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  • You are here: Home | News | January 2010

NPR Bestseller List: "Hedgehog ranks fourth in the Paperback Fiction Bestsellers."

The Elegance of the Hedgehog has been on the list for nine weeks. The NPR Bestseller Lists are produced in collaboration with the American Booksellers Association. The lists are compiled from weekly surveys of close to 500 independent bookstores nationwide.

Muriel Barbery's wry and erudite novel won the 2007 French Booksellers Prize and was translated into English and published in paperback. This tale of a middle-aged French concierge named Renee, who hides her hard-won self-education in the humanities from her building's wealthy tenants, astutely comments on class, presumption and power.

January 31 2010

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

Winter 2010

From Europa Editions this season: superior international fare, fiction and non, that takes readers from the Greek Islands to Afghanistan, from contemporary Berlin to Ancient Rome.

Der Spiegel hailed Russian-born German author Alina Bronsky's novel as "the most exciting new arrival of the season," and Kölner Stradtrevue called it “surprising, poetic, extremely well-crafted…reminiscent of the narrative art of Zadie Smith.” Broken Glass Park (April) is the story of Sascha, a young woman whose dreams are in stark contrast with the harsh world in which she is growing up.

Alina will be on tour in April, with stops in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC, and New York at the PEN World Voices festival. Details coming soon.

The Ides of March (March) is a political thriller set during the tempestuous final days of Julius Caesar’s Imperial Rome. “Manfredi takes a story whose finale is well known and turns it into a tale that is gripping, full of suspense and surprise twists of the kind that are found in the best thrillers.”—Corriere della Sera

Valerio Massimo Manfredi is the bestselling author of over fifteen historical novels, including the “Alexander” trilogy and The Last Legion, made into a film starring Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley, and directed by Doug Lefler.


As brilliantly crafted and riveting as a first-rate suspense novel and with the emotional engagement of the best literary fiction, Days of Fear (April) offers rare insight into the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan while telling an unforgettable tale of courage in the face of danger.

Author Daniele Mastrogiacomo will be on tour in April to talk about Days of Fear and his experiences in Afghanistan and in the many other hot spots where he has been assigned over almost twenty years as a foreign correspondent. He will be meeting his readers in Birmingham (MI), Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Details coming soon.


A sweeping saga of love and hope, Swell has been acclaimed as a classic of modern Greek literature. Ioanna Karystiani (The Jasmine Isle, Europa Editions 2006) "writes with a marvelous, original mixture of eroticism and poetry.”—Le Monde


Download our complete catalog below

January 04 2010

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome Named One of 2009's Best

"Many books, documentaries and movies claim to chronicle daily life in ancient Rome, but never has a book provided the encrustation of detail offered by this lively first-person narrative."

Alberto Angela's spirited chronicle of a single day in the life of Ancient Rome has been named one of the best non-fiction titles of 2009 by the Kansas City Star. More >>

January 04 2010
The Globe and Mail: "Breaking taboos in Middle Eastern fiction"

A few weeks ago, Canada saw the English-language publication of Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher's Sunset Oasis, which won the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008. This year's winner was Azazeel, by Egyptian scholar and novelist Youssef Ziedan. Both books deal with Egyptian history. Taher sets his story at the very end of the 19th century, shortly after his country was occupied by the British, while Ziedan turns to the 5th century AD for his tale of internecine Christian conflict in Roman Egypt.

While both books were published in Arabic to wide acclaim, such is not the case with many novels and short stories written in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and other languages of the Middle East, which end up being censored or banned outright (the Coptic Orthodox church lobbied the Egyptian government unsuccessfully to have Ziedan's book banned).

As a result, the ability to write in a Western language, or the availability of translation services, becomes imperative for many authors. With the freedom so afforded, writers from across the region are incorporating all manner of taboo subjects into their fiction, and often simultaneously revealing the rich and varied cross-cultural influences that have shaped them. An overview of six recent novels exploring Middle Eastern topics highlights this phenomenon.

"I'm trying to come to terms with the Holocaust, something that would try the patience of God himself, and behind it all is the figure of my father." So wrote "Rachel" (Rachid Helmut Schiller) in his diary a few months after discovering that his late father, a German who settled in Algeria following the Second World War, helped produce the Zyklon B gas used by the Nazis to murder millions of Jews and others. Rachel has since committed suicide - having apparently subjected himself to the sentence he feels his father deserved - and alongside his diary we have that of his brother "Malrich" (Malek Ulrich Schiller), a former Islamic extremist who now sees Islamism and Nazism as two sides of the same coin. Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal's novel The German Mujahid, translated from the French by Frank Wynne, consists of both diaries.

