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    • You are here: Home | News | Muriel Barbery

    One Year on the New York Times Best Seller List

    Published in September 2008, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog this week celebrates fifty-two weeks on the New York Times best seller list.

    Below, a note from Europa founders, Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri.


    Five years ago, when we opened Europa Editions, people seemed to think we’d lost our minds. We came from a decades-long experience as independent publishers in Italy, and the idea that we would go risking our reputations, and the economic well-being of our Italian house by opening an independent press in America, one largely dedicated to fiction in translation, struck many friends and colleagues as mere foolhardiness, or perhaps the early signs of nascent senility. And maybe it was. But the idea that so many exceptional writers from abroad were not making their way to American readers due to resistance from the publishing industry itself, resistance that is as hard to explain as it is to overcome, was a siren song too seductive and intriguing to ignore. We founded Europa Editions with the idea of publishing quality fiction and non-fiction, much of it by foreign authors who were not otherwise being considered by the majority of American houses. Our project was as much a cultural enterprise as a business venture. We were convinced that dialogue between nations and cultures was more important than ever, and that this exchange was facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten. We remain true to this ideal today.

     

    In these five years, we have been surprised and delighted to discover that what we suspected might be true was indeed thus: American readers are not insular, or resistant to foreign literature, as they are often accused of being. Our authors’ books have been read and appreciated in the U.S. We have published numerous titles that have sold well, been reviewed widely and welcomed warmly by booksellers and readers alike. We have encountered no real resistance from the public; on the  contrary, the appreciative comments we receive from readers and booksellers alone have been enough for us to feel that Europa Editions is a success. And the successes we’ve had in terms of sales over the course of these first years have allowed us to continue in an enterprise that many considered doomed to fail.

     

    Three years ago we read and acquired a book that is today celebrating one year (its first year?) on the New York Times best seller list: the unassuming story of a French concierge and a young girl who become friends. Beautifully written, with a sprinkle of philosophy, the book had just begun to receive attention in France. Its author was a relatively unknown professor of philosophy at a small school in Normandy. We knew as we began reading this book that we were on to something big. But we could never have imagined how big, nor dream that anything like what has happened would indeed happen.

     

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog has been read by well over half a million people in America since its publication in September 2008. Naturally, not all of them have loved it, but those who have speak about it—on blogs and web sites, in reading groups, with booksellers, and in messages sent to its publisher—as a life-changing book, one that, for the beauty of its writing and the story it tells, has moved them deeply. It is difficult and potentially ruinous to examine too closely the anatomy of a bestseller. All we are inclined to say about The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the characteristics that have made of it a best seller is that the book has touched a nerve in readers; its message responds to a need that apparently is widely felt at this moment. And not only by American readers: wherever it has been published, readers have embraced this remarkable book. It has sold over two million copies in France, one million in Italy, and millions more in the thirty odd countries in which it has been published. Much of this success has come about not through sophisticated or costly publicity, not through the designs of some marketing wizard, but simply by word of mouth: readers talking with other readers about a book they loved.

     

    This kind of event happens once in a very long while in publishing, and it is one that we are honored and thrilled to be a part of. We hope, too, that the story of the Hedgehog’s success in English may in time prove to be a watershed event in American publishing, one that signals a growing openness to foreign fiction.

     

    There is probably no need to mention what this kind of success means for a young, independent publishing house. All that really needs to be said is that we now look forward to many more years of publishing fine literature in America.

     

    Our heartfelt thanks to the enchanting Muriel Barbery, author of this extraordinary book; to her translator, Alison Anderson; to the reviewers, booksellers, and sales people at Penguin who have embraced this novel and its publisher; and to the people involved in French Voices, a program that supported the translation of Hedgehog and many works of fine French literature along with it. And most of all, we’d like to thank those hundreds of thousands of readers who have enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog and shared their enjoyment with others.

     

    Sandra Ozzola Ferri & Sandro Ferri



    January 11 2010
     

    Gourmet Rhapsody Shortlisted - World's Best Book on Food!

    Congratulations to author, Muriel Barbery, and translator, Alison Anderson!

