Wednesday, August 20, 2008

British Summer Picnic of German Writers

Just back from the Edinburgh Book Festival – and the German-language events were sell-outs. A hot ticket was the double-act Pascal Mercier and Ilija Trojanow, while Thomas Glavinic charmed both on and off-stage (‘a favourite with the team,’ twinkled programme director, Roland Gulliver). A night of Swiss-German with the new dynamic Swiss Consul in Edinburgh, Reto Renggli, Herr Mercier and others, debating Scottish independence, Italian art and the virtues of particular malts –congenial festival atmosphere at its best. Sasa Stanisic, Claudia Schreiber and Paulus Hochgatterer also held court – Festival director Catherine Lockerbie said it is ‘hugely heartening’ to see the work available in English from the German – indeed, and the Hay and Edinburgh Festivals support of this writing stokes delightfully the current momentum.

Incidentally, writers Daniel Kehlmann and Sasa Stanisic were in excellent company at Hay: their stage partners, Joseph O’Neill and Steve Toltz, are long-listed for this year’s Man Booker. All four were selected by Hay director Peter Florence for his special festival promotion of 21 outstanding new writers.

Christopher MacLehose, publisher of MacLehose Press, held a soirée for Austrian writer Paulus Hochgatterer and fellow crime-writer Marek Krajewski en route for Edinburgh – no bodies in his particularly fine library, just quail eggs, champagne and lively debate in Polish, German, and English. The UK, insular? You could have fooled me.

James Hawes’s new look at Kafka and his collection of erotica was launched at a typically stylish Quercus event in The Shooting Gallery of the plush Hayward Hotel tucked behind the theatre where, aptly, many of Oscar Wilde’s plays were first performed. Images Aubrey Bearsdley would have been proud of made for a different sort of small-talk: ‘Do you use pornography?’ was the opening gambit of a newspaper critic – ‘No, I edit a magazine on contemporary German literature!’ I blushed and spluttered. Their next German launch will be that of Daniel Kehlmann’s ‘Kaminski and Me’ – where will the imagination and glamour of the Quercus publicity duo lead them for this?

The impact of German culture on the UK was hotly debated at a recent event hosted by the Tate Liverpool: Christoph Grunenberg, Tate director and curator of the current Klimt exhibition Walter Meierjohann, assistant director at the London’s Young Vic, beautiful and frighteningly intelligent academic Karen Leeder, and I were put through our paces by Carcanet’s publisher, and Prof of Poetry, Michael Schmidt. With an audience of around 80, the influence of German artists, musicians, and playwrights was acknowledged as well as an increasing awareness of current literature and the more gradual, and perhaps deeper, impact of certain poets and writers on British writing.

Feridun Zaimoglu went down a treat at a recent workshop at Swansea University – ‘quite smitten’, ‘inspired’, ‘ah, those eyes’ were some of the comments. His warmth and energetic engagement makes him an ever-popular guest there.

Thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek was in town last week to launch ‘Therapy’ – over crispy duck and mounds of Cantonese prawns, he discussed the thriller scene in Germany with booksellers from Foyles and Hatchard’s, and how his imagination sometimes keeps him awake at night. Prepare to be very unsettled by his next book…

Slowly but surely German literature is gaining a new foothold and audience in the UK. Bring on the autumn and its bounty!


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a most wonderful event. I really have to go to Edinburgh next year.

kjd said...

It's Zaimoglu's jewellery that does it for me.

Sounds like things are going swimmingly.