Thursday, March 31, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions- Review of THE JERUSALEM FILE, by Joel Stone

The Jerusalem File, by Joel Stone. Published 2009 by Europa Editions. Crime Fiction.

The Jerusalem File is a bleak thriller set in modern day Jerusalem about isolated and alienated people, rife with illusions and deception. A retired security-services officer, Levin, lives alone and spends his days tracking for various clients; one day, a casual friend asks him to track a beautiful woman named Deborah, the friend's ex-wife, whom the friend is convinced is having an affair. Naturally, Levin becomes fascinated with her and the plot thickens from there.

The only truth that exists in these characters' world is love; everything else is up for grabs as Levin finds out as he becomes more and more involved with this couple and their desperate lives. Suddenly, the man believed to be Deborah's lover is killed, and what little truth Levin has relied on so far is called into question.

Joel Stone's book is a taut pageturner shot through with sadness and loneliness; traumas new and old shape the story and the characters' lives, testing their strengths and their weaknesses as they try to connect with each other and themselves:
Levin put the gun away, under his jacket. Not enough nerve. Maybe, in the last instance, of not enough love. He left Joseph and walked back through the corridor, not glancing at the stranded shells in their wheelchairs. He felt very lucky. Deborah would be coming to him at the end of the week, which was something to look forward to. In Jerusalem, that was all you could ask for.
I enjoyed The Jerusalem File; it's a short book that reads quickly, and a great example of crime fiction that is both gritty and approachable for the non-genre reader. Sadly, Stone passed away in 2007. I think genre fans, literary fiction readers and readers interested in portraits of modern Israeli life would enjoy this off-the-beaten-path novel about what people will do for love.


More in my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:

Week One:
Week Two:
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions- Review of HYGIENE AND THE ASSASSIN, by Amélie Nothomb

Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amélie Nothomb. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the French.

Hygiene and the Assassin is a virtually plot-less novel which author Amélie Nothomb constructs from a series of interviews pitting five French journalists against one of the most odious and unlikable characters I have ever encountered, one Prétextat Tach, a renowned author now approaching his death. Manipulative, cruel and vile, Tach, a recluse, is dying slowly of a rare degenerative illness and the literati are clamoring for his attention.

The book is divided into five chapters, one for each interviewer; one by one, the first four stroll in thinking those that came before are responsible for their utter humiliation at the hands of this truly awful man. But then a young woman named Nina turns everything on its head. Unlike the others, it seems, Nina has done her research on the imposing master; she knows him, and his work, and when she takes him on she's armed to the teeth. I don't want to spoil anything so I have to be somewhat oblique in the details I reveal, but she takes their conversation into regions neither he nor the reader expects, and where it all ends up is somewhere else entirely.

Her interrogation of Tach is merciless; he's a monster but she almost makes me feel sorry for him. Almost. Nina is like a priest/confessor, but one who knows everything and refuses absolution. In the end the reader has to ask, what am I willing to forgive? Does Tach- or Nina- deserve forgiveness? In the Catholic tradition of confession, forgiveness and absolution are predicated on remorse; if neither shows remorse, is either deserving of forgiveness? And just who is the more moral of the two, or are we dealing with evil on both sides?

This book is another one that's not going to be for everyone. Europa, as editor in chief Michael Reynolds said in his interview with me published here last week, likes to publish edgy and challenging books, books that you're not going to come across from virtually any other publisher; Hygiene and the Assassin is such a book. It's either going to be unreadable or un-put-downable; for me it was the latter but I expect it to be the former for all but the most intrepid of readers. It's a really tough book. Tach is truly one of the most horrible people I've ever met on the page and Nina brings her own measure of brutality. By the end it's honestly hard to say who's worse. But the novel is a gem. Nothomb creates a momentum and a chemistry between Nina and Tach and it's impossible to look away. I had to know what was going to happen, finally. It's amazing; it's a dizzying, dazzling spectacle, and amazing.

Rating: BUY

More in my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:

Week One:
Week Two:

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions Interview with Alina Bronsky

Recently I had the honor of interviewing author Alina Bronsky, whose new book The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is due out next month from Europa Editions.
1. I talked to you last year about your first book, Broken Glass Park. How has the past year been for you? How has your life changed since the publication of your first book, and now, your second, the very wonderful The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine?

A: Thank you Marie - I‘m happy you liked The Hottest Dishes.

My life sort of changed completely after the publication of my first book. In the first 12 months after Broken Glass Park came out I was kept pretty busy with more than 150 readings and events in Germany. I quit my job and wrote my next novel mostly during the train rides. I had invitations from all over the world and went on a 2-week-long book tour in the US. The touring and events continue even now, after the publication of my second book. However I had to reduce the quantity of events radically because I need more time for my family and for the next novel.

The great thing about The Hottest Dishes is that readers react so passionately to it. It seems to be a much more polarizing book than my first: readers love or hate it with all their hearts and react even more emotionally than they did to Broken Glass Park.

2. Rosalinda is a fascinating literary creation. Where in your imagination did she come from? Why did you choose her as the narrator of this story?

A: Rosalinda is not a product of my imagination. She is alive. She represents a whole generation in the former Soviet Union. I know lots of women like her, and readers often agree, saying that Rosalinda remindes them of their own mother or grandmother. I chose her as my narrator because I liked the idea of ambiguity. Rosalinda sees everything in her own unique way and does not accept any other point of view. The reader starts to distrust her very soon and to develop his own interpretation of the story.

3. Hottest Dishes is really different from Broken Glass Park. What do the two books have in common? Why did you tell this particular story as a more a satire or black comedy?

A: It‘s difficult for me to compare my books - it‘s like comparing one‘s children. Both books have heroines who live between worlds, and who are not really settled anywhere. The touch of black comedy comes thanks solely to Rosalinda. She does not allow herself to get depressed and she describes even the tragic parts of her life in a way that can make you laugh.