    In an odd twist, Muriel Barbery's novel Gourmet Rhapsody will represent the USA in the category "Best Translation" at next February's Gourmand Awards for the Best Book on Food to be held at the Paris Cookbook Fair, February 11-15, 2010.

    Well deserved recognition not only for the author but for Alison Anderson, who also translated Ms. Barbery's earlier novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.




    December 02 2009
     
    Thirty-five Weeks on the NYT Bestseller list. Hedgehog Back Among the Top Ten

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog is at #9 on the New York Times Top Ten bestseller list this week.

    This month, Muriel Barbery's sumptuous novel celebrates twelve months in English in Alison Anderson's fantastic translation, thirty-five weeks on the NYT bestseller list, half a million copies in print, and, above all, an appreciative readership numbering in the hundred of thousands.

    Many thanks to the readers and booksellers who have given Hedgehog such a warm reception and contributed to this extraordinary word-of-mouth success.


    September 18 2009
     
    Gourmet Rhapsody debuts at #14 on IndieBound bestseller list

    With The Elegance of the Hedgehog holding strong to fifth spot on the IndieBound bestseller list a full year after its publication, Muriel Barbery's new novel, Gourmet Rhapsody, has debuted at number 14. See the entire list at IndieBound.org. Hedgehog is at #13 on the NYT bestseller list, while Gourmet Rhapsody debuts at #31 on the extended list. The San Francisco Chornicle has the novel on its recommended reading list. Meanwhile, over at Amazon.com, the editors have named Gourmet Rhapsody one of September's "Best Books of the Month."


    September 02 2009
     
    Hedgehog one of the world's top sellers in 2008

    Alison Flood in the Independent reports on the top twenty bestselling novels worldwide in 2008. Khaled Hosseini and Stieg Larsson dominated the bestseller lists around the world, but the success of Barbery's Elegance of the Hedgehog is nothing to sneeze at: according to the Independent's sources, it was the 5th top-selling work of fiction in 2008.

    This is remarkable for two reasons. First, because as Flood notes in her piece, "the lists make depressing reading for fans of literature in translation...Less than 10% of authors make the transition to another country." Muriel Barbery is one of the exceptions, one of the lucky 10, having appeared on bestseller lists in half a dozen European countries and now also in the US. Secondly, the Hedgehog's success in most of these countries has largely been thanks to word-of-mouth and not expensive marketing campaigns, movie tie-ins, or hyper-exposure of the author (since the very first inklings of success Muriel Barbery has been in semi-reclusion in northern Japan, only very rarely giving interviews).

    All up, an extraordinary success story featuring a disarmingly cute hero





    January 16 2009
     
    "One of the most life-affirming and, well, elegant books I've read in a long time." (Debra Bruno, Chicago Sun-Times)

    The bestselling Elegance of the Hedgehog appeared on a number of 2008 year-end "best of" lists. Here are some of them:

    The Washington Post's
    five best books of 2008. More >>

    The Christian Science Monitor's Best Novels of 2008. More >>

    3%'s Best Translated Fiction 2008 List. More >>

    Barnes & Noble Ten Best Books of the Year 2008. More >>

    Chicago Sun-Times Favorite Books of 2008. More >>

    Eagle Tribune's Hot Books of 2008. More >>


    December 09 2008
     
    Hedgehog Makes NY Mag Taste Matrix

    This week NY Magazine rated The Elegance of the Hedgehog close to highbrow and almost brilliant.





    December 04 2008
     
    Hedgehog on 3%'s 2008 best translated fiction longlist

    "A destination for readers, editors, and translators interested in finding out about modern and contemporary international literature," 3% hopes to change the current situation in America concerning the number of titles published in translation each year. "By bringing readers information about goings-on in the world of international literature, and by providing reviews and samples of books in translation and those that have yet to be translated, we hope to serve as a resource for readers, students, translators, and editors interested in international literature."

    Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog has made 3%'s Best Translated Fiction 2008 longlist. The jury included Monica Carter, bookseller at Skylight Books and editor of Salonica ; Steve Dolph, editor of CALQUE ; Scott Esposito, editor of Conversational Reading and The Quarterly Conversation ; Brandon Kennedy, bookseller at Spoonbill & Sugartown ; Michael Orthofer, editor of the Literary Saloon and Complete Review ; Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter Books and this blog ; E.J. Van Lanen, senior editor of Open Letter Books and Three Percent; and Jeff Waxman, bookseller at the Seminary Co-op Bookstores and editor of The Front Table.


