Poland Gets the Menses, Millás Sizzles Spain, And Hareven Labors for Love in Israel
Serotonin levels are plunging this month all over Poland, where the delightfully demented author Janusz Wisniewski comes down with Tense Syndromes (otherwise translated as Premenstrual Syndrome; the original title was Menstruation, but the Warsaw publisher deemed it “too shocking”), which guilefully regales readers with what’s been called a “dazzling knowledge of woman’s soul.” Said to be “moving, provoking, teasing, and full of scientific factoids,” this collection of six stories kicks off with a portrait of a girl stricken with an unusual genetic sickness, and delves into anorexia, jealousy, menopause, and an “absolutely unique study of the role of Nazi women” detailing the short marriage of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler in a Berlin bunker in 1945. The author’s first book, Loneliness on the Net, exhibits “courageous eroticism” as it tells the true story of “unusually tense and vivid love” consummated on the Internet (and throws in a few thoughts on the double helix, Einstein’s brain, and e-tickets). One reader declares, “Wisniewski’s emotions are true. Nothing to do with any dentist’s waiting room at all,” and we’re told the author, a one-time Playboy contributor, is a computer scientist whose specialty is chemical research. “After Loneliness on the Net, I could write the telephone book and they would buy it,” Wisniewski tells PT. “But the book is better than the Yellow Pages in NYC. Really.” All foreign rights are open, directly from the author. Email [email protected].
Maybe she’s untranslatable — into English, that is — but here she comes again, Poland’s irrepressible Joanna Chmielewska, who’s sold over 5 million books in Poland and 10 million in Russia, where she’s said to be the most widely read foreign author. The 70-year-old sprite is a colorful celebrity in her own nation (“she is a confirmed horse racing player,” says her press kit, “and does not shun gambling in casinos all over Europe”), and her children’s title Adventures of Puffy the Bear and the adult work The Great Diamond have been translated into English — but not published. Her novel My Dead Husband has just hit the charts in a reprint edition, said to be “abundant with thugs” and rife with “nightmarish family relationships” as it chronicles a brilliant businessman who degenerates into a crude boor at home, while his wife, the prospective murderess, is herself “an obese, nagging, and frighteningly stupid woman whose only talent — culinary genius — may not be enough to keep their marriage together.” They call it “Home-Made Horror.” Enough said. Rights have been sold to Russia thus far, with interest in the US from Scholastic; talk to Tadeusz Lewandowski in Warsaw.
Women’s travails also engross Spain this month, as literary stallion Juan José Millás hits the list with Two Women in Prague, which dissects the fate of a mysterious middle-aged woman who enrolls in a writing workshop “to find an author to write the story of her life.” In class she meets up with a young stud who’s obsessed with the idea that he was adopted at birth, and a web of loneliness and disappointments quickly envelops the two in their biographical endeavors. The book won this year’s Primavera Prize, and Millás’1990 novel This Was Solitude won the Nadal Prize, and was subsequently published in Denmark (Gyldendal), Norway (Aschehoug), France (Laffont), Germany (Suhrkamp), and the UK (Allison & Busby). Several of the author’s titles have topped 100,000 copies, and critics are quick to distance him from “the florid magic realism” of Garcia Márquez, instead noting the work’s urban grit and frank, journalistic style. As Millás once said, “the writing has to be efficient as a pistol. No adornments: to the heart of the affair, line-by-line.” Talk to publisher Espasa for rights.
In Sweden, tennis authority (he’s written 23 books on the subject) and crime writer Björn Hellberg is back with the 13th installment in his series featuring the inimitable Inspector Sten Wall. Named after a fictional TV program with sky-high ratings, Funny Fanny follows the fate of perky show host Fanny Cordell, who unexpectedly discovers “a great danger” lurking on the other side of the teleprompter. One of Sweden’s most revered authors, Hellberg is a popular TV personality who apparently knocks out mysteries in between tennis lessons. Funny Fanny sold 10,000 copies in less than a month (it’s “a book you swallow just as fast as you can,” one critic raved), and rights have been sold to Germany (Argon) and Holland (De Geus). See agent Bengt Nordin for rights.
Denmark edges Close to Paradise this month as Thomas Qvortrup’s “spectacular debut” novel hits the list. Three friends perpetrate a nasty crime and hole up on a yacht tethered to a tropical Thai island, where they proceed to wallow in a dope-fueled, nihilistic reverie, eventually “pushing each other’s sexual limits, until they go beyond what is both healthy and bearable.” Critics have plopped the book in with such distinguished company as Thomas Mann’s Utopia and Golding’s Lord of the Flies, praising it as a “scandal novel which takes the conventional novel a step further,” but also grooving to its philosophical qualities that gain urgency from the author’s “knife-sharp talent for telling stories.” No foreign rights sales have been made as yet, but interest is perking, and a film deal looks like a no-brainer. Contact Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal.
And in Israel, writer Gail Hareven has just absconded with this year’s prestigious Sapir Prize for her “cholesterol-free” and “impeccably rational” novel My True Love, which emerged from a tough crowd of finalists including A.B. Yehoshua’s The Liberating Bride and Gavriela Avigur-Rotem’s Heatwave and Crazy Birds. The judges settled on My True Love in part for its complex protagonists “who are not open to simplistic and moralistic judgment,” and praised its quest for “the idea of a great, addictive love as a possible and legitimate way of aspiring to the sublime.” The story takes place partly in Moscow, and draws on Russian literature as it examines the inner agony of heroine Noa as she’s caught in that existential vortex between Moscow and America. The 43-year-old author lives in Jerusalem and writes on politics and feminist issues, in addition to her books for children and several plays (five of which have been staged). The Sapir Prize carries a translation subsidy (in addition to a tidy $30,000 pot), and part of the book has been translated into English by Dalia Bilu. Rights are available from the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.