4. What themes do you address in Hottest Dishes? Why were these themes important to you?

A: Well, the answer is always the same - identity, love, failure, loss. What else is important in life?

5. Is Hottest Dishes a Russian book, or a German book like you've been quoted as describing Broken Glass Park? What do these distinctions mean? Do they matter?

A. I don‘t think such distinctions matter any more. It makes me very happy to see that so different people all over the world can enjoy or be deeply touched by the stories of Sascha or Rosalinda. These heroines seem to have something both exotic and universal to them.

6. Who are your literary influences? Whom do you like to read? What are you reading now?

A: I think every book I have ever read influences my way of writing. I read everything I can get my hands on, and I mean everything literally. I just finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Yesterday I started Matched by Ally Condie.

Ms. Bronsky, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. And since this interview marks the first time I've had the chance to interview an author twice, my thanks are double, too!

More in the Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:
Week One:
Week Two:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions- REVIEW of The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky. Published by Europa Editions 2011. Literary Fiction. Translated from the German.

If you know Alina Bronsky's from her first novel, Broken Glass Park, you might want to know first of all that The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is almost nothing like that dark book. Which is not to say that Hottest Dishes is all sweetness and light, just that it's quite a change of pace. The only thing Hottest Dishes has in common with its predecessor is that it's set in roughly the same milieu, that of ex-Soviets living in Germany.

But before our protagonists make it to Germany we spend some time getting to know them in the crumbling former Soviet Union. Tartar matriarch Rosalinda (Rosa) presides over her daughter, Sulfia and dotes on her granddaughter Aminat; all her life, Rosa has ruled the roost and now that her (in her eyes) feckless daughter has given birth to a daughter of her own, Rosalinda is determined to protect the girl. She even kidnaps the child and tells everyone that Sulfia is mentally ill and a danger to her daughter. Rosa considers Aminat to be her daughter, really, and regards anyone else as a threat and a nuisance. Her one project for Sulfia is to get her married to someone who can move the family out of the country.

We see the entire story through Rosa's distorted, delusional eyes, although the truth creeps through little by little. When the family moves to Germany tragedy replaces comedy as the trio disintegrates. Rosa is a fantastic literary creation, by turns horrific and appalling and even sometimes sympathetic, when the reader can see through the veil of the lies she tells herself. Judgemental, fussy and slow to credit anyone but herself for anything good, she's not an easy woman to like, and since Bronsky writes in the first person from Rosa's point of view, we do spend the entire novel in her head. There were times I wish Bronsky had changed up the point of view for a little fresh air.

But I settled in after not too long. Whatever else you can say about Rosa, she does love her family and I love the ways she changes, and the ways she doesn't, too. Still, I don't think The Hottest Dishes is going to be a book for everyone, and probably a lot of people will find Rosa to be a little much. I enjoy satires and I loved The Hottest Dishes for its tragicomedy and its bittersweet take on immigrant life. I don't know about you but sometimes I'm bored by the relentlessly sentimental type of immigrant stories and this book isn't that! Aminat's fate in particular strikes me as particularly emblematic of modern life, and I would love to read this story again from her perspective. If you don't like painful satire this is not the book for you but if you can come to like an unlikeable woman you'll love The Hottest Dishes.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with Alina Bronsky.

More in my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:

Week One:
Week Two:
Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: New Job Starts This Week!

Well, Tuesday starts a new job for me- a three month temporary position doing cataloging in the Harvard library system. I'm really looking forward to getting to know a little about this very large system which employs many librarians in the area. And it will be nice to get back to full time work, at least for a little while.

But today? Today I'm cooking some things to bring to lunch over the next week and reorganizing my pantry a little as well, and maybe even doing a little shopping for some new clothes. My wardrobe is in a pretty sad state! I got new shoes last week, some scarves and an accessory or two. That's a good start but there's more work to be done.

And as far as reading, I hate to say this but I think I'm giving up on The Matchmaker of Kenmare. It kind of kills me to put it aside, because I loved its prequel, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, and I admire Frank Delaney, but I'm just, well, bored. I'm about halfway through but I just don't think I want to continue. Should I do an Unfinished Friday blog post on it? Maybe I'll read a little more and who knows. But for now I've started The Madonnas of Echo Park, a novel by Brando Skyhorse that just won a Pen/New England award and which I have to read for review. So far so good but I have a ways to go. I need to pick a Booker winner out of my pile for April in a week or so. Next month's theme is review books and I've got a good start on it with The Madonnas.

What are you reading today? Are you giving up on something, starting something new or continuing on with a book you're enjoying? I'd love to know!

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Finds-No More Vlogs for Awhile!

As of Tuesday, I'm starting a full-time temporary job at Harvard University, so my blogging time will be severely limited. So it's going to be awhile before I have time to do a vlog again. My excuse for today? Bad hair.
On to the books!

The most exciting new arrival is Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks' new novel, out next month. Like lots of readers I was a big fan of People of the Book and I'm enjoying this new one very much. I'm almost done- I should finish today- and I'll have a review soon. It's very different from People but I think this book will be very popular.

Donna Freitas's young adult novel The Possibilities of Sainthood is one I've been trying to find for a while. It's a story about an Italian-American teenager who wants to be world's first living saint. I love books about saints and Catholic saint-culture and even though it's YA I know I'm going to enjoy this lauded novel.

Last and by no means least is Sandro Veronesi's award-winning Quiet Chaos; I couldn't find a good picture of the U.S. cover so I used the French version. It looks like a great book and I can't wait to read it. I might have to put a month aside just for Italian books soon, I have so many appealing ones in the wings.

That's it for me- what's new on your bookshelf this week?