    December 04 2008
     
    Hedgehog chosen as one of the best reads of 2008

    The Washington Post, following up on Michael Dirda's great early review back in September in which he described the novel as "gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet," has chosen The Elegance of the Hedgehog as one of the five best books of 2008. According to editors at the Post's Book World, Hedgehog comes in at #2. See the complete list >>

    The Christian Science Monitor has also named Hedgehog one of 2008's best novels, comparing it to Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, "with its sense of renewal near the end of a life and a celebration of the beauty of small moments." See the complete list >>



    December 01 2008
     

     

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog: up ten places on the NYT bestseller list

    In its first week on the shelves The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the novel The Chicago Sun-Times said “leaps to soaring heights—movingly and beautifully,” made the extended New York Times Bestseller list, debuting at #35. This week it has moved up ten spots, to #22...

    ...and it debuted on the nationwide Indie Bestseller list at number fourteen and has since climbed to 11th place.

    Europa Editions has gone back to press for a second printing of 20,000 copies bringing the total in-print to 50,000.

    Some review highlights from the first week following The Hedgehog's publication...

    The New York Times: "Both [of the book's protagonists] create eloquent little essays on time, beauty and the meaning of life, Renée with erudition and Paloma with adolescent brio." (Read entire review)

    Chicago Sun-Times: "This story, like all great tales, will break your heart, but it will also make you realize—or remember—that sometimes the pain is worth it." (Read entire review)

    Time: "Wins over its fans with a life-affirming message...and Barbery's frequently wicked sense of humor." (Read entire review)

    Time Out New York: "It’s not beauty that provides a reason for living, but the constant search for it."
    (Read entire review)

    Vogue: "A new book that plumbs the astonishing ways private lives and guarded secrets can come tumbling – for better or worse – into the open."
    (Read entire review)

    Now available everywhere books are sold, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedghehog


    September 22 2008
     

    Amazon Readers Reviews: A collection of reader responses from Amazon.com

    "Thoughtful, ironic, and often darkly humorous, the novel creates moods which bring the characters vividly to life, even as they are contemplating death and the deepest of life's mysteries."—Mary Whipple (Read entire review)

    "I know I'll read this again. I envy you the chance to read it for the first time. Five stars are not enough."—Sharon Isch (Read entire review)

    "The Elegance of the Hedgehog is, itself, an elegant look at life -- in particular, the inner-life of human beings, and the frequent disconnect between that inner-life and the public face we share with the world.—Heather D. Gallay (Read entire review)

    "There are twists, turns, and surprises, it's really a perfectly sketched and colored slice of life."—S. Fishburn (Read entire review)

    "'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' transcends excellence. It is one of those rare books with a special inner quality that makes you ponder over life in a way only very few others can."—I Love Books (Read entire review)

    "This is a deep book. I needed to keep the dictionary close so as to get the full meanings of what was being said. It is well worth the effort."—Kindred Spirit (Read entire review)

    "This is a beautiful piece of work: erudite, laugh-out-loud humorous and tragic by turns. It can't have been easy for Alison Anderson to capture in English the sophistication of Muriel Barbery's writing, but she's made a fine job of it.—Nigel Seel (Read entire review)


    September 06 2008
     

    Time: "Wins over its fans with a life-affirming message...and Barbery's frequently wicked sense of humor."

    from TIME

    Many authors dream of getting their books onto best-seller lists, but few pull it off with the panache of French writer Muriel Barbery. Her second novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, has been at or near the top of France's sales charts for 102 straight weeks since its September 2006 publication. It has been translated into a half-dozen languages and is being adapted for film. In South Korea and Italy, the book has generated the same sort of enthusiasm and devotion that made it a publishing phenomenon in France. Now, with the release of an English translation on Sept. 7, Elegance is pursuing a goal that has proved devilishly elusive for modern French novelists: success in the U.S. and Britain. Barbery acknowledges the challenge. "But given what the book has done elsewhere thus far, I guess I'm willing to believe anything is possible," she says. "It has been like a dream."