Inspired in part by the haunting poem with which Primo Levi introduces If This Is a Man (in Canada, Survival in Auschwitz), apparently based on a true story, and billed as "the first Arab novel to confront the Holocaust," The German Mujahid is an intriguing but deeply flawed work. While it is true the Islamism espoused by al-Qaeda features similarities with Nazism, both in its totalitarian character and in its endorsement of mass violence, Sansal's repeated comparison between the two trivializes the suffering of victims of the Holocaust. Indeed, Sansal seems to have transposed the Holocaust paradigm onto the struggles around him, so that the victims of Islamist terror and Algerian state violence remind him of Jews in concentration camps.

Sansal's story would have been more resonant had the focus been less on the Holocaust and more on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Arab world, subjects touched on only briefly. Arabs played a marginal role in the Shoah, whether aiding or opposing the Nazis (examples of both kinds can be found in Robert Satloff's Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands), but the suffering of the Palestinians has unfortunately led to the stigmatization of all things Jewish in many Arab quarters.

Unlike Sansal, who lives in Algiers and writes in French, Salwa Al Neimi lives in Paris and writes in Arabic. The Syrian Al Neimi has penned a short but sizzling novel about a liberated Syrian woman's steamy sex life in France. The narrator of The Proof of the Honey unabashedly proclaims: "I have a physical need for water, semen, and words. The three things I need in life. I cannot exist without them." Throughout, she details her torrid sexual encounters with vigour, though her apparent lack of faith in love resurrects a tired and simplistic dichotomy.

The narrator's frustration with contemporary Arab culture's suppression of desire and her ambitious mission to re-sexualize the Arabic language can be traced to her sexual awakening, which began with the discovery of surprisingly explicit commentaries on the joys of sex composed by Arab writers centuries ago.

This aspect of the book proves fascinating, though sometimes in an unintended manner; that so many Arab intellectuals and artists feel compelled to justify their controversial works by depicting them as continuing an illustrious Arab tradition - as Al Neimi has done - points up the burdensome weight of history and heritage in Arab societies.

Taken together, two recent novels about Iran demonstrate that, whether Persian nationalist or Islamic in orientation, the Iranian state has proven extraordinarily repressive. The Age of Orphans, whose pre-publication manuscript earned debut author Laleh Khadivi a Whiting Writers' Award, tackles the unhappy fate of the Kurds of Iran, especially during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi (reigned 1925-1941) and his son and successor, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (reigned 1941-1979).

Meanwhile, Shahriar Mandanipour's Censoring an Iranian Love Story, explores the travails of young lovers in contemporary Iran, and the ultimately insuperable obstacles faced by those who would write about this controversial subject from within Iran's borders.

"The Kurds have no friends but the mountains," goes the old saying, though in The Age of Orphans even the mountains seemingly turn against the Kurds. A young Kurdish boy is orphaned when his father dies during a confrontation between the Persian army and Kurdish guerrillas in the 1920s. Adopted by the very regiment that orphans him, the boy learns how to be a loyal servant of the shah (Khadivi pointedly refrains from capitalizing the word), in whose name various punitive military expeditions are launched against the Kurds and other restive ethnic minorities. The boy is renamed Reza (after the shah), Persia becomes Iran, and the shah is succeeded by his son. As a captain in the Iranian army, Reza is dispatched to the Kurdish region to pacify the rebellious people in whose bosom he was raised. Eventually, he will suffer the consequences of this soul-destroying mission: "As a soldier he will be deftly divided through the head, as a murderer cut open through the heart and as an old man split so thoroughly that one side of him dies first, unbeknownst and long before the other, damned to serve in hell as a half a man."

In prose that is by turns beautifully lyrical and frustratingly grandiloquent, Khadivi shows Western readers a little-known aspect of pre-revolutionary Iran, a country whose ideology rested on the twin pillars of Persian nationalism and veneration of the shah, with bloody consequences for those - such as non-Persian ethnic minorities - who dissented. The subject of minorities in Iran certainly enthralls, though the author's own ethno-nationalist inclinations, which prompt her to consider Kurdish-majority regions as belonging to the Kurds, and which lead her to exalt the supposed specificities of Kurdish lineage and stock, cannot but unnerve readers wary of ethnic chauvinism.

Renowned Czech-French novelist Milan Kundera has bluntly stated: "The condemnation of totalitarianism doesn't deserve a novel." Reading Censoring an Iranian Love Story, which depicts the Islamic Republic of Iran in all its absurdity, one realizes the truth of Kundera's observation. Most people don't need to be convinced of the iniquity of the theocratic regime in Iran - even most Iranians don't. And the recent repression of dissent as well as quality books on life in Iran - Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis - has likely darkened the rose-coloured glasses of the Islamic Republic's precious few Western admirers.