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions Interview with James Scudamore

Today I have the honor of sharing an interview with Heliopolis author James Scudamore. Mr. Scudamore was kind enough to answer a few questions about his Booker-nominated novel as part of my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:
1. Heliopolis combines a lot of different elements really successfully- plot, character and style- but what really makes the book for me is the setting. Sao Paolo came across to me as almost a post-apocalyptic ruined city, and some of your descriptions of high rises and city streets and the way people live in gilded cages, sounded like something out of science fiction. How realistic is the Sao Paolo in the novel? If I went there tomorrow, what would be different? What would be the same?
The city of the novel is a confection combining some features of the São Paulo I remember from my childhood, some elements of the modern city that I have revisited and researched since then, and some flights of imagination. It felt vividly real when I wrote it, and I hope that comes through for the reader, but it's not intended to be an objective representation of the place (if such a thing even existed). Having said that, I should point out that the real São Paulo feels to me like the product of someone's fevered imagination anyway - an imagination acquainted with Ballard and Delillo and Judge Dredd's Mega-City One - so those initial spurs of inspiration don't necessarily contradict one another. When the Brazilian translation came out last year I was apprehensive about locals taking me to task for over-imagining their city's social divides, but many people I spoke to said that I could have gone further than I did, offering me in passing the latest examples of the chasmic distance between the lives of the majority and those of the gated, helicoptered elite. 
2. You've lived all over the world; why did you choose Brazil as the setting? Could you have told this story about another country?
The starting point was simply a conflicted character who hated his job, who could have existed in any city. Then all this Brazilian imaginative furniture started to crowd things out and I realised that my character was conflicted because he was adopted, and had graduated from one world to another in a very stratified society, but wasn't accepted anywhere. I also felt that the city in my mind was somewhere I hadn't read that much about - it certainly doesn't conform to many of the stereotypical images of Brazil. From then on, even though I never actually name it in the novel, the action could only be happening in one place. Which isn't to say that there aren't other megacities like this one: I imagine you could find parallels in, say, Lagos, Mumbai or Mexico.  
  1. What made this Brazil, the one in the book, this way? What forces in society brought it to where it is?
Principally an accumulation of fear. Fear makes people lock themselves away from the rest of society, and when they are locked away they feel increasingly afraid of what lies outside their gates, because they can't see it anymore. The more they lock themselves and their families and their stuff away from everyone else the more they feel that those on the outside want to climb their walls and get at those things. Which makes them build bigger walls. Which makes the people on the other side of the walls hate them even more. I was also conscious of the force of advertising and marketing in a city of haves and have-nots: Ludo's working life is a extreme vision of a certain toxic workplace philosophy.
  1. What themes are you trying to address through the story of Ludo, who seems stuck right in the middle of all this chaos? What is important for the reader to understand or take away from the story?
That's not for me to say: the reader can take away whatever she or he wants. One of the reasons I like the story is that it looks into the way people can use generosity to take control of others: a cynical line of inquiry, perhaps, but an interesting one. 
  1. How does your embattled hero find a place in such a starkly divided and troubled society?
To begin with, he can't: that's the point. The man we are introduced to as the novel opens, trapped in bed under the naked body of his adoptive sister, is someone who has allowed himself to become inert because a powerful group of people has hijacked his life and influenced its direction. Over the course of the novel he tries to get back some of that control, as well as to confront some of the various different prejudices working against him based on where he is perceived to be positioned in society.
  1. Why did you decide to write this story? What's compelling in it for you?
I had to write it because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get it out of my head. If I hadn't got rid of them, visions of pollution sunsets and derelict skyscrapers and helicopters full of rich people flickering over pungent slums might still be preoccupying me, potentially emerging at random in dangerously inappropriate contexts. The same is true of the novel I'm finishing now: it's the repository for a whole new set of images I'm trying to exorcise. But that's for another interview.
Mr. Scudamore, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with my readers and me!
More in my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions- Review of HELIOPOLIS, by James Scudamore

Heliopolis, by James Scudamore. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction.

Heliopolis is the story of a boy and his city; Ludo, the boy, and São Paulo, the city, exist in a sense because of each other. Ludo is the child of a cook for a wealthy family; according to family lore, Rebecca, the matriarch, found Ludo and his mother in a favela, or slum, where Rebecca was doing charity work. She recognized Ludo's mother's talent and brought her to work for her husband and daughter. Rebecca and her husband, a wealthy supermarket baron, raised Ludo alongside their daughter Melissa, with whom Ludo, now in his twenties and working in an ad agency, is having an affair.

Scudamore alternates between the past and the present as Ludo navigates the city and the drastic class and economic differences that define it and the people who live there. Ludo's adoptive family represents the ultra-rich upper class inhabiting isolated gated communities protected by armed guards or bullet-proof high-rises; relaxing in obscene luxury but afraid to walk the streets, they live in gilded prisons. Meanwhile the poor teem in filthy, inescapable poverty that drives them to desperation and marks them indelibly as outcasts.

Ludo represents the middle ground, neither rich nor poor; a child of the slums raised among the rich, he's derided by both and accepted by neither. The city of São Paulo is as much a character as any person in the book, and Scudamore describes its streets and buildings and squares like something out of science fiction or dystopia. It was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and the novel is arresting and heartstopping at the same time, a suspenseful literary page-turner about class and identity and the way one defines the other. Scudamore sets up several mysteries at the beginning and my only quibble with the book is the way they peter out by the end; otherwise though, Heliopolis is an engrossing, smartly written character study of a young man and the city that made him who he is.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with author James Scudamore.

More in my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:

Week One:
Week Two:
This book counts towards the 2011 Complete Booker Challenge as well!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions Interview with Editor-in-Chief Michael Reynolds

1. When did Europa Editions start? What's the company's background? What's its mission? How has it changed or grown over the years? 

