- May 2012: 'The Misfortunates' by Dimitri Verhulst
- January 2011: 'We All Want Heaven' by Els Beerten
- September 2010: 'Divine sleep' by Erwin Mortier
- April 2010: 'Wonder' by Hugo Claus
- January 2010: ‘Les Noceurs' by Brecht Evens
- November 2009: 'Maria in der Hafenkneipe' by Willem Elsschot
- October 2009: 'Regarder le soleil' by Anne Provoost
- July 2009: ‘On Black Sisters' Street' by Chika Unigwe
- June 2009: ‘Terres de promesse' by Joseph Pearce
- April 2009: ‘The Angel Maker' in Bild Am Sonntag and Glasgow Evening Times
- January 2009: ‘Ceci n'est pas la bd flamande' in Le Soir
- October 2008: 'Jonkvrouw' in Die Zeit
- October 2008: David van Reybrouck in Le Soir
May 2012: 'The Misfortunates' by Dimitri Verhulst
Dimitri Verhulst's highly-praised filmed novel, 'De helaasheid der dingen', was published in January 2012 in an English translation by David Colmer by Portobello Books, under the title, 'The Misfortunates'. The initial reviews on literary web blogs and in a number of newspapers are extremely laudatory.
'Winstonsdad's blog', which claims to feature the best in translated literature from all over the world, has included the trailer of the film in its review as it feels it gives such an accurate portrayal of the characters in the book. "I also got visions of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and a hard-edged version of the northern kitchen sink drama relocated to Belgium and scripted by Irvine Welsh," writes the critic.
On the blog 'The Bookmunch', with the subtitle 'Acerbic, pithy and/or witless bookstuff' Fran Slater addresses a seldom-seen word of thanks to author, translator and publisher: "Thank you David Colmer. Thank you Portobello Books. And most of all Thank You Dimitri Verhulst. You made the last few days of my life a very enjoyable place to be. Honestly, how can anyone not like a book that opens a chapter with the line:'Palmier was perfect mermaid material:she was slim and she stank of fish.'"
At 'Caustic Critic Cover', finally, a website devoted to cover design, James Morrison congratulates the publisher for choosing street artist Slinkachu to design the cover: "Portobello wisely commissioned Slinkachu to create the cover for this tale of a family of Belgian drunks and their misadventures."
In the influential quality daily 'The Financial Times' on 22 January Simon Kuper described how Dimitri Verhulst succeeds in avoiding the potholes that would have made his characters exaggerated freak show exhibits: "And so the author mostly avoids the main traps in writing about the underclass: he neither mocks his characters, nor feels sorry for them, nor mawkishly holds them up as models for the rest of us. In the end, the narrator is grateful that in adolescence a social worker whisked him from his loving but drunken home, into a succession of children's homes and foster families. This is a subtle and wonderfully told story."
In 'The Independent' of 8 February, Lucy Popescu adds: "Turning degenerate lives into literature is nothing new, but Verhulst's distinctive voice, childlike and knowing at the same time, is particularly resonant. His savage humour is refreshing in its honesty. Seamlessly translated from the Dutch by David Colmer, this is a welcome addition to the ranks of literary fiction that find humour, and sometimes poetry, in urban deprivation."
Gerard Woodward end his review in 'The Guardian' of 22 maart with words of praise: "It takes an exceptional writer to wring beauty from such material, but Verhulst manages it, and in the closing scenes he produces something of exquisite tenderness in the lavatory of a motorway service station. And not many novels do that."
Titles by Dimitri Verhulst that have appeared earlier in English are 'Problemski Hotel' and 'Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill'.
January 2011: 'We All Want Heaven' by Els Beerten
In her native Belgium, Els Beerten's 'We All Want Heaven' has received a great deal of attention from the press and the book has won a number of major literature prizes. Internationally, too, this award-winning youth novel has been well received. In 2010, with the aid of the Flemish Literature Fund, a Spanish translation was published by the Catalonian publishing house El Aleph. In November, Els Beerten travelled to Barcelona for the book presentation and promotion. There, she was interviewed by Ada Castells for the Catalonian newspaper 'Avui' and by Jordi Nopca for 'Aratu'. A full-page review by Robert Saladrigas appeared in 'La Vanguardia'.
The two interviewers were, above all, charmed by the candidness with which Els Beerten has made Flanders' war history into the subject of her novel. Ada Castells introduced her interview with Els Beerten in the 30 December 2010 issue of 'Avui' as follows: 'It is not easy to look back at the past; it requires courage. This Flemish author has managed to pluck up the nerve to do so'. Both interviewers admired the way Beerten undermines the absolute contrast between goodies and baddies; both resistance heroes and collaborators are portrayed first and foremost as people.
