Reinhard Jirgl

Posted in Uncategorized on 11/07/2013 by northnorthw

450px-Reinhard-jirgl-2009-ffm-004A little over a year ago, I was listening to That Other Word, a podcast of the Center for the Art of Translation. Daniel Medin had interviewed Geraldine Chognard, who manages the Parisian bookstore Le Comptoir de Mots. Geraldine spoke about her enthusiasm and her success in hand-selling Reinhard Jirgl, a German author known for an unconventional, challenging style of writing.

There are no English translations of his work. I sent an email to Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books asking if an agent had discussed Jirgl’s works with him. (Naveen just won the Goethe Medal for his efforts in bringing German writing into English). He didn’t recall anyone offering Jirgl.

I did some searching on the internet, ran German reviews of Jirgl’s works through “translate this page” and Google Translate. Everything sounded interesting.

In January, Rick Simonson of The Elliott Bay Book Company and I were in Kolkata to teach a class at the Seagull School of Publishing. We observed an afternoon session with Berlin-based translator Katy Derbyshire and authors Inka Parei and Dorothee Elmiger.

After their class, I asked Katy if she was aware of Jirgl. She was, and suggested that his books would be difficult to translate. Inka overheard our conversation and asked me whom we were discussing. When I told her, she said very slowly “I love Reinhard Jirgl,” and spent the next few minutes talking about his works and writing style.

Naveen, on the other side of the office, overheard our conversation and asked me for Jirgl’s German publisher;  it is Carl Hanser Verlag. Naveen said that he knew them well, that they were like family.

I’ve only been involved in two acquisitions and both made me very nervous. Over the next few months, I kept asking, prodding Naveen. He told me these things work in their own time. I needed to be patient. Everything was all right. It would happen.

In August, Naveen wrote to tell me that Seagull Books would be publishing all six of Jirgl’s works! In September, Jirgl’s book Nichts von euch auf Erden (Deserted Earth) was announced as one of the six finalists for the German Book Prize. In October, Naveen told me that Iain Gailbraith would be the translator of the books.

The six books are:

Abschied von den Feinden

Die antlantische Mauer

Die Unvollendeten

Nichts von euch auf Erden

Die Stille

Here’s a sample translation of Deserted Earth that was submitted to the German Book Prize:

His trepidations persisted, however – doubts born of the fear of confronting his beloved once again. (The woman had long been part of his innermost self; he had communed with her, lending her imaginary person feelings and words that were wholly his own, forging a closeness that had never truly existed. A being had emergedfrom this who possessed all the features of The One, but who was solely the repository of his own desires. Sometimes a voice would ask him: Can I help it if you love me – and he would feel abashed. Meeting her again for real meant his mental projection of her would be exposed to the ordeal of seeing his desires and imaginings tested by the woman in the flesh – who would be a stranger to him. He dreaded his renewed encounter with her, and yet there was nothing he longed for more.) –

This time, for the homecoming multitudes returning from Mars to Earth, there was no reception on the esplanade in Central Europe’s capital, no crowd clad in white, eagerly awaiting their arrival. It was as if the homecomers were sneaking into the city like an army of thieves. Nobody was on the esplanade. Instead of finely pleated, white summer robes: snow. Billions of gleaming crystals, miniscule starlets fallen from skyhigh blue, atomized the sunlight –. Not a footprint here, not a person or beast, nobody,nothing at all – the smoothly draped whiteness was untouched, beautiful. Everything sounded brighter, voices carried – a bracing chill gave freshness to the air. Gravity and atmospheric pressure bore down with an iron heft; his heart beat in his throat, flailing against the invisible dead-weight. The dense air around his mouth resisted his breathing, and although its freshness brushed his lips with the uncanny delicacy and keenness of ice-needles, it had the compact solidity of an ice-ball, and was practically impossible to inhale. He felt he was drowning in a freezing ocean of air, yet his straining lungs craved its icy rivulets, sucking them in like largesse. – By and by, able to breathe freely at last, he became re-acclimatized to the pleasantly fresh, frosty air that swirled around him wherever he went. Soon he was walking upright, his body tensed against gravity, his back straight, setting one foot before the other. Day by day he grew used to the atmosferic pressure, and to the bliss of easily breathing the snowy air of the Earth.