Europa Editions was founded in 2005 by the owner-publishers of Italian indie publisher, Edizioni EO. The project was to take advantage of Edizioni EO’s decades-long experience in publishing 
international literature to bring deserving works by international authors to the American market. From the outset, Europa has published authors from all over the world, including the US. While the majority of our titles (about two-thirds) are by authors who do not write in English, many of them are by English, Australian and American authors. This decision to publish mostly works in translation but not only works in translation positioned us rather uniquely, and has contributed to our success in creating a distinct brand. 
From the outset, we have also been committed to bringing certain positive aspects more readily associated with the European publishing model to the US market. To wit: distinctive cover design and packaging; the creation of a brand via which readers can over time identify the kinds of things we publish and learn to trust our tastes and choices; a degree of care and attention shown the translation and editing of translations that is uncommon in the US.  
  I don’t think we have wavered significantly from our original mission. We now publish a few more English-language titles a year than we did in our first few years. That is particularly true this year, as we are launching a new imprint, TONGA BOOKS, which will publish only English-language authors, the majority of whom will be American authors. But the increased number of English-language titles does not really represent a change from our original plans. We set out to find quality works of fiction and non-, where ever those works originated, without exclusion based on language or “foreignness,” and to publish them in quality paperback editions. That’s pretty much what we’re still doing.
  In terms of its visibility and stability, the company has changed considerably over the years. Two years ago we struck a distribution and sales agreement with Penguin USA (and Penguin Canada). The sales and distribution team at Penguin has been brilliant. They seemed to understand what we were about right from the start. They offer us invaluable support on all levels and we are blessed with an extraordinarily professional and passionate paperback sales team.
  Shortly after joining forces with Penguin we published a novel that turned out to be a hit. We have close to 1 million copies of The Elegance of the Hedgehog in print. There is much to say about how and why this book became a success, but the one important thing to note in this context is that it was a book whose success grew very organically, essentially as a result of readers talking to other readers about a book they loved. It’s the kind of publishing story that I feel very lucky to have been a part of.
  The success of this book has meant a lot to us. We are a young small publisher and having a book spend two years on the NYT bestseller list and delight so many US readers so early in our history has been a surprising and inspiring development. We are now able to look a little more into the future and make decisions accordingly.
  In addition to TONGA, the other recent development is the creation of Europa UK. We have been distributing in the UK and Ireland since we began, but we have never really had a physical presence there. Beginning in January 2012, we will have a Europa UK office in London. This office will be responsible for publicity and promotion of our UK titles and will work closely with out New York and Rome offices.
  I am optimistic about the future for Europa and for independent publishers in general.  

2. What kinds of books does Europa Editions publish?Europa publishes a fairly broad range of fiction and nonfiction; what are some of the specific categories that readers can look out for?

We publish mostly fiction. We have published some non-fiction, either because the book in question was so compelling that we felt we couldn’t not publish it, or because one of our fiction authors has turned his or her hand to non-fiction and the result was compelling and publishable. But 90% of our production is fiction. 

We have an international crime series. The series bears the logo, “World Noir” on the cover. This has been an important series for us. In recent decades the noir, or crime novel has played an important role in Europe. Beyond its role as literary entertainment, the noir novel, or certain kinds of noir novels, has tended to fill the void left by the disappearance of real investigative reporting in Europe. Readers look to crime novels to get a sense of what is really happening behind the news bites that fill their TV sets, newspapers, and Web sites. Noir of this kind thus serves two purposes: literary entertainment on one hand (and, it is important to note that without this, without these books being excellently crafted works of genre fiction, their other goal would not be so effectively met), and, on the other hand, a kind of social, political and economic analysis.

These are the kinds of crime novels we’ve been publishing. Authors like Jean-Claude Izzo, Massimo Carlotto, Caryl Férey, Gene Kerrigan are training their gaze on certain socio-political situations and getting to the bottom of why they are the way they are. They are doing so using all the tricks of great crime fiction. They are masters of the genre who also feel the necessity to speak the truth about what is happening in the world today and how it is happening.

TONGA books, as I mentioned, is going to be focusing on English-language authors, most of whom will be American. The imprint will be curated by a special guest editor. The first books published under the TONGA imprint were selected, acquired and edited by the author Alice Sebold. TONGA will focus on edgier, riskier material that we would generally do otherwise. There is so much great talent out there, and much of it is being shunned by the big publishing houses, either because it doesn’t fit a certain mold, it’s difficult to find titles to compare with it, or it’s just to damn racy! That’s the kind of work TONGA is particularly interested in. Not experimental in form so much as provocative in its subject matter. The first book out with TONGA is a wonderful debut novel by the author Alexander Maksik. The book is called You Deserve Nothing. It is a riveting and timely examination of the schism between our public and our private selves, between desire and action. It is a book about morality, power, and idealism. And it’s very good!

As for our general fiction line, I think Europa occupies a sort of middle ground, at times and with certain titles leaning more in one direction, at other times in the other. We generally do not publish works of fiction that are experimental for experimentation’s sake, or so “literary” that they estrange the common reader. This is particularly important to us when it comes to our translated fiction. For a very long time translated literature was relegated to a niche. It was considered “difficult,” dense, and obscure. Of course there is much that fits that description perfectly. And some of it is good. But Europa’s goal has been to alert readers that there is also a great deal of very good accessible fiction being written in Europe. 

On the other hand, we don’t publish work that is so “accessible” or commercial as to be devoid of any literary value. 

We want readers to enjoy what they’re reading, to be moved by it, to be swept away by it, and at times to be provoked by it. All of these things are best done when a story is well told and characters are well developed. That’s what readers can expect from a Europa Editions book: a well-told story, settings that stir the imaginations, strong characters, and if translated, a first-rate translation.   

3. What's your favorite Europa book? Is there something particularly special to you personally, or a book that comes with an unusual or particularly memorable story? 
One of the advantages of working at a small independent publisher is that you are personally involved with the vast majority of titles published. You are also largely free of the obligation to publish lots of things that you’re not absolutely passionate about. I wouldn’t say I love every book that we have published, but I love many of them, and choosing a favorite is difficult.

