The Waiting Game
Lovelorn Levy in France, Qashu’s Israeli Arabs, And Poland’s Own Bridget Jones
French architect-cum-literary-phenom Marc Levy hits the charts in both France and Italy with his second novel, Will You Be There?, a “treat of simplicity and emotion” that delves into the rendez-vous manqués between lovelorn Americans Philip and Susan, after the latter packs her bags for a humanitarian-aid sojourn in Honduras while Philip toils in New York. Their flame begins to gutter as the sweethearts swap epistles (plus a few furtive assignations in Newark airport), and rush headlong into battle against “the many enemies who push us each day a little more towards loneliness.” The author’s blockbuster first novel, If Only It Were True, was sold in 31 territories, including Germany (Aufbau), the UK (Fourth Estate), and the US (Pocket). That title, about a San Francisco medical student who ends up in a coma and wrangles a date with her boy-toy via astral projections, is up to 900,000 copies in the US, while Dreamworks is at work on the film, having done some astral projection itself in a $2 million deal said to be the highest price ever paid for film rights to a French book. More than 200,000 copies of the new one have been sold in France, with rights sold in Germany (Droemer had the winning bid) and on submission in the UK (as Levy’s editor at Fourth Estate, Arabella Stein, is no longer there). US rights to the new one are open; see agent Susanna Lea.
Plying a similar theme in France is a first novel from Anna Gavalda, I Loved Her, chronicling the affair between a young rejected mother and her retired executive father-in-law. As the French Vogue put it, “These losers in love sound just right.” The book sold 85,000 copies in the first two weeks alone, and rights have been sold in Germany (Hanser), Spain (Seix Barral), and Greece (Astarti), among other nations. Gavalda’s earlier collection of stories, by the way, was called I’d Like Someone to Wait for Me Somewhere and has now sold 510,000 copies in French, with rights sold in 19 languages — though neither title has been sold in the US or the UK. See Lucinda Karter at the French Publishers Agency for US rights, or Claude Tarrène at Dilettante for the UK.
Finally in France, Someone Else by the sharp-witted Tonino Benacquista follows the repartee of two guys who get drunk together in a bar and promise to hook up again in three years to find out if their booze-fueled dreams have come to pass. Out of the fog of the next morning’s headache, each of them embarks on a separate yet parallel journey to become someone else. Benacquista — a novelist who presumably has an advanced degree in tending bar — made a splash with his earlier work Saga, which takes sarcastic aim at the dissolute lives of four TV screenwriters and was published in a number of nations including Germany, Italy, and China. No rights to the new one have as yet been sold. Talk to Anne-Solange Noble at Gallimard.
Of potentially combustible interest in Israel, Sayed Qashu’s first novel Dancing Arabs has hit the list with its “biting and illuminating satire” about the travails of Arab intellectuals living in Israel. This quasi-autobiographical novel — “written by someone who has nothing to lose” — busts open the conceit of “national identity” as it follows an Arab who attends a high school for gifted students in Jerusalem, and “scrolls through the Israeli Arabs’ desire to belong” with scabrous honesty. The 27-year-old author is an Israeli-Arab journalist who writes for a Tel Aviv weekly, and rights have been sold in Holland (Vassallucci), with submissions under way in France, Italy, Germany, and the US. See the Harris/Elon agency for rights. Also in Israel, the New York–born author Michal Shalev’s A Hundred Winters has been gripping readers with its family saga tracing six generations across the tide of 19th- and 20th-century history. The “spellbinding” tableau kicks off with 16-year-old Fanny, a young Jewish woman from a small village near Warsaw, who bucks tradition and bolts for the Polish hinterlands. The author’s second work, Rachel’s Vow, sold 90,000 copies, and the new one has sold more than 70,000 (though it has slipped off the list this month). The author controls foreign rights, and is seeking representation in the US and UK. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Poland, Katarzyna Grochola’s emphatic second novel Never Again! comes off a streak as “the biggest Polish bestseller of 2001” and follows a 37-year-old heroine who embarks on a new life after being ditched by her hubby. Things turn rosy as she raises a kid and scores a winning career as a journalist — call it Poland’s Bridget Jones. The book, which is the first in a series called Frogs and Angels, has sold 70,000 copies in Poland, with rights sold to Russia (ATS) and Germany (Heyne). A second title in the series is due out imminently. Contact Beata Stasinska at Wydawnictwo.
An update reaches us from Norway, which is abuzz over Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel The Half Brother (see PT 10/01), which was just awarded the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize (they like to call it the “Nordic Nobel Prize”). With all the brouhaha, sales are up to 60,000 copies in hardcover (plus 93,000 in a book club edition). This “formidable, luxuriant work” about two brothers in ’60s Oslo was published in October, with rights now sold to nine countries, including Germany (Bertelsmann) and the UK (Arcadia). Contact Eirin Hagen at Cappelen.
In Greece, Zyranna Zateli returns from a seven-year hiatus with the imposing title Under the Strange Name of Ramanthis Erevous: Death Came Last. The novel takes place in the late 1950s in northern Greece, and traces the history of five siblings who all die prematurely of suspicious causes — fates that are linked to a 13-year-old boy bearing “secret gifts and troubles.” Zateli’s earlier title, By the Light of the Wolf, was published in Germany (Kiepenheuer & Witsch), Italy (Crocetti), and France (Seuil), among other nations, and won Greece’s National Book Prize in 1993. Rights to the new one have been sold thus far to Italy (Crocetti); see Maria Fakinou at Kastaniotis. Finally in Greece, we take note of the tearful Goodbye Drachma, a bestselling sendoff for one of the oldest currencies in the world (and yet another casualty of the euro). Author Othon Tsounakos presents an illustrated history of the drachma and has “touched sensitive reading chords” around the globe. Some 60,000 copies have been sold thus far, and publisher Iliotropio would be tickled to secure representation for this title in the Greek language and elsewhere. See Iliotropio Marketing Manager John Arfanis.