Monday, 22 March 2010

Things I Did Last Week (Part 2 - Leipzig)

So after three full days of fun at the Literary Colloquium, all 60 of us got to go to the Leipzig Book Fair. The others took a bus and stayed at hotels miles away from anywhere, but I went for the luxury version and booked a train ticket and my secret apartment right at the heart of town. Christian Hansen, nominated for the translators' prize at the fair for his version of Bolano's 2666, kept me amused on the train and we had a nice view of the curly top of Ingo Schulze's head over in the first-class carriage.

And then I arrived and dived into the scrum. The first day always seems a little calmer, with fewer pudgy teenagers dressed as cartoon characters clogging up the aisles. I'm actually a big fan of the cosplayers at Leipzig - unlike one writer I talked to, who advocated violence against them. I love their enthusiasm, especially against the backdrop of all those jaded publishing professionals at the book fair. Day one was Clemens Meyer day, with the man himself promoting his new book Gewalten everywhere you looked. I saw him interviewed by big-cheese Ijoma Mangold, and was later told I rolled my eyes. Some of the questions seemed to indicate that the interviewer hadn't read the book as carefully as he might have done, but perhaps I was reading too much into it.

Otherwise lots of Hey, how are you!?-ing and Long time no see!-ing and air kissing (although I don't actually do that except with a particular auntie of mine - I'm more of a hugger, with or without back-pats. If I back-pat you that's an attempt to diffuse the hug slightly, just so you know). And translators everywhere you looked, and men in big black clunky glasses even more so. Can glasses be clunky? I think so. And all the women in boots of all descriptions, I don't think I saw a single pair of shoes.

And then I let readings be readings and books be books and bagged a seat for the awards ceremony and launched into a long girly chat that was a breath of fresh air. The VIPs arrived in dribs and drabs and I felt my usual resentment that they were inside the rope and I was outside, but hey, it made as good as no difference, what with all the translators hanging outside the rope. Oh, the awards? First the head of the jury held a speech defending their nomination of Hegemann's Axolotl Roadkill - yes, it's still good stuff, people, and they can nominate whoever they like, for God's sake, no matter what Günter Grass says about it. And then Ulrich Blumenbach won the translation prize for Infinite Jest, and Ulrich Rauff won the non-fiction award for Kreis ohne Meister about that nasty elitist Stefan George's posthumous influence. And there was a big nonplussed sigh as Georg Klein won the fiction prize for Roman unserer Kindheit. How utterly unsexy, we all thought, a book about growing up in West Germany. By a man who later crowed that he has no problem using the word "N*ger", and some of his best friends are Africans. What year was this again? And then after a brief longing look on my part we all donned our sunglasses and marched out of there to do tourist stuff in town.

And on Thursday night the Lange Leipziger Lesenacht, with slightly more breathing space than usual for some reason, which was surely nothing to do with the line-up. A brief hello to a less than shy organiser hiding in a remote corner of the Moritzbastei - celebrating daddyhood in a Godfather-like outfit. And then up to the Oberkeller to bag seats for the delights to come, expertly moderated by Michael Hametner. Kristof Magnusson was on fine form, such a sweetie and going all out for his punchlines, in contrast to Roman Graf whose book is apparently hilarious but nobody was laughing. And then a surreal story brilliantly read by Christiane Neudecker, against which Leif Randt didn't have a hope in hell with his lacklustre performance. Ulrike Almut Sandig I thought was great, a tight story well presented, although there were discontented mutterings afterwards - but what do they know? And then the man of the moment was back, bowling people over with his knockout story "German Amok". The audience reaction was a sight to behold, confusion giving way to laughter giving way to shock and then nervous relief.

Afterwards drinks and schmoozing (in the English sense) and I found out what editors do all day long and I stayed up just that bit too late because we were waiting for a camera crew and the man of the moment was getting more and more irritated by the minute and the likelihood of the live broadcast going wrong rose exponentially with every beer. But then it didn't and we bitched about journalists and all went home happy, except I may have inadvertently insulted the Godfather because I can't take my drink.

