It was an unbridled love fest.
And not only because I was there, Tuesday night in New York City, swooning a little to be in the presence of all those Europa-eans. Author Stacy Schiff described Europa’s Old Filth, by Jane Gardam, as “unforgivably perfect.” Two of the press’s translators, Alison Anderson and Ann Goldstein, spoke of their passion for their work: “If you really love the book, you make it your own,” Anderson said. The event was held at Housing Works Bookstore Café and co-sponsored by McNally Jackson Bookstwo of New York’s best beloved independent bookstoresand the circle of love was complete with Europa donating its books for sale to benefit Housing Works.
When the press started with its first book in 2005, the chilling, unforgettable The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, there probably weren’t many people who thought this was a good idea: starting up a small, independent press devoted to bringing contemporary European fiction to the U.S.? And doing it in September 2005, when many other publishers, large and small, were flagging? Even publisher Kent Carroll agrees: “While publishing only European fiction was a very good cultural idea, it wasn’t a very good business idea,” he said at the event. So Europa quickly added English-language books, most of them from Europe.
Given that only 3% of the fiction published in the U.S. is in translation, the arrivaland successof Europa is changing the fiction publishing landscape, while flinging open the windows to the contemporary literary world for those of us who, sadly, can read only in English.
Often, when looking for fiction, I start feeling kind of whiny: I just want someone to tell me a storyand tell it well. The first Europa book I read was that very first one, The Days of Abandonment, and from then on, I started looking for the little Europa insignia. Every time, the book delivered. I knew I’d found a press I could count on to do what publishers used to do: publish good reads and put an end to my whining.
Europa doesn’t have mega-selling blockbusters or billboards announcing the celebrities who will be starring in the movie. They just have well-written novels reflecting the variety of human experience, in tidy, elegant form. The books are designed in Italy and have an Italian, intentionally similar look, which has led 40 independent bookstores in the U.S. to create a “Europa” section in their stores.
Could I just say that I love what’s happening with indie bookstores and publishers? There is hope for the future of fiction, after all.