He had been allocated a flat in a remote part of town, and it was here that he went about his work on Earth. It had once been his task to assign contingents of prisoners to work camps on the moon; his job today was that of selecting and collecting books, morfological tomes whose content was unknown to him. The work suited him, and he liked the mellow glow of the books in the dark. He did not regret his previous activities. His experience was that people could only be improved by opening their skulls and ripping out their putrid brains. For it is written: If it offends thee, gouge it out. The sooner, the better. Now that he was no longer obliged to have contact with them, the people he did meet seemed as changeable as the weather. Like the weather, people showed peculiarities that were alien to him and functioned according to their own rules. Their intercourse was mainly distrustful and pedantic. The people had split into warring factions, and the continents were partitioned into parcels of officially prescribed benignity. As if aspiring to jurisprudence they couched their speech in legalese and adopted the piqued manner of cantankerous aunts or other such moral guardians. There was a universal tendency to jaundiced faultfinding, all sedulously prosecuted with a will to the be(a)st for everyone. No morsel of speech was too sickly-sugared to take into their mouths, and for dollops of fatty grease shot through with slivers of metal they dutifully lacerated their tongues and gums; in every word was the sweetly-fetid tang of blood. Conversations quickly congealed to a bilgy viscosity that resembled rank porridge. People swallowed down most of their rage, and affecting equanimity furtively brooded on their Right-to-One-Murder as meanly as some dog chewing a bone. Cancer and heart-attack rates on New Earth had soared in this era of global embrace and The Great Peace….. And as yesterday, so today, with the same results: hatred greed resentment deviousness spiteful cunning, but more especially stupidity laziness indifference. Occasionally there was passion, love – but even they were never unalloyed with wile. Sociability and amusement: all alien to him, vacuous trivialities. He lacked the human impulse to flock together; the C-Gene Modification had been unable to inoculate him: His will to solitude had remained resistant. He had neither the will nor the facility to mingle with all these people, and thus he shunned human society, passing his days alone with his books, monuments by people who lived on in their works. The creations of humankind are often more human than their creators, a person’s work more valuable than the person. He arranged for several collections of morfological books to be transported by shuttle to the Earth’s moon, there to be housed on the near side of the Moon in abandoned depots, the last people having finally left. There, with a view to Earth, they would be safe. Only the morfological books were to survive.

– – - translated from the German by Iain Galbraith

Destruction and Sorrow Under the Heaven

Posted in Uncategorized on 02/25/2013 by northnorthw

Krasznahorkai_Laszlo600_300_338

This story is all about connections and chance.

To put it in context, I think it’s important to know what it is that I do in publishing. And more to the point, what I don’t do. I’m a sales representative for a group of literary and academic presses. So basically I procure orders for forthcoming books from bookstores. I’m not in marketing or publicity. I’m not an editor or an agent. My interaction with authors is infrequent and usually involves making sure that bookstores are aware of their forthcoming titles. Sometimes I help them set up bookstore appearances. But mostly, authors and I don’t talk with each other, and I think publishers prefer it that way.

However, a couple of years ago, I started a relationship with Seagull Books of Kolkata, India. University of Chicago Press distributes them in the United States, a publisher I’ve worked with since the 1980s. I offered to present Seagull’s books at sales conference because there was a bit of a disconnect – India and the U.S. have different styles of communicating forthcoming book information.

In November 2011, Seagull Books’ publisher, Naveen Kishore, was visiting a family member about three hours south of where I live. Rick Simonson of Elliott Bay Book Company is very much interested in all things involving books and India, and suggested we take the train to spend a day with him. We talked about books, about publishing, about a publishing school Naveen had just started with help from the Norwegian Ambassador to India. A few days and a few emails later, I was retained as the Seagull Books associate in North America, a yearlong project to heighten their exposure in the U.S. market.

A week later I was in Chicago, where I met Jeff Waxman, who had recently been hired by the University of Chicago Press as a promotions manager and would be handling Seagull Books. He told me that he was on the jury of the Best Translated Book Award, which has connections with the Three Percent website and podcast, operated by the literature house Open Letter Books. The publisher of Open Letter Books is Chad Post.

On the first Three Percent podcast I heard, Chad and Tom Roberge of New Directions were talking about the release of Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. It sounded so interesting that I asked Dan Christaens, my local New Directions representative, for a copy. It sat on my shelf for a few weeks and I decided the only way to spend time with it was to take it with me on a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.

