Hitler the Artiste, Simon’s Parisian Sandstorm, And Germany Gets Its ‘Wenderoman’
The vagaries of history are the subject of a new novel by noted French playwright Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who in On Behalf of Another sets his noggin on fire over this world-historical mindbender: What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been accepted to Vienna’s École des Beaux-Arts? In reality, the young Hitler’s proto-artistic overtures had been roundly rebuffed when, in 1906, he arrived in Vienna at the age of 17, smitten with dreams of being a boho sensation. Alas, after slaving over a two-day entrance exam for the academy’s school of painting, his test drawings were deemed lacking in appreciation of the human form. Go figure. Author Schmitt turns the tables on history, however, and has furtive Adolf accepted by the school and even liberated from his complexes by one Dr. Freud. Jettisoning all frustrations, Adolf rushes headlong into a life of art and amorous affairs, eventually finding his way to Montparnasse in the twenties, happily falling in with Picasso, Breton, and the Surrealists (not to mention a certain lovely gal from La Rotonde). The 41-year-old Schmitt won wide acclaim with his 1993 play The Visitor, which took home three Molière awards and toured more than 15 countries. The new book had a first print run of 50,000 copies, and at press time, rights were set to be sold in Greece, with interest in Spain, Italy, and Germany. No deals as yet in the US or UK. For rights, see France Edition in New York.
Also in France, Yves Simon lets out a huge yodel with The Lost Voice of Humanity, wherein a young priest putts around Paris “on a scooter practicing the art of the confessional with his ear stuck to his mobile phone.” The mobile confessor harvests a bounty of “secrets dragged out of forgetfulness and solitude,” and gets an earful from the likes of Luis, a blind man in love with a prostitute, and Ismalia, a young nurse who’s the “firefly of the city.” Redolent with “a nostalgia of humanism,” the book also manages to besiege Paris with a daylong sandstorm, a kind of Bohemian Sahara wherein we meet our cast of urban nomads. Simon’s 1987 work The Magnificent Voyager sold over 200,000 copies, and The Drift of Feelings won the Prix Médicis and sold 550,000 copies as a mass-market edition. Though it’s not on the list at the moment, about 30,000 copies of the new one have been sold to date, and all foreign rights are open, says Marie-Hélène d’Ovidio at Grasset.
Things are rather less surreal in Germany, where Sven Regener bursts out of the gate with a first novel, Mr. Lehmann, which is set in the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin in 1989 and ponders the unambitious life of twentysomething waiter Frank Lehmann. Deemed “an Oblomov figure of our time,” Lehmann concerns himself with the trifles of urban anomie, blissfully distracted until his 30th birthday hits — and down comes the Berlin Wall. The book has captivated critics with its concentrated, laconic spirit, moving one to note, “it could be that Regener managed to write the long-awaited great German ‘Wenderoman’”. Nearly 50,000 copies of the hardcover edition have been sold since the book’s August publication (putting it just below the top ten this month), and at press time the paperback auction had reached almost half a million Deutschmarks. The publisher also reports “very lively” interest in film rights. Eichborn holds world rights, but for US rights see Jennifer Lyons at Writers House, and for the UK, talk to Imrie & Dervis in London.
Moving on to the Aegean, 70-year-old Athenian writer Menis Koumandareas takes an “x-ray of postwar Greece” in his latest, expansively scaled novel Twice Greek. The book tracks an average family in Athens as they weather 50 years of political tumult, a period that saw the nation struggle up “from a shattered ruin into a European country.” The author, a one-time journalist, has translated Faulkner, Melville, and Fitzgerald, and his work The Handsome Captain will be awarded the Blue Book Prize at Frankfurt this year (that title is set to be published in Germany by Frankfurter). Originally published in June, Twice Greek has sold 20,000 copies despite what its publisher mock-despairingly calls its “one major disadvantage”: it weighs in at 750 pages. No rights have yet been sold, according to Maria Zampara at Kedros.
Word reaches us from Norway, where The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen summons up “latent ferocity and dark undertones” in a book that captures three generations in west Oslo. Young Barnum’s childhood is painful, starting with his name, which his father took from the American humbug king. The book has evoked strangely euphoric comments from critics: one raved that “we are talking about a tome worth its weight in gold,” while another deemed it “a literary feat of international eminence.” The 48-year-old author has been compared to Woody Allen in his black humor, and 200,000 copies of his 1984 novel Beatles were sold in Norway. We’re told 17,000 copies of the new one were sold in two weeks, and rights have been sold to Arcadia in the UK, as well as to Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. See Eirin Hagen at Cappelen.
On a more sobering note, a bestselling nonfiction title in Australia tackles the dramatic tale of two Australian doctors in Ethiopia. Written by Dr. Catherine Hamlin and co-authored by John Little, The Hospital by the River tells of the school for midwives Hamlin and her late husband founded in Addis Ababa, and chronicles their work with fistula patients — women who have suffered from a devastating condition caused by obstructed labor during childbirth. While such cases are almost unknown in nations with modern hospital facilities, an estimated 8,000 new fistula cases a year plague Ethiopia. The 77-year-old Hamlin was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1999, and over 25,000 copies of the book are in print. US and other translation rights are being represented by Chantal Noel at Macmillan UK.
For comic relief, on the other hand, Australia has snatched up The Day My Bum Went Psycho, a children’s book by Andy Griffiths that’s put the nation in stitches. It tells the harrowing tale of Zack Freeman and his renegade bum, which deserts him and plots with other bums to take their rightful place atop the world’s necks. “It’s just that bums are attempting to take over the world,” author Griffiths earnestly explained when asked if his book would offend the kiddies. Some 60,000 copies are in print, with 100,000 due by Christmas. No rights have been sold as yet. See Jill Grinberg for rights in the US, and Macmillan Australia for the UK.