October 16, 2014
Dutch publisher De Geus starts an English-language house
by Sal Robinson
If English-language publishers are hesitant to publish translated fiction, one solution that foreign publishers sometimes turn to is doing it themselves. World Editions is the newest incarnation of this idea, a company recently launched by the Dutch publisher De Geus.
De Geus (if you are not up on your Dutch publishers) is an independent publishing house founded in 1983 and run by Eric Visser and Annemie Jans. It was from the very start a publishing house with an agenda. They aimed to “publish as many male as female authors, and to publish authors from many different cultures” (from this profile of the house by Marleen Reiner on Publishing Perspectives). Aim met: they count among their authors Kader Abdollah, Ha Jin, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Annie Proulx, and Wisława Szymborska, and two Nobel Prize winners, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio and Herta Müller.
But for all their success, Visser says, in an article about the launch in the Bookseller, that “we still found that it was hard for our Dutch authors to break through internationally.” Which is both true and odd: there are many reasons why it seems like there should be more Dutch authors published in the US and UK (among them, active promotion by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, generous grants, and authors who often speak English) but only a few are published regularly: Gerbrand Bakker, Arnon Grunberg, Hermann Koch, Lieve Joris, Cees Nooteboom, the occasional Geert Mak doorstopper about an entire continent.
So it sounds like World Editions could significantly boost the numbers of English translations of Dutch authors, as Europa Editions did for Italian ones, and in fact, Karin Wessel, who used to work for Europa, is now working for World. Though it won’t only be Dutch and Flemish authors. Of the first four authors to be published by the house, starting in January 2015 — Esther Gerritsen, Anne-Gine Goemans, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Linda Boström Knausgård — Attah is Ghanaian and now lives in the US, and Knausgård is Swedish. Linda Boström Knausgård is indeed (if you were wondering) married to Karl Ove, and World will be publishing her first novel, The Helios Disaster, about a father who gives birth to a twelve-year-old girl and “what it is like to slide irresistibly away from reality and into a near-psychotic state.”
Of course, this means we won’t have to learn Swedish or Dutch now, and are missing out on that particular slide away from reality. The political philosopher Glen Newey does happen to be learning Dutch at the moment, and he let us know what we’re missing out on in the LRB blog this week (mostly “k”s, it seems like):
I dig it that every dozenth word or so looks like a cuss, that U kunt is actually polite Dutch, and balzak the medically correct word for ‘scrotum’. More generally, the language looks to a native English speaker like the output of a surrealists’ synod. ‘U kunt op de krappe trap opgaan om de dikhuidige paardenfokker in de slaapkamer te zien’ is a possible, if improbable, sentence (‘You can go up the narrow staircase to see the thick-skinned horse-breeder in the bedroom’).
Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.