Before reading Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy I was no expert in noir, and not even a fan of noir. The books in that series, however, are so full of color and sights and smells, so warm, so full of humanity and passion. And the crime plot is so well done... I loved all three novels in that series.

I think the Russian-born author Alina Bronsky is amazingly talented. She doesn’t take herself or her fame too seriously, but is serious about writing. This is a great mix! And I expect we’ll see a lot of extraordinary novels from her in the future. Her new book, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, is definitely one of my favorite Europa titles.

The Companion, by Lorcan Roche is another. This novel didn’t get the attention it deserved in the US, which was heartbreaking for me, because frankly it’s one of the most unusual, compelling, stylish, hilarious, and moving contemporary novels I’ve read in several years.

I am a great fan of Amélie Nothomb and feel honored to be her US editor. There’s not one particular title that I could pull out and say “read this before anything else!”—though Hygiene and the Assassin ranks among my favorite Europa books. You have to enter her world, read everything she’s done, join the dialog that she is opening with her readers. She and her books are utterly fascinating.
Then there’s The Worst Intentions, by Alessandro Piperno, The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, The Art of Losing, by Rebecca Connell... The list goes on. 

4. Europa Editions books have a very distinctive look; you can always pick them off the shelf on visuals alone. How and why did the company settle on those striking, colorful spines? What does the bird represent? 
Our books are all designed by a single designer, Emanuele Ragnisco. A lot of thought went into the original design template and it goes back to the question of brand identity. We feel we’re doing something quite distinctive, and we wanted our look to be distinctive as well; we wanted readers to be able to recognize a Europe book; we wanted those readers who have grown to appreciate our titles and our tastes to be able to identify future titles. In addition to that, we would like to think that reading a Europa book is not only a pleasure for the mind but also one for the senses. We wanted our books to be beautiful, to be pleasing to feel and hold. Now more than ever, reading a book (a real, physical book) should be a tactile experience as well as an intellectual exercise. These are the factors we consider when designing our books.

When Sandro and Sandra Ferri, the founders of Europa Editions, first began publishing in Italy they began with literature from Eastern Europe. At that time, there was very little of this literature being published in Italy and they considered that to be a great shame given the wealth of literary talent in that part of the world. They were the first to publish many of the century’s great Eastern European writers in Italian.

The bird on the spines of Europa Editions books is a stork. The same bird, two of them, adorn the spines of Edizioni EO titles. The stork’s migratory pattern in Europe is from east to west and then south. This mapped on to what they were doing with writers from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, etc. Bringing them first west and then south, to Rome, where Edizioni EO has its offices. 

5. Tell us a little about Europa's Arabic imprint, Sharq/Gharb. Why did Europa start it? What are Europa's goals? Is there a success story you'd like to share? 
Sharq/Gharb is not actually a Europa imprint, but a new publishing house, founded once again by Sandro and Sandra, publishing titles in Arabic.

There are some publishers that follow the market; they look at what the market wants or is currently doing, and try to meet demand or replicate a pre-existing successes. There are other publishers, to my mind more courageous, who look at a market and ask themselves, “What is missing?” This has always been Sandro and Sandra’s approach. They create something new and create a market for that new thing rather than following a trend. They first began by bringing Eastern European authors to Italian readers. They followed up in Italy by being among the first Italian publishers to publish and promote the kind of crime or noir novel I spoke about earlier and which we have had the pleasure to publish with Europa.

Europa, in essence, is an extension of what they have always done. The situation for international fiction in the US is pretty dire. They looked at that gaping lack in what was available to American readers and said, “Let’s fill it.” Sharq/Gharb is yet a further extension of the same idea. However dire the situation is for the translation of foreign authors into English, it is much worse for foreign authors being translated into Arabic. Sharq/Gharb addresses this lacunae.

The imprint is publishing only a few titles a year. The publishing and distribution infrastructure being what it is in the Arab-speaking world, any more than that would pose very real problems. But it has proved to be a discreet success.

Ideally, in a few years, there would be a more fluid exchange between books published by Edizioni EO, Sharq/Gharb, and Europa Editions. This might assist a greater and perhaps more imaginative dialog between cultures and countries, because the dialog would be facilitated and prompted by literature. 

6. Can you give our readers a little sneak preview of some of the books out now and coming next year that you're particularly excited about?
We are still programming for 2012, but there are already two titles that I’m very, very excited about. The first is the second novel by Alessandro Piperno, whose Worst Intentions I mentioned above as one of my favorite Europa publications. Alessandro had a tough act to follow, for his first book was not only a masterpiece but an incredibly successful book in Italy and Europe, and did very well for us in the US. He hasn’t disappointed. His second novel shows him to be a born writer with exceptional talents and great deal to say.

I’m also very excited about a very slim book called Lovers by a French author, Daniel Arsand. I found this book to be exquisite. It is a love story, as the title suggests, and in my opinion ranks among the greatest short novels about love and passion, works like Duras’s The Lover, Durrell’s Justine, or Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.

Mr. Reynolds, thank you so much for all of this great information and for being willing to participate in the series! I've learned so much about Europa Editions! 

More in my Publisher Spotlight series on Europa Editions:

Week One:
Week Two:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Europa Editions- Introduction

Tomorrow is the launch of my second Publisher Spotlight series, this time featuring the fantastic Europa Editions. All week (Monday through Thursday) of this week and next week, I'll be featuring reviews and interviews focused on Europa Editions. Here's the schedule:
Next week:
In the past I've reviewed three Europa titles:
I've also interviewed Alina Bronsky before, after the publication of Broken Glass Park.
    I hope you'll come by and check out the reviews and interviews I've got lined up. It's a great series and I want to give a big thank-you to Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Scudamore, Ms. Bronsky and to publicist Julia Haav who helped me put it all together.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Sunday Salon: March So Far, and The Next Two Weeks

    So far March has been a pretty good month for me. I've read two of the books on my Irish book list, Troubles and The Outside Boy; saw the new Jane Eyre movie and I'm nearly done with The Dork of Cork and working my way through The Matchmaker of Kenmare. After that, if there's still time, I'd like to read John the Revelator and that will probably finish me up for the month. I'll probably read Ghost Light in May at this rate; April is given over to review books.

