Behind the Book: Petru Popescu

05 Feb 2016

On Behind the Book this week, we met writer and director Petru Popescu author of The Encounter: Amazon Beamingour gripping new title detailing Loren McIntyre’s real-life adventures with the elusive Mayoruna tribe of the Amazon’s Javari Valley. Read on to hear about Petru’s childhood forays into playwriting, his admiration for Victor Hugo and his love of the word ‘actually.’

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Behind the Book: Volker Weidermann

03 Feb 2016

On this week’s Behind the Book we meet literary critic, and author of Summer Before the Dark, Volker Weidermann and discuss Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, beach-volleyball and Volker’s thwarted dreams of becoming an archeologist.

Do you have a particular writing routine?

For me, writing books is anti-routine. My life as a critic is stuffed with boring routines, deadlines, desks and rules. So I can write on my iPad at the beach, at home, in libraries or even on trains. When I was writing Summer Before the Dark, I loved to watch films from the old Ostend that was completely destroyed during the Second World War. I contrasted these with films of Ostend nowadays, in autumn. Empty beaches, grey sky, grey, modern houses. I also listened to the same music I listened to while visiting Ostend before I started writing. When I was there I wandered up and down the beach, looking for places where Zweig and Roth and Keun used to drink and write and debate eighty years ago – and not finding anything. No trace, no place, no sun (well, it was November, when I did my research over there…)

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A taster of Summer Before the Dark

29 Jan 2016

They’re all sitting in the Cafe Flore, this company in free fall, trying one more time this summer to feel like a group of vacationers. Trying to pretend that they’re carefree.

Our much-anticipated BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week is now out! Summer Before the Dark is an enthralling, masterfully-drawn portrait of a coterie of artists and intellectuals taking shelter against the horrors of the Second World War.

Estranged friends Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth form the centrepiece of this fragile haven, as this circle of luminaries try to weather the storms raging in Europe.

You can still catch last week’s brilliant BBC Radio 4 readings by Peter Firth (best known for playing Harry in BBC One’s Spooks) via this link. Or alternatively, click here to read chapter one.

Messages from a Lost World: Sneak Peek

28 Jan 2016

‘Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. It was necessary for this dark hour to fall, perhaps the darkest in history, to make us realize that freedom is as vital to our soul as breathing to our body.’

Messages from a Lost World, our collection of impassioned essays and speeches from the ever erudite Stefan Zweig, is now on shelves. These articles demonstrate how, as Europe faced its darkest days, Zweig was a voice for unity, brotherhood and the immense potential of humanity.

Intrigued? Read In This Dark Hour, an exclusive extract from Messages from a Lost World and one of Zweig’s very last addresses in 1941 – beseeching his fellow artists remain tolerant and united in the face of a crumbling Europe.

Behind the Book: Will Stone

27 Jan 2016

For this week’s Behind the Book we sat down with Will Stone, writer, poet and translator of many Pushkin books, including Messages from a Lost World, our upcoming collection of Stefan Zweig’s moving essays and speeches in defence of European unity at the time of the Second World War. Read on to find out about Will’s adoration of singer-songwriter Nick Drake, his translating routine and why he’s been somewhat scarred by a traumatic episode in a Czech lift.

Do you have a particular translating routine?

Translating is like sculpting a clay bust from a living subject (the original). I have a mound of clay before me and the first draft is shaping this into a recognisable figure, I then leave it awhile, go back and start to add the key features, attempting to secure the identity and safeguard the likeness of the sitter. Finally the third stage comes where the fine details can be added. I then present the bust to a trusted friend who tells me this is not quite right, or maybe add a little here, remove something there. I then make final checks and when i sense nothing more can be done, and my exhaustion indicates a labour of love has perhaps been enacted, I deliver my exhibit to the gallery (the publisher) and wait for the new language visitors to respond and of course the black fin of the critic to suddenly cut through the water…

What is your favourite word and why? 

Carillon – I like its sound, it suits the bells it names and their restful tinkling that floats on the air ‘like ash’ as the poet Georges Rodenbach would have it.
Where are you at your happiest?

In Hawker’s Hut Morwenstowe at sundown, or in the Cafe du Parc Ostend drinking a filter coffee in the old fashioned way.

Which person (living or dead) would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

Nick Drake (though the likelihood of this actually taking place is not great since i rarely use lifts due to fear of being trapped in them, as occurred once in a dilapidated Czech tower block outside Prague and somehow I sense ND would have always taken the stairs…

What does being a translator mean to you? 
I see the translator at his/her best as a heroic figure, who locates a work that has been overlooked or ignored and makes it available to the reader, who without the translator’s gift would remain completely ignorant of its existence. This is often a difficult task, persuading publishers reluctant to take a risk and being patient, waiting for the fateful moment, when the work, following laborious kindling efforts, finally sparks and the beacon is lit. The song note of translators as they strain to be recognised as creative partners of the author is well known. But in my case and i can only speak for myself, every book i have translated and published I have produced because i felt it was a worthy act of cultural import, that a modest space was in the end reserved for it in the vast catacombs of translated literature. I made these translations because i wanted to commit to a deeper reading of the work and to share it with others of my kind, also I felt a special kinship with the author, a need to secure an anchorage in their spiritual orbit, or just to find some way of travelling alongside them a little longer, prolonging the journey as it were. With Zweig, it was also because when i first came to him some fifteen years ago he was seriously neglected here, especially in terms of non fiction works. The Montaigne book did not exist in English, had never existed. Now of all places it apparently sits in an airport departure lounge bookstall in Pittsburgh (just spotted by my transatlantic neighbour) I felt a responsibility to Zweig to reinstate him in this country, because he had found sanctuary here, had espoused an admiration for this island. I felt it was only right hat his work should be resurrected here. Others felt the same it seemed, the zeitgeist did the rest.

Which book do you find yourself reading over and over again?

I don’t tend to read books over and over again as I don’t have time, and there is so much to read, but a book I have re-read and would read again is the indefinable novel The Other Side by the Austrian artist Alfred Kubin, which is concerned with a mysterious dream kingdom and its apocalyptic demise and was said to have influenced Kafka. Like Kubin’s fantastic drawings, the book has an unsettling effect on the morbidly attuned imagination and everywhere one sees persuasive portents for our own gotterdammerung.

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