To the question of what she learned while writing 'We All Want Heaven', author Beerten replied, 'That there is nobody who is only good or only bad. Everyone tries to find heaven and, to achieve that, you take decisions, which can be wrong to one degree or another. I now know you can only judge someone if you have been through the same things they have'. That last sentence immediately provided Jordi Nopca with a good title for his piece in 'Aratu' on 13 December 2010.
In 'La Vanguardia' of 26 January 2011 Robert Saladrigas devoted attention to more than the technical quality of the text alone. 'The novel is of an unfailing accuracy and evolves inexorably towards a gripping climax. He, too, remarks on the humanisation of victims and perpetrators alike and concludes, "'We All Want Heaven' is a highly dignified piece of writing. And courageous. The book does not dampen the sound of a blood-curdling moral cynicism".
In addition to this Spanish translation, a Norwegian translation was published earlier by Cappelen-Damm, with the aid of the FLF. In May 2011, the Fischer publishing house will add a German translation to the list.
September 2010: 'Divine sleep' by Erwin Mortier
Germany loudly applauds 'Götterschlaf' (Divine sleep) by the Belgian author Erwin Mortier. The novel deals with everyday life during the First World War and is an astonishing book, writes de Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: 'This novel from Belgium is a highly impressive book. It carries us into the daily life during the First World War in such a realistic way that the author seems to have lived during that particular era.' (Sabina Brandt)
'Divine sleep' in the German press:
- 'In den Schützengraäben verrät sich der Mensch,' Sabine Brandt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 2 2010
- 'Der Krieg der Helena', Ralf Johnen, KSTA-Magazin, September 4 2010
- 'Helena und die Schützengräben', die Rheinphalz, August 28 2010
The German pusblisher of Erwin Mortier, Dumont, chose the start of the literary autumn to launch this book. In France, the first impressions of the book of Mortier are equally positive.
April 2010: 'Wonder' by Hugo Claus
‘Wonder', the American translation of Hugo Claus' ‘De verwondering', was presented a year ago at the Flanders House in New York. Publisher Archipelago Books received guidance from the Flemish Literature Fund to translate this special book. The translator is Michael Henry Heim, whose previous translations include works by Günter Grass and Milan Kundera.
The English-language media is full of praise for ‘Wonder'. Raving reviews still keep appearing:
‘‘Wonder' is an extraordinarily powerful and original work'. Douglas Messerli, EXPLORINGfictions, 17 April 2010
‘Fine and ambitious. [...] Packed with asides, allusions, and fierce juxtapositions, a style created to evoke a world sliding into chaos where contrast and contradictions are so grotesque that we can only ‘wonder' ' Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books
‘To speak today of a still largely-unknown major work on European Fascism [...] seems presumptuous, rather like announcing the existence of, if not a new continent, at least a land mass of strange and significant proportions. But in discussing ‘Wonder', it would be churlish not to admit to an explorer's exhilaration at discovery'. Sam Munson, The National, 11 June 2009
‘As to the language, Claus's abilities are astonishing, so much so that I'm eager to read his poetry'. Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading
The American translation of ‘Wonder' by Hugo Claus featured on the shortlist of the Best Translated Book Award. This is one of the most important translation prizes for literature in the English-language territory. The prize is instituted by Three Percent, a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester. The aim is to generate attention for foreign literature in English translation.
January 2010: ‘Les Noceurs' by Brecht Evens
The French-language press is under the charm of ‘Les Noceurs', the French translation of Brecht Evens' ‘Ergens waar je niet wil zijn' (Somewhere you don't want to be). Launched in January 2010 by French publishing house Actes Sud BD, it was the first foreign-language edition of this graphic novel which tells a story about parties, where not everyone is always welcome. In this setting, Evens points out the platitude of life.
The French-language press is full of praise for ‘Les Noceurs':
‘It's beautiful, funny, poetic, infinitely delicate or delicately pornographic. It's wonderful'. L'express, 28 January 2010
‘Coulour is written into a visual poetry as well as in a narrative system allowing for a variety of inventions in the production of human relations. In a way, it enriches even the imagination of social relations'. Les Inrockuptibles, 31 January 2010
Also, a lot of acclaim for author Brecht Evens himself:
‘Brecht Evens is the graphic neo-pet with popstar locks'. La Libération, 28 January 2010
‘A brilliant young Belgian'. Les Inrockuptibles, 31 January 2010
‘In 180 pages, Brecht Evens, a prodigious young Flemish author, shows an amazing graphic genius'. L'express, 28 January 2010
The English translation ‘Somewhere you don't want to be' will be published in March by Canadian publishing house Drawn & Quarterly. At the International Comics Festival of Angoulême several more foreign publishers showed an interest in Evens' book. In the mean time, the Spanish rights were sold to Madrid-based publishing house Sins Entindo.
