Rights Roundup: War, Allegory, and Crime Drama Ahead of BookExpo

In News by Porter Anderson

A wartime tale with a Senegalese protagonist in France, a generational family drama from Georgian author Nino Haratischwili, a Catalan classic, two books for young readers, and the Orient Express with Agatha Christie aboard—all are in our pre-BookExpo rights roundup.

Clockwise from upper left, authors represented in this rights roundup are Nino Haratischwili, Mercè Rodoreda, Lindsay Jayne Ashford (by Isabella Ashford), Marisa Haetzman and Chris Brookmyre (who write as Ambrose Parry), Mechthild Gläser, David Diop, Heine Bakkeid (by Harriet M. Olsen), and Katherine Halligan.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Souls Have No Mouths’
Almost like our author photos, the books we look at this time in our rights roundup, tend to either pop with lively color or brood in gray-toned shadows.

We’re looking at children’s books, meditations on the emotional agonies of war, dark social fantasy, Agatha Christie as a character instead of an author, a family saga, and more. Original publications here are in English, Catalan, French, Norwegian and German.

We’re pleased to start with a challenging book by a master, the late Mercè Rodoreda, regarded as the greatest postwar Catalan author, whose The Time of the Doves is said by many to be the language’s best work. The surreal Death in Spring, compared by some to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, has elements of magical realism and is seen as an allegory of components of dictatorship—perhaps a timely read, is now available in English from Penguin UK. (The first English edition was published in the US by Open Letter Books in 2009).

“Souls have no mouths,” Rodoreda has her young protagonist say in Death in Spring in Martha Tennent’s translation, “so they spoke to us through the voice of the wind.”

As in each roundup, we use the promotional copy supplied to us by agents and rights directors. We edit that sales copy to give you an idea about a book’s nature and tone.

If you’d like to submit a deal to Publishing Perspectives, see the instructions at the end of this article.

UK cover art

Death in Spring (La mort i la primavera) by Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983)

Publisher (Catalan, 1986): Club Editor
Rights contacts: Casanovas & Lynch, Barcelona
For rights inquiries: Sandra Pereja
For manuscript request: María Lynch

Reported rights sales:

  • New – UK/English: Penguin UK, translated by Martha Tennent
  • USA: Open Letter (also the Tennent translation)
  • Sweden: Norstedts
  • Italy: Nuova Frontiera
  • Germany: Suhrkamp

US cover art

Regarded by many critics as the best work of the later period of Mercè Rodoreda’s career, Death in Spring–published three years after the death of the author–is described as a “dark and dream-like tale of a teenage boy’s coming of age in a remote village in the Catalan mountains.”

Written over a 20-year timeframe after Rodoreda was forced into exile following the Spanish Civil War, Death in Spring opens in the voice of the boy 14 years old, who lives in an isolated hamlet in which cruel customs are followed without question and attempts at rebellion are put down swiftly. The loss of his father means he’s required to make his way amid a society built on crippling conformity.

Original Catalan edition cover art

Seen by many as an allegory for dictatorship, the book is “a bewitching and unsettling novel about power, exile, and the hope that comes from even the smallest gestures of independence.”

From promotional copy: “The novel tells the story of the bizarre and destructive customs of a nameless town—burying the dead in trees after filling their mouths with cement to prevent their soul from escaping, or sending a man to swim in the river that courses underneath the town to discover if they will be washed away by a flood—through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy who must come to terms with the rhyme and reason of this ritual violence, and with his wild, child-like, and teenaged stepmother, who becomes his playmate.

“It’s through these rituals, and the developing relationships between the boy and the townspeople, that Rodoreda portrays a fully-articulated, though quite disturbing, society … [in] stunningly poetic language and lush descriptions.”

Original German cover art

Die Buchspringer (The Book Jumper) by Mechthild Gläser

Publisher: Loewe Verlag
Rights contact: Friederike Fuxen, Loewe Verlag, Bindlach

Reported rights sales:

  • New – Spain: Libros de Seda
  • Brasil: Editora Bertrand Brasil
  • China: Lijiang Publishing Limited
  • France: Fleurus
  • Italy: Giunti Editore
  • South Korea: Saenggakui Jip
  • Poland: Proszynski
  • Romania: Rao Books
  • Russia: Ripol Classic
  • Slovakia: Albatros
  • Czech Republic: Albatros
  • Turkey: Altin Kitaplar
  • USA: Macmillan Children’s Publishing (Feiwel & Friends)

US cover art

Loewe Verlag’s rights director, Friederike Fuxen, says that the company has been caught off guard by the rights-sales success they’ve had with The Book Jumper. It’s author Mechthild Gläser’s debut and, published in 2015, now has sold into 13 territories.

