Getting our Books through Customs
Our books, shipped both from the US and from Amsterdam weeks earlier, had not arrived. A letter to our hotel on Wednesday informed us that our bilingual translation of the first chapter of Burning Silk, neatly bound with the book’s cover art, was being held at customs. First thing Thursday morning, we retrieved them. Without Inke’s taking the lead while applying the curb to my tongue, I would have had to pick a fight with these most insufferable of the bureaucrat caste. However, upon the multiple pounding of the official stamp on the last triplicate, we headed for the entry gate of the Buch Messe, our badge firmly established in the carry-on suitcase we towed.
Agents, listed in the invaluable directory (25 euros,) were housed in their own floor with a check-in desk admitting only those with previous appointments.
Using our directory, we identified six agents under “literary historical fiction” to cover our targeted countries, and wrote them emails introducing ourselves.
Attaching a note on sitio tiempo press’ executive letterhead to each bilingual translation, and inserting the book’s postcard and silk bookmark emblazoned with the title, we left bundles for each agent at the appointment desk, for followup post-Buch Messe.
A section called the Center for Politics, Literature, and Translation attracted us with its juicy events: presentation of the Paul Celan prize, a Cuban hour with a PEN presence, where Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the legendary Green’s leader, did NOT show up, while Amir Valles, Rugelio Saunders and Jorge Arzola did speak on the panel. Multilingual earphone provided access to the discourse in one’s own language.
These events, often at the end of the day, usually concluded with drinks and hors d’s. Here Inke and I met a publisher from Haiti, Willems Edouard of Editions Presses Nationals in Petionville. Kettly Mars, a Haitian novelist whose Saisons Sauvages was just released from Mercure to good reviews, is working on her fourth book. (http://repeatingislands.com/2010/03/19/new-book-kettly-mars’-saisons-sauvages/.)
When Willems told me he had published Russell Banks, I offered my card and paid attention. (www.pressesnationales-dhaiti.com)
His catalog features an impressive collection of intellectuals and writers, from the republication of Jacques Romains’ oeuvres to poets, short story writers (Jean-Euphele Milce,) and novelists including Cleante Valcin’s La Blanche Negresse and Cruelle Destinee, which advised the reader that this was a novel about an unfortunate prostitute.
If the protagonist is named Destiny in this novel of the 1930’s, I thought, then I have finally found an older woman named Destiny. A short survey of the plots of each of these republished novels led me to believe that Barbara Chase Riboud would be interested in Valcin’s treating subjects similar to hers. The press on Kettly Mars’ Saisons Sauvages about the Duvalier regime in Haiti deals with master/slave relations as well. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Chase-Riboud)
Many prizes are awarded for literature at the beginning of the fair, to take advantage of the attendant press. At the German Women in Publishing party, I met Ingeborg Hohl of LiBeraturpreis, which awards a prize for women writers from Third World countries. The winner of the German Book Prize this year went to Melinda Nadj Abonji for Falcons Without Falconers, a story of a Hungarian minority in Serbia. The novel, which begins with a child’s point of view, continues in the adult woman’s pov in an “apparently carefree Balkan comedy.” One can’t help but think of the beginning of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated with a similarly picaresque beginning; both books conclude in the shadow of wars with genocide as theme. Undoubtedly we missed a lot, but it seemed strange that only one American author, David Foster Wallace, was included in major events and programming.
Jet Lag cum Geo-psychocultural Whiplash
I made sure that I flew from Frankfurt to Philadelphia, with a several day stop over in our home in the rural Penn-York Valley. True, I had major events scheduled for two of the three days there, but by the time I arrived back in Northen California, it took me a couple days to get over the worst effects of the jet lag.
I am developing a theory that the symptoms that possessed me–dizziness, fatigue–were really cultural whiplash masquerading as the need to meditate, perchance to dream. From Rebgeshain to Frankfurt, from Amsterdam’s Dutch Resistance Museum, to Paris and rural Brittany, featuring the prized belon oysters and Neolithic tumulus, I was in the thrall of a challenge to my digestive system–psychic and cultural digestion–spending productive hours flat on my back sorting through impressions, not only filing them but connecting them with their corollary a-ha’s.