    Tomorrow starts my two week (Monday-Thursday) series on the publisher Europa Editions, one of my favorite smaller presses. Come by tomorrow for the introductory post and Tuesday for an interview with editor-in-chief Michael Reynolds. There will be a series of reviews and interviews to follow; the full schedule will be on tomorrow's post. I'm so excited about the series; the folks at Europa were wonderful and so helpful. I can't wait to get started!

    Anything else? Well I know for sure I'm not going to Book Expo this year (unless I get some really cool job that sends me there, anyway), which is disappointing but what can you do. I had a wonderful time last year and I'll really miss seeing everyone and enjoying the bookish festivities but that's just the way it is. I'll probably do something for Armchair BEA though, and I'd like to see about organizing a tweetup for Boston folks also staying home. The way things are going right now I don't know if I'm going to be able to make any conferences this year.

    Today? Today I'm setting down to finish The Dork of Cork and do some planning. There are some big, albeit temporary changes on the horizon for me; more on that later. In the mean time I hope you're having a great Sunday; I'd love to know what you're up to.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    REVIEW: Troubles, by J.G. Farrell

    Troubles, by J.G. Farrell. Originally published 1970; this edition 2002, by NYRB Classics.

    A phenomenal work of literary fiction, J.G. Farrell's Troubles has long been hailed as his masterpiece; a change in the rules for Booker Prize eligibility kept it out of consideration at the time it was published but it was resurrected in 2008 and recognized with the Lost Man Booker Prize. (Off-topic, but I love that the Man Booker committee has been recognizing works with hindsight-prizes like this.)

    Set in Kilnalough, Ireland, in 1921, in a dilapidated hotel among a motley cast of the equally dilapidated Anglo-Irish upper class, Troubles stars Major Brendan Archer, a veteran of the first World War and fiancé of the elusive Angela Spencer, daughter of the proprietor of the Majestic Hotel, Edward Spencer. The Majestic's name has taken on the quality of bitter irony as the hotel is literally falling to pieces around its owners and residents, a group of elderly ladies left stranded by their own declining fortunes. The Major (as is known throughout the book) arrives to find nothing as he expected. Angela is mysteriously ill, Edward is slowly going mad and the Major finds himself falling hard for caustic Sarah Devlin, who is, of all things, a Catholic.

    The novel is on the longish side, and the action is quotidian and slow; there is no powerful central plot driving the narrative but rather a long series of little things- conversations, encounters, minutiae. The Major stays at the hotel for a time, goes away, comes back, and goes away again. Edward becomes increasingly paranoid about the social and political deterioration of British rule in Ireland, and about Sinn Fein (the "Shinners") aggression, and the threat moves closer to home when his son marries a Catholic and runs away. The narrative is punctuated with news items about the state of British rule in Ireland, India and elsewhere in the Empire to underline the sense of instability. Meanwhile, a colony of feral cats slowly takes over and the building continues to fall apart.

    But don't think Troubles is just some grim, depressing book. Farrell's writing is razor-sharp and funny and note-perfect; if you like black humor, Troubles is the book for you. A little knowledge of the political situation in Ireland of the 1920s is helpful but not necessary. It reminded me a little of Guiseppe de Lampedusa's wonderful The Leopard, also about a society, and a social class, of the brink of transformation and the end of its useful life; both books culminate in a ball whose consequences echo through the lives of the characters. It's a richly satisfying, beautifully-written, smart, knowing work of historical fiction with just about everything going for it. Highly recommended for literary-fiction readers and readers with a strong interest in Ireland, it's a wonderful, wonderful novel.

    Rating: BUY

    This book counts towards the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011 and the 2011 Complete Booker Challenge.

    I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

    FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Also Appearing On...

    I'm honored to be kicking off a new series on the writers' website Beyond the Margins, called The Page Turner:
    You know how it is when you read a REALLY GREAT BOOK, a book that you think everyone should read?  We at Beyond the Margins have had that very experience. A lot.  And we love to find new books.  So we have recruited an army of professional book lovers — librarians, book critics, booksellers — to help us out, especially with books that may not have gotten the attention they deserve.  Every month one of these hip literary sorts will give us the word on some hot reads.
    So come on by to Beyond the Margins and check out my post! 
    And leave a comment, so the nice people at Beyond the Margins know you came by!

    Also up as of yesterday is this month's Jewish Book Carnival. The JBC is a great roundup of links on Jewish books from all over the web. In March it's hosted by Boston journalist Linda K. Wertheimer at her eponymous website.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    REVIEW: The Outside Boy, by Jeanine Cummins

    The Outside Boy, by Jeanine Cummins. Published 2010, New American Library. Literary Fiction.

    The Outside Boy is set in the rural Ireland of the 1950s, in a world far from the political problems of the day, in the itinerant community of the Irish Travellers. They are also called Pavees and, in a derogitory manner, tinkers (not to be confused with Paul Harding's clockworker tinkers, though). Jeanine Cummins' novel focuses on one such band of wanderers, the Hurley family, and on little Christy Hurley, a motherless boy traveling with his father and extended family.

    Christy believes that his mother died seven minutes after giving birth to him, and he has been carrying this burden of guilt for all of his 11 years. As the story opens, Christy's grandfather has just died, and, per Traveller tradition, all of his belongings have been burned. However,  a newspaper clipping showing a beautiful woman wearing the same pendant Christy wears around his own neck escapes the flames. As the family has stopped in a small town to see to Christy's and his cousin's religious education, Christy befriends a local bookseller who helps him solve the mystery of the woman in the photo.

