Making World Literature Your Oyster: The Daunt Books Festival 2015

The good thing about living in London is that hardly a week goes by without a writers festival happening somewhere around the city. Not all of them take place in such a wonderful bookshop and are as lovingly curated as the Daunt Books Festival in Marylebone, however.

Daunt window

For the second festival on 19-20 March 2015, bookseller and organiser Emily Rhodes put together an enticing programme of talks and discussions for all ages. I would have loved to be at all the events (smaller scale festivals with only one event at a time are great as no clashes), but sadly work commitments got in the way.

Anthea Bell

The talks I did catch were excellent though. On Thursday I was lucky to be at a conversation between former children’s laureate, novelist and poet Michael Rosen and one of the top literary translators in this country, Anthea Bell (mainly from German and French), chaired by Julia Eccleshare.

The topic was loosely based around fascinating German author Erich Kästner’s work, but also covered various other childhood favourites in translation. You can listen to a podcast of Rosen visiting the Berlin of „Emil and the Detectives“, a Kästner classic originally published in 1929, which was also recently made into a successful Westend production, here. Even just looking at the different covers from various past English editions of the popular children’s book translated from German was fascinating. So was the discussion on the German and English film adaptions of the book. Compared to existing children’s literature of the time, it was a groundbreaking novel and the only one of Kästner’s pre-1945 works to escape Nazi censorship.

Daunt Books Marylebone

On Friday I started my book festival day with some delicious spiced hot chocolate from Roccoco chocolates before the first author event of the day: In Praise of Short Stories. I love short stories and far from being in any way inferior to the novel as a literary genre, they have their own appeal. There are even specific short story festivals, such as the London Short Story Festival or the Cork Short Story Festival in Ireland.

Today’s first panel was chaired by Laura Macaulay, publisher and bookseller at Daunt, and consisted of writers Tessa Hadley, Colin Barrett and Julianne Pachico. Listening to excerpts from stories by each of the panelists and the discussion that followed we were reminded what makes short stories so unique: they are unpredictable, irresistible glimpses into fictional worlds and can be a very rewarding reading experience if we are willing to give them a try. A short story, as writer AL Kennedy puts it in an article, “can offer the artistry and intensity of a poem, the themes and weight of a novel and all in a space so small that there is nowhere to hide a single error.”

My third and last event of the festival was Russians in Paris, about émigré Russian writers of the 1920s and their influence on Russian and foreign literature. Translator and editor Bryan Karetnyk, author Peter Pomerantsev and literary critic and writer Nicholas Lezard discussed Russian literature past and present, the relevance of Paris as a base for so many writers in the 1920s (including the fact that most Russian émigré writers had excellent French) as well as the freedom which a move to another city and country can bring to one’s work. I had never read any books by Gazdanov or Teffi before, the talk definitely piqued my interest in Russian writing, however.

book table

Luckily, there are UK publishers who specifically focus on the world’s literature in translation. These include And Other Stories, Pushkin Press and Peirene Press and Daunt stocks quite a few of them.

If you have caught the translated literature bug and are keen to read more books from cultures around the world in translation, you can take a look at @TranslatedWorld as well as hashtags #TranslatedWorld and #NameTheTranslator on Twitter for excellent suggestions. There is also a useful calendar of literature translation related events (mainly in the UK).

Thanks to Emily for being so welcoming and for answering all my questions on festival programming, preparations and her other bookish adventures. You can read my interview with her here and are welcome to join her monthly Walking Book Club in London.

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