Nevertheless, Mandanipour's novel, which consists of two parallel tales - the not-by-choice platonic love affair between Sara and Dara alongside the narrator's efforts to write their story in a manner that will pass the country's draconian censorship laws - proves surprisingly original. The postmodern artifice of situating the love story itself alongside an attempt to render it in literary - albeit expurgated - form, enables Mandanipour to provide a wonderfully wry and sarcastic commentary on the laws and mores governing love and literature in Iran.

And for all his aversion to the Islamic Republic, which replaced Persian nationalism and veneration of the shah with Islam and veneration of Khomeini, Mandanipour acknowledges that, in his country, literary love and tragedy were conjoined long before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ironically, the punishments for lovers in Saudi Arabia, a country in good international standing, are just as severe, if not more so, than those in increasingly isolated Iran. The Consequences of Love, Eritrean Sulaiman Addonia's debut novel, is set in Jeddah. "I had been in this country for ten years," muses narrator Naser, a 20-year-old Eritrean refugee, "yet I had never talked to a girl or held a woman's hand."

All of that changes when a woman, her face and body concealed by the mandatory black abaya, begins passing notes to Naser, in which she writes forthrightly of her attraction to him. Naser dubs the girl "Fiore," Italian for flower (Italian colonialism in the Horn of Africa having left a lingering linguistic mark), and the two eventually progress beyond epistolary professions of love to an actual physical relationship.

The dangers are tremendous and ubiquitous; even when merely exchanging notes, Naser realizes that "just one careless moment could have me arrested by the religious police and that could lead to Punishment Square where lovers are lashed and sometimes even killed."

The fact that Fiore turns out to be beautiful reveals a lack of courage on Addonia's part, a quality that otherwise can be found in abundance throughout his novel. Indeed, not only does Addonia write frankly and movingly about forbidden love all the way through to the story's heart-wrenching and unflinchingly realistic ending, but he does so within the context of a scathing exposé of Saudi Arabia's myriad social ills: religious extremism, oppression of women, circumstantial homosexuality and exploitation of foreign labourers. The Consequences of Love is the real deal - passionate and potent.

Kuwait isn't nearly as repressive as neighbouring Saudi Arabia - which is a good thing for headstrong Palestinian-Egyptian Nidali, the protagonist of A Map of Home, as she spends her childhood in Kuwait City. Randa Jarrar has crafted a warm, ribald and insightful evocation of life in Kuwait, Egypt and the US.

Much of the first half of the novel, however, is exasperatingly quaint, as precocious Nidali endures her parents' quarrels, hangs out with her diverse group of friends, and stuffs herself with za'tar burgers.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 infuses the heretofore languid tale with some much-needed drama, and the family's subsequent move to Egypt and later Texas allows Jarrar to explore cultural and linguistic acclimatization with a great deal of poignancy. Made aware in the US that she speaks a formal and somewhat stilted English, Nidali ruefully recalls "how in Egyptian my language was full of songs and lilts and catchy turns of phrase. I wished, then and for many months later, that I could translate the way I was, my old way of being, speaking, and gesturing, to English: to translate myself."

Her parents have an even more arduous time; experience teaches Nidali that "[t]here's nothing sadder than a fourteen-year-old explaining a movie to her middle-aged parents." Yet arguably the finest feature of A Map of Home is the narrator's fresh and self-deprecating sense of humour. Having equipped Nidali with such an endearing trait, Jarrar prevents the most emotionally laden subjects - the saga of the Palestinians, the tentative sexuality of an adolescent girl, the growing chasm between a father and daughter - from becoming exaggerated and melodramatic. Witty but never callous, earnest but never sombre, A Map of Home gets better with every chapter, until the reader has been completely charmed by its strong-willed and mischievous heroine.

Though one cannot speak of a unifying theme binding these very different novels together, all underscore the importance of Western languages, especially English, for authors writing from or about the Middle East. Written in French, The German Mujahid was banned in Boualem Sansal's native Algeria, but won the RTL-Lire prize in France. Though available in Lebanon - where it was published - Al Neimi's The Proof of the Honey was banned in several Arab countries. If Khadivi's The Age of Orphans had been written in Farsi, as was Mandanipour's Censoring an Iranian Love Story, the book might never have seen the light of day; it has yet to be published in the language in which it was written, and Mandanipour has relocated to the US. If Eritrean Addonia had not written his debut novel in English - his third language - from the safety of London, he might have met the same fate as several of the unfortunates in his novel, who suffer whippings and worse. And although it straddles cultures and, in a sense, languages, Jarrar's A Map of Home, with its frequently colloquial English and many Americanisms, to say nothing of its graphic descriptions of masturbation, would have had a hard time finding a home in the Arab world.

In all instances, the publication of these books in English signifies the importance of this language for writers delving into controversial Middle Eastern subjects, and English-language readers are that much richer for it.

By Rayyan Al-Shawaf

January 02 2010
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