Rights Outlook: Books From Québec Flourishing in German

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Recently translated literature from Québec may find new life as part of Guest of Honor Canada’s programming at Frankfurter Buchmesse in October. Plus, rights recommendations from bookseller Olivier Boisvert. (Sponsored)

At Munich’s Arena cinema, February 18. Image – iStockphoto: MangoFriendly

Editor’s note: Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn tells Deutsche-Welle that the UK variant B.1.1.7 accounts for 22 percent of new infections in the country at this point. The 4:23 a.m. ET (0923 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 2,374,229 cases in Germany’s population of 83 million, with 67,248 fatalities. —Porter Anderson


By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

‘Still Lots To Discover’
Following its presence last year as Guest of Honor Canada in the digital Frankfurter Buchmesse 2020, the country now is scheduled for its turn as guest of honor in what it’s hoped will be a physical iteration of the trade show, October 20 to 24.

The province of Québec actively promotes its culture abroad and, in coordination with its diplomatic offices in Munich and Berlin, has been setting the stage for its presence at Frankfurt since 2016.

Translators and German publishers have made trips to Québec, with fellowships and workshops helping German translators master subtle characteristics of French as it’s spoken in Québec. These exchanges have been fruitful. There usually are three to four novels from Québec published in German each year, but since 2019, more than 100 books from Québec will have been translated into German, including nonfiction, graphic novels, and children’s books.

Friederike Schröter, who works in the cultural affairs sector in Québec’s government office in Berlin, says that of those titles, about half are novels.

Because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, 12 percent of the books planned for 2020 were postponed to 2021. But those published in 2020—despite the absence of a physical trade show and author tours in Germany—have done well, industry players say, with positive coverage in major news media outlets.

‘A Great Success’ for Québécois Authors in Germany

Frank Wegner is the editorial director for international fiction at Suhrkamp Verlag. He participated in a 2014 program for international publishers organized by the Salon International du livre de Québec (Québec’s book fair) and the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL), the French-language publishers association in Canada. Sabine Erbrich—who is also in international literature at Suhrkamp with a special focus on French-language literature—traveled to Montreal in 2018.

Suhrkamp publishes Québec author Jocelyne Saucier, and her novel Ein Leben Mehr (Il Pleuvait des Oiseaux), translated by Sonja Finck and published in 2015, has sold 150,000 copies to date. Saucier’s Was dir bleibt, (à train perdu), translated by Sonja Finck and Frank Weigand, was published in 2020.

In 2020, Suhrkamp also published Marie-Claire Blais’ Drei Nächte Drei Tage (Soifs) translated by Nicola Denis, which has sold 5,000 copies. For an author previously unknown in Germany—and a highly literary one—that’s “a great success,” Erbrich says.

Blais is part of the Canadian delegation scheduled to travel to Frankfurter Buchmesse in October when, like other titles published in 2020, her book may get a second wind.

“Right now, we’re all fascinated by the relationship between people and nature,” says Johanna Links, an editor for francophone and international literature at Aufbau Verlag, which plans to publish its first book by Québécois author Gabrielle Roy in September. “I have the impression that in Canada the link to nature in literature is even stronger.”

Two novels that fit this criterion have done particularly well in Germany: Christian Guay-Poliquin’s Das Gewicht von Schnee (Le Poids de la Neige) published by Hoffman Und Campe in October 2020 in a translation by Sonja Finck and Andreas Jandl, and Éric Plamondon’s Taqawan, published by Lenos Verlag in 2020 and translated by Anne Thomas.

Guay-Poliquin’s novel, which has been sold into numerous languages and optioned for a film adaptation, is set in a snow-covered village without electricity in an atmosphere of tension.

Éric Plamondon’s noir novel also takes place in Québec’s wilderness and explores questions of identity and the place afforded to Indigenous peoples in society. Although Plamondon was unknown to the German public, the first edition of Taqawan sold out in three months and is now out in a paperback edition. Taqawan was also selected for the Krimibestenliste literary prize list in November and December 2020.

Interest in Canada’s Indigenous Authors

Writings by Canada’s Indigenous peoples also hold interest for German publishers.

On a trip to Montreal, literary translators Sonja Finck and Frank Heibert happened on a book of short stories by Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui, from Wendake, a First Nations urban reserve in Québec. Picard-Sioui is an author as well as an historian, anthropologist, and visual arts curator. Acting as scouts, Finck and Heibert soon found a home for the book of short stories with the publisher Secession. Stories aus Kitchike. Der große Absturz (Chroniques de Kitchike. La grande débarque) was published in 2020 to favorable reviews.

Rodney Saint-Éloi, a Haitian-born poet and Montreal publisher whose Mémoire d’encrier is considered the go-to publishing house in Québec in French-language literature of diversity, is also a proponent of Indigenous writers. A book of Saint-Éloi’s poetry, Ich wohne auf der Autobahn der Träume (J’habite l’autoroute des songes) translated by Margrit Klingler-Clavijo, is to be published this year by Litradukt, a publishing house that specializes in Caribbean and Haitian literature.

More Scheduled for the Spring

Other books slated for publication this spring and summer include bestselling author Roxanne Bouchard’s crime novel set in an isolated Canadian fishing community, Der dunkle Sog des Meeres (Nous étions le sel de la mer) translated by Frank Weigand; and graphic novelist Guy Delisle’s Lehrjahre (Chroniques de Jeunesse), translated by Heike Drescher. Lehrjahre recounts Delisle’s experience as a teenager working in a paper mill for three summers in Québec.

German publishers say they continue to be introduced to promising literature from Québec. “There’s still lots to discover, and we’ll participate with pleasure in this process of discovery,” says Suhrkamp’s Erbrich.

Recommendations for Rights Consideration

Olivier Boisvert. Image: Maximilien Bouchard

Olivier Boisvert, a bookseller at Librarie Gallimard, a bookshop in Montreal, specializes in Québécois literature and is on a number of literary juries including that of the Prix des libraires (bookseller’s award) in the category of Québécois novels.

He recommends the following as what he calls “contemporary treasures” he thinks readers in Germany would enjoy:

  • Mykonos by Olga Duhamel-Noyer (Héliotrope): Several 20-something friends travel to Mykonos on their first trip far from home
  • Carnets de l’underground by Gabriel Cholette (Triptyque): A Montreal clubber getting his PhD in medieval studies travels from the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal to Berlin and Manhattan, reveling in a lifestyle of sex, drugs, and techno music
  • Manuel de la vie sauvage by Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard (Éditions de Ta Mère): Capitalism, new technologies, startups, and ethics come together in an examination of power and morality
  • Les limbes by Jean-Simon Desrochers (Les Herbes rouges): Set in Montreal in the 1950s, Michel Best, known as Ti-Best, is brought up in the red light district by two mothers, Maman Rita and Maman Janine
  • Les offrandes by Louis Carmain (VLB éditeur); Maude leaves Québec at 18 for Mexico where she studies criminology and become a private detective

More from Publishing Perspectives on Québec and its publishing industry is here, more on the Canadian market is here, and more from us on publishing and the French language is here. More on the German market is here, and more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.

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