Friday more tired Hellos and a podium discussion on German literature in the ROW, something I've sat through too often to enjoy now even though a few good points were made and there was a little optimism to be heard amidst all the comments on funding and pay. I may have seen some people from Litaffin on the escalator, but maybe not - they weren't wearing their badges and mine was positioned quite tactfully by that point. New media star Leander Wattig gave a presentation on social media in publishing, which was pitched too low to be of any interest so we gave up after five minutes and bitched about his suit. And then I sat down in the Mairisch booth and everyone I know in the whole world walked past and I dragged them in and introduced them to Finn-Ole Heinrich, who I love even though he's much too young for that facial hair. And he was sweet and I pretended to know something about writing, which I regret slightly now. More clunky black glasses, at one point everyone but me was wearing the things, and the world span round slightly for lack of sleep.

On to my one business appointment of the fair, with a refreshing drink of fat Coke (you can't get thin Coke at the fair for love nor money, thank God it's only once a year) and a lovely chat and a nice quick transition from Sie to Du. Why are rights people such delightfully optimistic types? Presumably they'd commit suicide otherwise. And so to bed, to gather my strength for the evening's entertainment.

Starting with Czech oddball and sudden tee-totalist Jachym Topol, inexpertly moderated by some big editor who had to leave halfway through and couldn't cope with Topol's sense of humour. Then on to a riotous translators' reception, where we got to see big boss Oliver Zille's black eye close up but didn't find out how he got it. And the wine flowed freely and there were meatballs with cheese on top, every vegan's nightmare, and everyone loved each other and ignored the fact that the toilets were up a dark flight of stairs and last year's venue was much posher - but this year there were just too many of us, what can you do?

Off to the Young Publishers' Party with my posse of lovely English girls - but they were all far too sensible and didn't want to dance and didn't want to pour beer down their gullets until the early hours making small talk to strangers in clunky black glasses either. So it was just me and the lads, and they didn't want to dance either, but they did want to drink and make small talk so that was OK. And then it seemed easier to go home to my secret apartment at the heart of town than make the long trip to the toilet again, despite the revealing view into the gents' that taught us never to eat peanuts at the bar because men don't wash their hands afterwards. But you know when it's three in the morning and it takes hours to leave, and then you're standing outside drunkenly and along comes some critic and accuses you of rolling your eyes and then you re-ignite an old argument about translators' royalties and manage to actually win merely by dint of being less drunk and pretending you're really offended and just going to leave at any moment? And then some editor says why don't we all have another beer and make up and some writer wants to suggest to the critic that he really should review his latest book, and the critic pretends to get it muddled up with another book, or maybe he really does get it muddled up, and so you end up staying until four in the morning? Well, that happened.

So Saturday was all a bit of a blur, until the evening back in Berlin, when the 60 translators met up again for the final session of free food and drink and schmoozing with writers. And I had my annual life counselling session with one lady writer from Neukölln and my annual dose of admiration from an older lady writer not from Neukölln, whom I promised to adopt if she dyed her hair blonde. And then I got a taxi home and slept for what felt like 48 hours.


crumpet0552 said...

Wow! Sounds amazing/ghastly/fabulous/intolerable (cross out those which don't apply). As I'm new to this blog and don't yet know my way round contemporary German lit (Daniel Kehlmann is where I'm up to so far, although I see that the Spanish translation of "Roadkill" is in the Madrid Pasajes bookshop window today), could you tell me who 'the man of the moment' at Leipzig was?

david said...

KJD, have you read "Roman unserer Kindheit"? Just wondered if its worth getting, notwithstanding the author's stupid remarks.

kjd said...

I haven't, and I can't be bothered. I have to say reactions have been - how can I put it? - subdued. I think there's a general feeling that Klein deserved an award for sticking at it and writing well, but few people have been enthusiastic about this particular book. Apart from Ina Hartwig in DER ZEIT, that is, who usually has impeccable taste.

Evading the issue,