We’re perhaps somewhat less surprised. The Book Jumper is about Amy, who has inherited the family super-power of jumping into a book and taking part in its story, explore its world, interact with its characters. And book people love books about books. So perhaps it’s less shocking than originally thought that this book about books is such a hit.

Nevertheless, the title’s international reach is thoroughly impressive, and Gläser is being compared to the popular German YA author Kerstin Gier.

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Publisher: Amazon Publishing  / Lake Union Publishing
Rights contact: Alexandra Levenberg, Amazon Publishing, USA

Reported rights sales:

  • New – Greece: Metaichmio
  • Bulgaria: Prozorets
  • Czech Republic: Jota
  • Estonia: Ersen
  • Germany: AmazonCrossing
  • Hungary: Konyvmolykepzo
  • Portugal: Saída de Emergência
  • Romania: Nemira
  • Russia: Exmo
  • UK large print: F.A. Thorpe Publishing
  • US large print: Center Point Large Print

In this novel from Lindsay Jayne Ashford, the author of Murder on the Orient Express is The Woman on the Orient Express.

“Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage,” promotional copy tells us, “Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

“Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabin mate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

“Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.”

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry*
*Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for the wife-husband writing team of Marisa Haetzman and Chris Brookmyre

Publisher: Canongate
Rights contact: Andrea Joyce, Canongate, Edinburgh

Reported right sales:

  • New – Poland: Zysk
  • Canada: HarperCollins Canada
  • Denmark: Modtryk
  • Germany: Piper
  • Italy: Rizzoli
  • Russia: Eksmo
  • Spain: Salamandra

In this crime drama set in 19th-century Edinburgh, young women are the victims of gruesome killings, as medical student Will Raven is starting his apprenticeship with Dr. Simpson.

“Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city,” according to promotional copy. “His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anesthesia. It’s here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognizes trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of Raven’s intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.

“With each having his and her own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld.”

As reported by Natasha Onwuemezi at The Bookseller last month, “Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company SunnyMarch has pre-empted the TV rights to Ambrose Parry’s new novel The Way of All Flesh, the first in a new historical series set in the medical world of Edinburgh in the 1840s.”

Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook the World by Katherine Halligan
Illustrated by Sarah Walsh

Publisher: Nosy Crow
Rights contact: Michela Pea, Nosy Crow, London

Reported rights sales:

  • New – Czech Republic: Presco
  • Poland: Ameet
  • France: Hatier
  • South Korea: Bear Books
  • Ukraine: Ranok
  • Spain: Grupo SM
  • Chile (South American rights): Contrapunto
  • Israel: Mizrahi
  • Russia: Clever
  • USA: Simon & Schuster
  • The Netherlands: Gottmer

Illustrator Sarah Walsh

Called “compelling, motivating and usually arresting in equal measure,” Katherine Halligan and Sarah Walsh’s Herstory is called by its publisher “the perfect introduction to just some of the amazing women who have shaped our world.

“From Anne Frank to Frida Kahlo, and Marie Curie to Malala, these writers, leaders, artists, and scientists shook the world with their vision, bravery and hope. This beautiful book features inspiring words from all of these women, the stories of their childhood, the challenges they faced and the changes they made.

I Will Miss You Tomorrow (2016) and Meet Me in Paradise (2018), Thorkild Aske books 1 and 2
By Heine Bakkeid

Publisher: Aschehoug
Rights contact: Julia Angelin, Salomonsson Agency, Stockholm

Reported rights sales:

  • New — UK: Bloomsbury
  • Czech Republic: Plus
  • Denmark: Lindhardt og Ringhof
  • France: Les Arènes
  • Germany: Rowohlt
  • Hungary: Scolar
  • Iceland: Ugla
  • Italy: Giunti
  • Norway: Aschehoug
  • Poland: Sonia Draga
  • Romania: Editura Art
  • Russia: AST
  • Slovakia: Premedia
  • Spain: RBA
  • Sweden: Massolit
  • Turkey: Beyaz Baykus (Book 1 only)

In the first of Heine Bakkeid’s first foray into crime fiction, “The stormy season is fast approaching when former interrogation leader Thorkild Aske is released from prison. Having served a three-year sentence for manslaughter, Thorkild is a pariah among his colleagues: a cop gone bad.