    Most of this book I absolutely loved. The Outside Boy is an absolutely charming coming-of-age story. We see the work Christy has cut out for him when it comes to fitting in in the town, in school and with his peers, and we see how he struggles and how beautifully he succeeds in many ways. He has a crush on a pretty girl named Amy; she invites him to her birthday party and the party is one of the most charming scenes of pre-adolescent humor, awkwardness and tenderness I can recall. It is particularly memorable in encapsulating Christy's fish-out-of-water feelings as well as his desire to belong. He marvels at the plethora of food and the expectation presents, on the fact that a child's birthday is celebrated at all, and he shares moments of generosity and sweetness with Amy, his cousin Martin and another schoolmate. It's the kind of moment in a book that will stay with me forever.

    I also loved the sound of the book. Cummins says in the introduction that she did not write it in genuine Traveller dialect (Shelta) because to do so would render the book incomprehensible; instead she writes the narration and the dialogue in a very genuine-sounding Irish voice that charmed me right away. And I loved the empathy and compassion she has for her characters. My quibbles are minor; towards the end, the story descends in melodrama and Christy does some things and has some insights that seem very mature for an 11-year-old (but would fit better on a 15-year-old). I liked it best (loved it, really) when the book focused more on Christy's coming of age and less on the drama.

    Having said all that, I loved The Outside Boy and would recommend it to almost anyone looking for a great read. It's so sweet and tender; it made me laugh and cry and turn the pages, too. It also offers a look at a way of life that is probably little-known outside of Ireland and Great Britain. Beyond that, though, it's really just a wonderful story about a little boy trying to find his way in the world. I'm so glad I read it and I hope you do, too.

    Here's the Wikipedia page on Irish Travellers.

    This book counts towards the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011.

    Rating: BUY

    FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Personal Life and Sharing: How Much? How Little?

    I have a debate with myself all the time about how much to share or not share about my personal life on the blog. Most days, my blog is strictly business: I review books, participate in memes and write the occasional opinion post. Then on Sunday it's time for Sunday Salon, a weekly meme that's supposed to be primarily about what I'm reading that week but always turns into a little bit of an update about my personal life too. Now, I do keep a separate, private blog on a closed service like a heavily edited diary; my online friends there are all people I know well and things get pretty personal there, although there too there are things I don't talk about. But I'm always wondering how much to share here on Boston Bibliophile.

    It even comes up when I write reviews. Sometimes there's a little story connected to how or where I came across a book. Maybe I found it on vacation, or serendipitously, or maybe it was tucked into a swagbag or was offered as a prize. Now, I'm not talking about whether or not to disclose when a book came free for review; that's something I always do, because the law says I must. I mean, like, for example, if a book has a sentimental value or a particular memory attached, and sometimes I'd like to talk about that in a review but I'm not sure it's appropriate. It may not have anything to do with how I felt about the story, or the writing, or anything else. It's just a little aside that enriches the reading experience for me, but would it mean anything to you?

    And in Sunday Salon, or in other memes or opinion pieces like these, I'm always debating what to tell you and what not to. For a long time I never discussed the subject of my own religion, for example, and personal religious persuasion is a huge topic of discussion on book blogs. There are whole memes devoted to "faith in fiction" and questions of personal religious belief, and bloggers who write extensively about this subject. I'm not exactly sure where that's relevant to book blogging but some people obviously think it is. What do you think? Does your religion affect how you read a book? My own religious background and beliefs take a back seat most of the time, except on rare occasions when I'm reading about my own religion and have an opinion this way or that about how it's being portrayed. Do you need to know what my religious persuasion is? Does it bother you that I'm a little cagey about telling you, and that it may not be what you think it is?

    What about other personal topics, like marriage and children and family and work life? What do you need to know about someone to feel comfortable with their book reviews or their blog? Is there such a thing as too much personal disclosure? How about too little? What's your personal policy when it comes to sharing personal stories or information?

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Sunday Salon: An Early Spring Day on the Cape

    Is it officially spring yet? I've totally lost track. This weekend was Daylight Savings Time so it must be getting pretty close. In the spirit of spring my husband and I decided to drive down to Cape Cod for the day and walk around the pretty town of Falmouth. There are lots of cute shops, a nice bookstore or two, and some nice places to eat- in other words, it's a nice little town and a nice day to be out here.
    Reading-wise, I finished The Outside Boy, by Jeanine Cummins, and have started The Matchmaker of Kenmare, the latest by Frank Delaney and the sequel to last year's wonderful Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show. I'm enjoying this book very much so far. Delaney was the guest on Friday's #litchat on Twitter and it was really fun to be able to ask him some questions and take in his insights and thoughts into writing and literature. I'm also still reading J.G. Farrell's Troubles, a wonderful Booker Prize winner about the Ireland of the 1920s. It's funny and clever and delightful, and very different from the other two books! I picked up another Irish novel over the weekend, Iris Murdoch's The Italian Girl; I have a stack of Murdoch to read and may have to devote a whole month to her books alone!

    I also have a special feature coming up, probably next week- a Publisher Spotlight series on the wonderful Europa Editions. Expect interviews with editor-in-chief Michael Reynolds and authors Alina Bronsky and James Scudamore, as well as reviews of Bronsky's and Scudamore's most recent books as well as a review of Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb. That will be coming up starting next Saturday and continuing through the following week. Stay tuned!

    In the mean time I hope you're having a great Sunday. Leave a comment and tell me what you're up to- I'd love to know!