    Only two years ago, Barbery, 39, was a philosophy teacher in Normandy whose spare-time fiction writing had produced a single published work: the 2000 novel Une Gourmandise (A Delicacy). That tale of a world-famous food critic with deathbed yearnings for life's forgotten tastes won her a single award for culinary writing and a few encouraging reviews. Elegance, by contrast, which the weekly L'Express hailed for celebrating "the tiny pleasures of life . . . with the timeless nostalgia of a Marcel Proust," seems to have scored a direct hit on the global zeitgeist.

    Central to the book's appeal is the compelling voice of its main character, Renée Michel, a 54-year-old Paris apartment-building concierge who struggles to hide her self-taught erudition and cultivation from snobby, rich tenants. She disdains their élitist notions of class and social order, but she knows the residents would be outraged at discovering what a deep grasp the hired help has of art and learning. So Renée masks her intellect behind the persona expected of her lowly station.

    "I'm a widow, short, ugly, chubby; I have bunions on my feet and, on certain difficult mornings, it seems, the breath of a mammoth," Renée says by way of introduction. "But above all, I conform to the image assigned to concierges. It would never occur to anyone that I am better read than all these self-satisfied rich people."

    But the novel is not Renée's alone. It also features the precocious 12-year-old Paloma, the daughter of one of the rich couples in Renée's building. A youthful idealist, she too is dismayed by the petty posturing of the gifted, privileged adults around her; so dismayed, in fact, that she intends to commit suicide by her 13th birthday. As the two characters' lives overlap, Paloma comes to discover Renée's secret gifts, and to appreciate her self-effacing elder as having "the elegance of a hedgehog: a real fortress, bristling with quills on the outside . . . deceptively sluggish, ferociously independent, yet terribly elegant."

    As she brings Renée out of her shell and guides young Paloma toward realizing that not all adults sacrifice their intelligence and humanity to vanity, Barbery demonstrates her own deep love and command of art, philosophy, and literature. Indeed, Elegance can be a bit intimidating when Renée's philosophical references and brainier ruminations run thick. In the end, however, the novel wins over its fans with a life-affirming message, a generous portion of heart and Barbery's frequently wicked sense of humor.

    Class-consciousness and conflict are central to Barbery's story, which some French critics have deemed a heavy-handed satire of waning French social stereotypes. That reading misses her point, Barbery says. "For me, those factors were only anecdotal in telling the story of these two solitary women, and how they arranged their lives to give full rein to their passions," says Barbery by phone from Kyoto, which she and her husband adopted as home earlier this year. "To be honest, I was just creating characters who love the things I do, and who allowed me to celebrate that through them."

    Despite its triumphs elsewhere, the question now is whether a story that deconstructs French social prejudices to hail the eternal value of culture can seduce readers in the U.S. and Britain. Barbery thinks her book has enjoyed such universal success because people everywhere are worried about superficiality overtaking substance in their lives. She says her cast of "improbable characters and clashing perspectives has managed to interest an equally improbable range of readers from very different backgrounds." It would be a surprise if those who read English proved any less susceptible to this book's charms.



    September 02 2008

    Hedgehog an IndieBound Notable title

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog selected as an IndieBound September Notable title.

    IndieBound rallies passionate readers around a celebration of independent stores and independent thinking. It’s about raising awareness, it’s about reaching out, and it’s about taking pride in your community.

    more about IndieBound


    September 02 2008
     

    Hedgehog: #5 in Spain, #1 in Italy, #10 in France, #5 in Germany . . .

    1.2 million copies and 90 weeks on the bestseller lists later, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog is still holding strong to its place on the top ten list in France; in Spain it is now fifth place after seven weeks on the top ten list... In Germany, meanwhile, the novel debuted in ninth place on the bestseller list a couple of weeks ago and is now in fifth place... In Italy the story is much the same: half a million copies sold, #1 in the category "foreign fiction" and 3rd place overall—since its publication in september 2007 it has swept aside all contenders and has never dropped below 5th place, twice reaching the number 1 spot.

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog will be available in the US from September.


    August 25 2008
     
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