Watch a video discussion of Nazi art plunder in Paris with THE VANISHED COLLECTION author Pauline Baer de Perignon and Holocaust Art Restitution Project co-founder Marc Masurovsky in a program co-sponsored by The Winter Show and American Friends of the Louvre. Click here to view.
Learn about a rare and secret profession by watching this video of an online conversation, sponsored by American Friends of the Louvre and the National Arts Club in New York, with art historian Philippe Costamagna about his book THE EYE: An Insider’s Memoir of Masterpieces, Money, and the Magnetism of Art. Click here to watch this event for free.
Watch an insightful discussion of Distant Fathers with translator Ann Goldstein and Italian novelist Marta Barone, sponsored by Rizzoli Bookstore. Click here for video.
Watch a video of celebrated author Sergei Lebedev in a discussion of his timely novel UNTRACEABLE with leading Russian spycraft expert Amy Knight and translator Antonina W. Bouis, sponsored by 192 Books in NYC. Online at bit.ly/sergei-lebedev
The New York Times profiles novelist Sergei Lebedev in an article calling his new book UNTRACEABLE “a thriller dipped in poison” with a John le Carré-like “fascination with secret worlds and the nature of evil.”
Villa of Delirium is featured in a special report in The New York Times about the fanciful house on the French Riviera that inspired the novel by Adrien Goetz.
Stay open to the world: Read literature in translation with this fantastic discounted package of six books that will take you to Sudan, Lebanon, Russia, Argentina, Switzerland, Egypt and the Netherlands. An extraordinary literary journey for just $60, and we’ll provide free shipping (U.S. residents ONLY). This package comprises one copy each of Moving the Palace, Oblivion, The Last Weynfeldt, The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra, Sleepless Night and Alexandrian Summer.
Enough quarantine, let’s go to Europe! These six books will take you to Paris, Zurich, Milan and Antwerp. An extraordinary literary journey that’s yours for only $60, with free shipping included (U.S. residents ONLY). This package comprises one copy each of The Madeleine Project, Allmen and the Dragonflies, Guys Like Me, The Animal Gazer, The 6:41 to Paris and The Madonna of Notre Dame.
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THE DRIVE by Yair Assulin is a powerfully subversive novel in a long tradition of anti-militarist literature, with existentialist echoes of Céline's Journey to the End of the Night, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk. Watch the video where novelist Ruby Namdar lays it out in an engrossing discussion with Assulin and his Booker Prize winning translator Jessica Cohen.
Posted by New Vessel Press on Monday, April 20, 2020
Notre Dame’s Charred Glory and the Challenge of Globalized Modernity
Ten years ago, I worked in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in a job that consisted of ensuring the two groups that came to the massive church every day—the worshipers and the tourists in the tens of thousands—got along with each other. Notre Dame de Paris is as much a Tower of Babel as a Christian bastion, performing a dual role as a church and a monument accessible to the world.
One summer afternoon, I took a break from my task as a crowd monitor in the sanctuary and managed to ascend to the upper framework of the building. It was one of the most extraordinary sights I’ve ever seen—a tangle of beams that has been dubbed “the forest” because it required cutting down a thousand oaks to build it. The ascent into the heart of this structure was like finding oneself in the hold of an immense galleon. To be there was also to come into dialogue with those whose hands created it in the 13th century, working with the knowledge that they themselves would never see the result of this phenomenally long-range construction project. To ascend into the forest was to feel roots under your feet.
A small door gave onto the roof. The lead tiles gave off a blinding light and radiated intense heat. The panorama over the Ile de la Cité took my breath away. At a height of two hundred feet, one was no longer in a ship’s hold, but rather among its masts. Notre Dame de Paris is a vessel that navigates along the River Seine between a glorious past and the challenge of a globalized modernity.
Using these experiences, I’ve written two novels set in the cathedral. The main protagonist, Father Kern, develops the idea that guides his actions: the primary divide among people doesn’t derive from religion, skin color or social standing; the true divide is between doves and hawks; the willingness to extend one’s hand rather than give into the temptation to withdraw into oneself.
On April 15, the forest burned. The roof melted and the great spire that dominated the cathedral collapsed, piercing the edifice’s very heart. The upper level, where it was possible to see things in perspective, is no more. That night, the people of Paris gathered to watch their cathedral ablaze. Believers and non-believers, each suddenly feeling less anchored in the earth. In the ensuing hours, an amazing mobilization occurred. The French government called for a restoration within five years. An architectural competition was announced. And nearly a billion euros were collected from businesses and private individuals to reconstruct the ravaged Notre Dame.
Then the first controversies broke out—very French battles: Should the reconstruction be identical to the old? And all this money donated by billionaires, why couldn’t they have given it instead to those who live on the streets? Notre Dame de Paris is, in both its sublime history and its tragic fire, the symbol of nation consumed in its opposition to the past and the future, the right and the left, rich and poor. A country no longer in harmony nor even capable of self-understanding.
At times the same thing can happen with monuments as with individuals: it’s in the moment that we fear losing them that one realizes how much we value them. Confronted by the cathedral’s fragility, even though its wall are still standing, we remember the imperative to watch over our heritage, material and spiritual. France is a living democracy in a Europe that has ensured us decades of peace and, no matter what one says today, a certain degree of prosperity. Perhaps we have come to take it for granted, to consider it a given, just as we have at times passed by Notre-Dame without even seeing it.