I then found out through Scott Esposito of the Center for the Art of Translation that Krasznahorkai was going to be in San Francisco at the same time, doing a reading at City Lights Bookstore..

I called my friend Paul Yamazaki, the buyer for City Lights. He said that before the reading there would be a small reception for Laszlo in the office of Elaine Katzenberger and invited me to attend and meet the author.

We all met in Elaine’s office and at a break in the conversation, I asked Krasznahorkai how many books he had written that had not been translated into English. I believe he said fifteen. I asked if there was anything that wouldn’t be appropriate for New Directions, his U.S. publisher.

When Laszlo went downstairs for his reading, I sent a text to Naveen Kishore, the publisher of Seagull Books, asking him if I could approach Laszlo about doing a book for Seagull. Miraculously caught him in the office (13 ½ hour time difference) and gave me the green light. After the reading, I told Paul that I was serious about a possible project for Seagull Books. He suggested I ask Laszlo about non-fiction. I approached him, explained my connection with Seagull, told him we would be very interested in discussing a project with him, and asked for his address to send a copy of the Seagull catalog so that he could see what we were doing. Seagull does an amazing catalog. He told me to ask Peter Maravelis of City Lights for his email address, drop him an email, and he would tell me how to get a catalog to him.

I got the information from Peter and thengave it to Naveen but he said I should just keep going with it, that I was doing fine. I sent Laszlo a rambling email asking if he would consider a project with us. Perhaps a collection of essays? Or an extended meditation? That Seagull had arranged for the US distribution of Sylph Editions, publisher of his cahier Animalinside. That we were the publishers of Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Yves Bonnefoy, Cees Nooteboom, Benedict Anderson, Mo Yan, and more. That the catalog I would send him even had a contribution written by Barbara Epler, the publisher of New Directions, who is a close friend of Naveen’s.

Two weeks went by, then an email showed up in my inbox. Laszlo said he had thought a bit about what would be the best project for Seagull and he had decided “a nonfiction novel” about the South-Song-Dynasty-Time as seen from year 2000. He wanted to do minor revisions, but could get the manuscript to us in September, that he held the rights, and that “Barbara (Epler) was also happy with it.” Which was critical because Naveen wouldn’t publish without her blessing.

I told Laszlo that we would very much like to publish this. Then I connected Naveen and Laszlo, who have strong similarities; they’re both very creative, very artistic, very poetic. Naveen thanked him for the warmth he had shown me in response to my request. He promised Laszlo that he would always keep the book in print and that “we would happily and in complete faith publish anything and everything you choose to give us.”

Naveen made an offer, which reached Laszlo while he was traveling. Laszlo accepted the author but asked for more time to do revisions and would deliver the manuscript by December. Naveen approached Oittillie Mulzet to do the translation. Laszlo told his agent to prepare a contract.

A couple of weeks went by. A month. Two months. When I asked Naveen if he had received the contract he told me not to worry, everything was fine. About three months later his agent sent an email asking for the agreed full terms of the contract. She was going to meet with Laszlo in December at the London Review Bookshop for an event, a conversation between Laszlo and Colm Toibin. Another month went by.

In the middle of January, bookseller Rick Simonson and I went to Kolkata to teach at the Seagull School of Publishing. One afternoon I was answering email in Naveen’s office and Naveen said he had just received the contract from Laszlo’s agent. Unbelievable! He said I could sign on the witness line if I wanted. Yes!

The next day, Naveen said he had received the manuscript via email. I asked if I could see it. He asked me if I could read Hungarian. It didn’t matter; I just wanted to see it.

It showed up in my inbox along with an email from Laszlo that said:
“I would like to inform you that I sent to Naveen the manuscript in Hungarian language of my reportage “Destruction and Sorrow Under the Heaven” a few minutes ago.
I am happy, really happy for this wonderful chance to publish this writing in English.
Thanks a lot for you!

KRASZNAHORKAI LÁSZLÓ
ROMBOLÁS ÉS BÁNAT AZ ÉG ALATT

I am so pleased and proud that in my small way that I was part of the process to bring another of this wonderful author’s books to print in English. And I’m thrilled that for a few months I got to experience what it is like to walk the editor’s path.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.