November 2009: 'Maria in der Hafenkneipe' by Willem Elsschot
‘Maria in der Hafenkneipe' is the German translation of ‘Het Dwaallicht' (‘Will-o'-the-Wisp') by Willem Elsschot, a Flemish classic. The book, which was published by Unionsverlag, got positive reviews in the German media.
‘Elsschot is one of the classics in Dutch-language Belgian literature, which is very popular with connoisseurs as well as the larger public. His laconic style, his sovereign irony and his non-sentimental choice of themes, which does not impede great sympathy, add to this.' Deutschlandradio Kultur, dradio.de, 25 November 2009
‘That it occurs right after the war - the book was first published in 1946 - one does not suspect. The text seems contemporary, can be read as if it were written today, especially when you find out that the three sailors are not Indian or African, like Laarmans thinks, but from Afghanistan.' Neues Deutschland, 28 November 2009
‘Het Dwaallicht' is Elsschot's last and most enigmatic work. Many consider this novel to be his master piece. It tells the story of Frans Laarmans' nocturnal wanderings through Antwerp in the company of three Afghan sailors in search of a woman, Maria Van Dam. It turns into a journey full of surprises, interruptions, reflections and inhibitions.
Elsschot's oeuvre may be rather modest in size, it has not lost any power or importance. In 2010, the city of Antwerp remembers the fiftieth anniversary of the author's death with a literary and cultural festival. The Elsschot year will officially start on 29 May.
October 2009: 'Regarder le soleil' by Anne Provoost
The French-speaking press has nothing but praise for ‘Regarder le soleil' (Looking into the sun), the French translation of ‘In de zon kijken' by Anne Provoost. The first foreign-language edition of the novel appeared end of August 2009 and was published by Fayard. ‘In de zon kijken' paints a portrait of a mourning mother, seen through the eyes of her child. It is for this novel that Anne Provoost received the Flemish Community prize for fiction 2008 (CultuurPrijs Vlaanderen).
In France, newspaper Le Monde has commented on Provoost's remarkable talent:
‘‘Regarder le soleil' apporte la preuve d'un remarquable univers romanesque et d'un grand talent d'écriture'. Le Monde, 28 August 2009
Anne Provoost's novel was also applauded in several Walloon newspapers. Le Soir, for instance, compares her narrative style to some North-American female writers:
‘Chloé ne fait pas de liens raisonnables entre les faits qu'elle observe, elle en établit d'autres, où priment sa sensibilité et son intuition. Quelques romancières nord-américaines excellent dans cette technique. On songe à Joyce Carol Oates, à Annie Proulx, à Alice Munro. Le plus surprenant, c'est qu'Anne Provoost parvienne à les égaler'. Le Soir, 2 October 2009
More praise in Le Soir and La Libre Belgique:
‘[...] un livre dense et mûr, écrit à Borgerhout près d'Anvers, mais destiné à circuler de par le monde'. Le Soir, 2 October 2009
‘Un roman poignant, admirablement servi par une sobriété de moyens qui lui confère une étrange poésie et un charme insidieux. Ce pourrait être sinistre, étouffant; il n'en est rien, grâce à l'efficacité du style de l'auteur dont les phrases simples, teintées d'humour noir, font mouche et masquent une sensibilité à fleur de mots'. La Libre Belgique, 27 October 2009
July 2009: ‘On Black Sisters' Street' by Chika Unigwe
The second novel by Flemish-Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe was released this summer by her London-based publisher Jonathan Cape (Random House). The publisher chose the telling title ‘On Black Sisters' Street'. The book immediately caught the attention of the British press and got several reviews. Amongst others, by critic Bernardine Evaristo in British newspaper The Independent.
‘This is an important and accomplished novel that leaves a strong aftertaste. Unigwe gives voice to those who are voiceless, fleshes out the stories of those who offer themselves as meat for sale, and bestows dignity on those who are stripped off it'. The Independent, 3 July 2009
‘Fata Morgana' tells the gripping story of four young Nigerian women who end up as prostitutes in Antwerp. To escape their dead-end lives and grinding poverty in their homeland, they sell their bodies on Black Sisters' street. They can only afford to return home after they have paid off all their debts to their Nigerian pimp.