    More Sunday Salon here.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Friday Finds- Some Books for Review

    So, I spent most of my Harvard Book Store gift certificate but I'm going to wait a little longer till I've spent all of it and do one big post. Today I have for you a few books that have come in for review:

    Funeral for a Dog, by Thomas Pletzinger, is about a marriage at the crossroads. It's a German novel that has been dubbed "experimental" by some. I started flipping through it and found the bit that I read intriguing and playful.
    The Madonnas of Echo Park, by Brando Skyhorse, just won a PEN/New England award for a first novel. I've seen this book around a lot and was delighted to be offered a copy for review. I remember I passed on it during its hardcover release and I'm looking forward to it.

    Finally, Jerusalem Maiden, by Talia Carner, arrived via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Thank you, LibraryThing! It's set in 1911 Jerusalem among an Orthodox community.

    What are you reading this week? Find more Friday Finds at

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    REVIEW: Tinkers, by Paul Harding

    Tinkers, by Paul Harding. Published 2009 by Bellevue Literary Press.

    It took me a million years to get around to reading Tinkers, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by New England author Paul Harding. It was worth the wait.

    A quiet and deeply lyrical story of loss, isolation and missed connections, Tinkers is a little treasure. The story follows the life and death of George Washington Crosby, a Maine man whose father Howard left the family after an epileptic seizure. Howard leaves because he is ashamed of having hurt his family (he attacked George during the seizure) and  his wife, a hard woman, wants to institutionalize him. Now, as George lay dying, the reader sees both his inner life and Howard's too.

    Harding documents the Crosbys' hardscrabble life in rural Maine and even briefly alights on Howard's own father. What emerges is a heartbreaking and exquisitely crafted interlocking family story which goes back and forth in time, alternating perspectives. George is a clock repairman and there is something of a slow tick in the way the narrative unfolds.

    The tone of the story is similar to another recent Pulitizer winner, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, also a New England book. If you enjoyed Olive Kitteridge I would urge you to read Tinkers. This beautiful, spare novel should find its way into the hands of every reader of literary fiction. A lot of craft went into the creation of this story and it will reward the slow and careful reader. It's atmospheric and dense, with well-rendered local color and detail; you can almost hear the snow crunch under your feet as you turn the pages. Tinkers is a very special little book.

    Rating: BUY

    by Paul Harding

    I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

    FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    REVIEW: Enough About Love, by Hervé le Tellier

    Enough About Love, by Hervé le Tellier. Published 2011 by Other Press. Literary Fiction. Translated from the French.

    Enough About Love is a frothy French novel about a series of interlocking love stories, set in contemporary Paris among an intellectual clique of writers, artists, psychoanalysts and academics. It's light and fun and sweet, even if some of the romances veer towards the bittersweet in the end.

    The narrative alternates between the characters; Thomas, the psychotherapist, is in love with Louise, a chic attorney married to an academic. Anna is a doctor and Thomas's patient; she's in love with Yves and cheating on her husband Stan. And they have children and complications, and some relationships work out better than others.

    The fun of Enough About Love is following these characters and their adventures- their passions, their heartbreaks and their quiet moments, too.  They're not all sympathetic; I found Anna to be shallow and vain, an emotionally distant object of affection for both her husband and her lover. Louise, on the other hand, I found delightful, and her romance with Thomas was tender and sweet. It's the two women who really drive the book; the men seem to merely trail behind them.

    Enough About Love is a great example of one of my favorite unofficial literary genres- the beach book for the reader of literary fiction. The book has about it a very European, very French feel; Paris and rituals of French life soak through every aspect of the book. I can't imagine it taking place in any other city and there were times when I could almost see the dresses as I read about one of Anna's shopping trips and feel the warmth coming off a cup of cocoa. Read it if you want a love story as buttery and flaky as a croissant and as rich as that cocoa.

    Rating: BEACH

    FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Teaser Tuesday

    Grab your current read.
    Let the book fall open to a random page.
    Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
    Please avoid spoilers!
    My teaser comes from Troubles, by J.G. Farrell, winner of the Lost Booker Prize:
    Edward's feelings were virtually a mirror-image of Mr. Noonan's. He had a profound lack of interest in money, never having been sufficiently short of it, and was positively chilled by the idea that his daughter-in-law, (buxom and rosy-cheeked) should be represented on packets of flour available to the grubby fingers of the populace for a penny or two. He was by no means anxious to dissolve the "breeding" of the Spencers in a solution of Irish "bog Catholicism" (a daughter of Cardinal Newman might have been another matter). In these troubled times one clearly had to close the ranks, not open them...

    More teasers at

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Graphic Novel Monday: REVIEW: A Mess of Everything, by Miss Lasko-Gross

    A Mess of Everything, by Miss Lasko-Gross. Published 2009 by Fantagraphics.

    A Mess of Everything is Miss Lasko-Gross's follow-up to her 2007 book Escape from Special, a memoir of her middle-school years. Her next book covers early high school as she navigates rebellion, her friends' problems and her own attempts to do the right thing and be herself even when it means being unpopular.

    But Melissa is no goody-goody, even if she's a smart, privileged teen from an affluent Massachusetts suburb with liberal politics. She makes mistakes, does the wrong thing as often as the right one, and has to swallow her pride more than once. She struggles with identity, friendship and her relationship with her parents. Particularly troubling is her friend Terry, who seems to have an eating disorder that her own mother is ignoring. In this case, growing up might mean learning to let go and letting her friend make her own mistakes- in other words, admitting that, even though as a child herself, Melissa may not be in a position to help her troubled friend, that doesn't mean the story has to end badly.

    I love her storytelling but I also love her edgy and expressive artwork. But it's the story and the characterizations that make this book sing for me. I enjoyed watching her navigate her way through her teen years, with all its melodrama and craziness, and it was rewarding to see how she finds her way and her people in the end. A Mess of Everything is a great read for anyone who's going through or has gone through the mess of teenagerhood and came out okay in the end.

    RATING: Buy
    Mess of Everything
    by Miss Lasko Gross
    I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

    FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.