“Thorkild lets himself be persuaded to travel to a small town in the remote North” of Norway “in order to find a missing young man, Rasmus Moritzen. Supposedly gone missing while diving, Rasmus’ disappearance has been written off as a drowning accident by the local authorities. However the boy’s mother won’t rest till his body has been returned to her. And as the winter storm whips the waves into a frenzy, the body that is washed ashore isn’t that of Rasmus, but a faceless young woman.”

And in the second book, Thorkild reluctantly agrees to take on the job of consulting detective for Milla Lind, a renowned Norwegian crime fiction writer.

“Lind’s previous consultant, also a former policeman, was killed on the job as they were working on Lind’s latest novel, a story based on the real-life case of two girls mysteriously disappearing from an orphanage. It isn’t long before Aske begins to suspect that there’s more to the case, Milla Lind, and his predecessor’s death, than he first thought.”

The Eighth Life (For Brilka) / Das achted Leben (Für Brilka)
By Nino Haratischwili

Publisher: Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt
Rights contact: Nadya Hartmann, Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt

Reported rights details:

  • New – China: Xiron
  • UK: Scribe
  • Australia: Scribe
  • France: Piranha
  • Spain: Alfaguara
  • Italy: Marsilio
  • The Netherlands: Atlas contact
  • Czech Republic: Host
  • Poland: Otwarte
  • Turkey: Aylak Adam
  • Georgia: Intelekti
  • Croatia: Fraktura (Option)
  • Bulgaria: Paradox Publishing (Option)

The Eighth Life (For Brilka) is described as “an epochal novel” about a family living through the Russian-Georgian conflicts.

From the book’s promotional copy, “Georgia in 1900: Stasia, daughter of a chocolate factory‘s owner, and her three sisters grow up in the upper echelons of Georgian society. When Stalin solidifies his control of the Soviet Union’s impoverished population, Stasia and her children Kitty and Kostja seek shelter in the house of Stasia’s sister Christine in Tbilisi.

“Germany in 2006: After the fall of the Soviet bloc, Niza, Stasia’s great-granddaughter, has broken with her family and moved to Berlin. When her young niece Brilka runs away during a trip to the west, Niza has to care for her. In search for her own identity, Niza will tell Brilka the story about Stasia and the family and about the secret recipe for the family’s hot chocolate, which has offered both salvation and misfortune for six generations.”

Frère d’âme by David Diop

Publisher: Éditions du Seuil, coming in August
Rights contact: Magalie Delobelle, So Far So Good Agency, Pau

Reported rights sales:

  • New – World English: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • France: Éditions du Seuil
  • Italy: Neri Pozza

Author David Diop, born in Paris, was raised in Senegal and today is head of arts, languages, and literature research at the University of Pau in southwest France.

In his book, according to agency promotional copy, “Diop captures a young Senegalese man’s mind hurtling toward madness after experiencing the nonsense and horror of war and death” in World War II France.

“Using the rhythm of the native language of the Wolof people, Diop’s writing is said to take on a sense of urgency to a story about “the turmoil of war, the dark side of men, and the depths of madness.”

Submit Rights Deals to Publishing Perspectives

Do you have rights deals to report? Agents and rights directors, send an email with “Rights Roundup” in the subject line to Porter@PublishingPerspectives.com including the following information:

  • Name of Book (with a link to its page on your agency’s or publishers’ site)
  • Name of Author
  • Original Publisher
  • Name of agent or rights director
  • Name of agency or publisher and in what city it’s located
  • Territory/Language and publisher to which you’ve sold the rights in this format: Country: Publisher
  • Previously sold rights, if any (territory and publisher)
  • Cover image, if available, of the book
  • Author image, if available
  • Descriptive copy about the book from your listings

More of Publishing Perspectives’ rights roundups are here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.