Earlier this year, Neri Pozza published an Italian translation titled ‘Le Nigeriane'. In 2007, Jonathan Cape also translated Unigwe's first novel ‘The phoenix'.
June 2009: ‘Terres de promesse' by Joseph Pearce
The French media are taken with ‘Terres de promesse', the French translation of Joseph Pearce's ‘Land van belofte' (Lands of promise). Early June 2009, the book got a rave review in the literary pages of French newspaper Le Monde. Critic Nils C. Ahl emphasizes the ‘fine portrait gallery' drawn by Pearce and the amazing way in which Pearce undertakes ‘a journey in time, space and language‘. He concludes that the book is more than a mere study or a family chronicle, from the first pages on it exudes literature.
‘Plus qu'une étude, on veut retenir un livre d'écrivain - une topographie, une prière, presqu'un roman'. Le Monde, 5 June 2009
This Spring, renowned French cultural magazine Revue des Deux Mondes put Pearce's book in their top ten of best contemporary books.
‘Terres de promesse' also appeals to the Walloon media. In his review in Le Soir, Jacques De Decker calls it a masterpiece. The literary critic considers Pearce to be a great talent and compares his works to those of internationally renowned authors Sandor Marai and W.G. Sebald.
‘Un mot vient à l'esprit pour résumer tant de beauté: chef-d'œuvre. À la lecture de son livre ‘Terres de promesse', on a l'impression d'avoir affaire à un disciple de W.G. Sebald pour la capacité de situer l'expérience vécue dans son exacte dimension morale, ou à un autre Sandor Marai pour la très sensible divination des êtres. Ces références sont impressionnantes mais justifiées. Voici un talent de très haut niveau, et il ne serait pas surprenant que sa parution en langue française prélude à un plus vaste rayonnement encore(...)'. Le Soir, 19 June 2009
‘Terres de promesse' was published by French publisher Actes Sud, who last year also released Pearce's novel ‘Graines de pavot' (‘Maanzaad' or Poppy Seed). ‘Maanzaad' tells the story of Pearce's Jewish roots and the Diaspora.
April 2009: ‘The Angel Maker' in Bild Am Sonntag and Glasgow Evening Times
The translations (nine already) of 'The Angel Maker' by Stefan Brijs are doing great. Brijs is applauded for his bestseller both in the national and the foreign press, amongst others in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag and the Glasgow Evening Times.
‘A devilish, dramatic thriller'. Bild am Sonntag.
‘Compelling ... succeeds in immersing the reader in a gripping story'. Glasgow Evening Times.
The German translation of 'The Angel Maker' was published in 2007 by BTB, the English one in 2008 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. In the fall of 2008, Penguin Books also released a paperback version.
January 2009: ‘Ceci n'est pas la bd flamande' in Le Soir
The exhibition was set up by the Flemish Literature Fund to introduce 20 current talents to the international public at the comics festival in Angoulême. Not only did the FLF reach its goal, it exceeded all expectations. The comics artists received lots of praise in the media. We translate an excerpt from an article in Le Soir.
‘(With that said), the talent of the new Flemish comics artists is undeniable. If some of them, like Nix ('Kinky & Cosy'), Luc Cromheecke ('Tom Carbone'), Olivier Schrauwen ('Mon fiston') or Randall Caesar ('Les somnambules'), are already known in the French language, the others are certainly worth to be discovered, Jeroen Janssen or Maarten Vande Wiele to name but them.' - Le Soir, January 2009
October 2008: 'Jonkvrouw' in Die Zeit
Praise for 'Jonkvrouw' by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs in Die Zeit.
‘Ghent-born authors Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs write about a dramatic chapter in the history of Flanders in a masterly way. Power and temperament give the tale conviction, far away from mere medieval setting and brave historical obligingness.' - Die Zeit, October 1st 2008.
'Jonkvrouw' was published in 2006 by Facet.
October 2008: David van Reybrouck in Le Soir
In her article in Belgian newspaper Le Soir (August 29, 2008), Colette Braeckman sang the praises of the French translation of 'De plaag' by David Van Reybrouck.
'David Van Reybrouck est un esprit curieux, ses passions sont multiples. (...) Mais surtout, notre Flamand iconoclaste ronge, avec une patience d'insecte, le socle de la statue de Maeterlinck, dont il évoque les amours, les ennuis d'argent, les dérives politiques et une gloire qui finit par paraître bien surfaite.'
'Le fléau' was published in the spring of 2008 by Actes Sud (France), in a translation by Pierre-Marie Finkelstein.