Forgive me for seeking to find meaning in this conflagration, but it’s the inveterate habit of a writer to see metaphors everywhere. To see the big picture, as you say in English, and God knows that our British friends are taking the measure of the violent fire now ravaging their own country. Certain ideas and values have united us as a people. They don’t have the solidity of stone but they have passed the test of time. The artisans who built them piece by piece made sure everyone could take refuge in them and feel reassured. Certainly, it’s necessary to undertake renovation, keep European democracy up to date, avoid its mummification, and prevent it from being distorted by a few with great power.
That terrible night, around 9 p.m., the fire began to move toward the north tower. The heroic firefighters managed to contain it. If the north tower had collapsed, the entire cathedral would have fallen, and all would have been lost.
So in the face of the ravaged monument that thankfully endures, let’s take care not to feed the fire by giving free rein to pyromaniacs who benefit from populism and set citizens against one another by stoking the rage that currently prevails within the country. And because the Notre Dame fire and its aftermath have touched people everywhere, it’s clear that this need for vigilance also applies around the world.
Found in Translation:
How a publishing company ‘spun gold out of nothing.’
By Peter S. Green
It began as idle chatter. Two multilingual literature buffs met at a middle school spelling bee and talked about the foreign books they’d read that had never been published in the U.S. Why not, they thought, open a publishing house and translate their favorites?
“But neither of us had any experience in book publishing,” said Michael Wise, a former Central Europe correspondent for Reuters.
New Vessel Press, founded in 2012 by Wise and Ross Ufberg, then a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic studies at Columbia University and now an editor at online magazine BreakGround, translates and publishes six books annually. The pair pooled $100,000 of their own money to start it. The money went quickly to buying publishing rights, hiring translators and a cover designer (up-and-coming New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck), building a website, publicizing their venture and paying for printing their first year’s catalog, all before a single book was sold.
Finding manuscripts isn’t hard. Only 3% of books published in the U.S. are translations. The men travel to book fairs in Germany and the United Arab Emirates, get recommendations from friends and read voraciously—Wise is fluent in German and French, and Ufberg, in Polish and Russian. They have become a go-to outlet for foreign publishers. “We look for novels and nonfiction that put you in another place, give you access to another culture, transport you,” Ufberg said.
“What we are doing is all the more important because of the politicians who would just as soon ignore the rest of the world,” said Wise.
Their first book, The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by prominent Argentine writer Pedro Mairal, was named one of New Republic’s 10 best books of 2013. Oblivion, a dive into the legacy of Soviet-era prisons by Sergei Lebedev, was chosen by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 novels of last year. “Every other book on that list was by a major corporate publishing house,” Wise said.
Their latest is The Madeleine Project by French journalist Clara Beaudoux, who discovered a storeroom full of papers and photographs belonging to the previous tenant of her Paris apartment and reconstructed the woman’s life through a multiyear storm of tweets. “It’s a graphic novel of the digital age,” said Wise.
“Ross and Michael have really spun gold out of nothing; they’ve really made an instant classic out of New Vessel,” said John Oakes, director of the New School Publishing Institute and co-founder of OR Books.
Critical success aside, making money in the book business is tough. New Vessel lists books for $16, which are sold wholesale for $8, minus a $2 or $3 fee to the distributor. Translations can cost from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the length and difficulty of the text and the renown of the translator. Grants from foreign cultural institutions cover about a third of the cost of translation.
The partners say they are approaching profitability, with revenue in the low six figures. Their titles sell between 3,000 and 7,000 copies, and sales were up 40% from 2015 to 2016. New Vessel buys worldwide English-language rights, making some money by selling to publishers in Great Britain and Canada. Occasionally, New Vessel gets a cut when a title is optioned for film, like Killing the Second Dog, by late Polish writer Marek Hlasko. Actor Richard Gere helped convince Hollywood studio Tadmor Films to option the screen rights for the tale of two down-and-out Poles scamming lovelorn women in 1960s Tel Aviv, Israel. New Vessel stands to earn a six-figure fee.
Another strategy is to find the next Stieg Larsson, the late Swedish author of the best-selling Millennium trilogy. The pair sees potential in Martin Suter, a German-Swiss crime writer who sells hundreds of thousands of books in Europe. His art-fraud thriller The Last Weynfeldt, published last year by New Vessel, is the first of a three-book deal that Ufberg hopes will gradually seed the market. “Suter didn’t become the biggest-selling author in Germany overnight,” he said.
Marketing remains a challenge. New Vessel offers an annual subscription for $72. Volume is still low, so Ufberg wraps all the subscription books in pastel crepe paper himself, the kind of personal touch that distinguishes New Vessel from large-scale publishers. They organize tours of major U.S. cities for their authors (paid for by the universities and cultural centers they visit). Reviews in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal give them material to share during a book’s social-media campaign. Ufberg and Wise also occasionally set up a folding table in front of Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, where selling 30 books on a slow afternoon is a success. That’s given them a freedom absent at larger publishing houses that are guided by marketing studies. “We don’t have to pass things through a committee,” Ufberg said. “If we say it’s a fantastic book, we can just publish it.”
And they are reassured that enough people want what they can provide. “Our sales are up,” said Ufberg. “A lot of people are looking for entertaining, intellectual, good reads, and as long as we can keep providing them, we’re OK.”
A version of this article appears in the May 1, 2017, print issue of Crain’s New York Business as “Found in translation”.
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