So I’m free to enjoy the people, events and the books – there are lots of them at London Book Fair (April 7- 9th 2014; http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk).
LBF may be a trade fair but as the years have passed, it’s become an excellent book-lovers gathering. I meet colleagues from all over the world, as well as those indefatigable folk from the UK who publish, translate and promote international literature. And I get to chair a refreshingly broad range of events, anything from digital publishing to translation panels to Chinese fiction or Russian biography.
Every year at LBF I also chair the EU’s literary calling-card-event, the ‘European Union Prize for Literature’ (www.euprizeliterature.eu). The EUPL is an annual prize for ‘emerging authors’ in 37 countries across the whole of the EU. Actually many of the authors have already ‘emerged’ ‘back home’, but not in translation. The winning books are selected by a national jury, in the original language, with the goal of helping the author get translated and recognized internationally (the Holy Grails!). The EUPL was launched in 2008 (are you still keeping up?!), is coordinated by the European Booksellers Federation, the European Writers’ Council and the Federation of European Publishers. It is awarded in rotating batches of 11-12 EU countries every 3 years (now YOU do the maths!). Yes, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare and an odd prize but it’s beginning to work. My role is tiny – to make these new voices of European literature heard in the UK – but it’s important and I feel strongly about it. This year at LBF I’m presenting 3 wonderful EUPL winners, all women:
MARICA BODROŽIĆ from Germany; IOANA PÂRVULESCU from Romania and KATRI LIPSON from Finland.
I met them first at the glittery EUPL prize-giving bash in Brussels in November 2013:
Katri was clutching her novel Jäätelökauppias (‘The Ice Cream Man’) and Ioana (author of Viaţa începe vineri, ‘Life Begins on Friday’) was in a lift. We discussed the Romanian revolution and bonded immediately– she was in it and I reported on it! Then I met Marica in a hotel lobby, in a typical Brussels linguistic-soup-situation. She seemed to be speaking French, German, English and Spanish simultaneously (she speaks them all, I discovered – including Croatian) so I plucked out my personal favourite, German. After all, she won the prize for her German novel Kirschholz und Alte Gefühle (‘A Cherrywood Table’).
I’m confused, I said: Where are you actually from Marica?
‘I was born in Croatia, former Yugoslavia’ she answered. ‘I moved to Germany aged 10 so German is my “second mother tongue” and literary language. It’s not a hard, difficult language as people think but deep, beautiful and lyrical. It allows free expression and great invention.’ She smiled: ‘I need all my different languages to be myself. I’d be poorer without them.’
Kirschholz travels many lands, languages and cultures. The novel’s narrator Arjeta had to leave her Mediterranean home in Yugoslavia because of the civil war. It’s about memory, love and friendship, where having one nationality and one passport doesn’t count. Arjeta’s world is not defined by having one language or culture.
Marica wrote about what she knows, her ‘plural, übernational life: ‘I come from Yugoslavia. It was a multicultural region with several languages, religions and cultures.’
And she praises the EUPL as a prize for what she prizes in life: ‘I find it comforting.’
Marica, Katri and Ioana are all perfect international literary calling cards and I look forward to our EUPL Reunion at London Book Fair.