of that enthusiasm in us, too. Let's hope our visit bears fruit in terms of translations...