Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: Welcome to the Deep Vellum Family!
July 16, 2014 § 1 Comment
ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER, welcome to the Deep Vellum family!
We are proud to announce we have signed LA SUPERBA, the newest award-winning novel by one of the most inventive and exciting authors in the world today, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. Published in 2013 by De Arbeiderspers, and awarded the Libris Literatuur Prijs last month (the most prestigious Dutch literary prize), La Superba is the most emblematic novel of modern Europe, an irresistible combination of migrant novel, perverse travel guide, and postmodern ode to the imagination that lovingly describes the labyrinthine and magical city that Pfeijffer calls home: Genoa, Italy, the city known as “La Superba” (“The Superb City”) for its beauty and rich history.
From the Dutch Foundation for Literature’s information page on La Superba, this is what got me so stoked to publish this book, and it’s here to get you properly hyped before I get together some other marketing copy for this brilliant novel:
This novel is set in Genoa, the labyrinthine port city (nicknamed ‘the Superb’) where the author has been living for the past five years. Migration is the central theme of this autobiographical story about a writer who becomes trapped in his walk on the wild side.
‘Emigrating is like writing a new novel, without yet knowing the plot, the ending, nor even the characters that will turn out to be crucial to the progress of the story,’ says Ilja Leonardo Pfeijffer, the self-confident ‘Italophile’ who addresses us in La Superba. In a long letter home he reports on his life as an explorer in Genoa and contrasts his fate with that of the dirt poor migrant workers from Africa who can barely keep their heads above water.La Superba is more than a touching story about fortune seekers who fall through the cracks. The novel starts with the discovery, by the narrator, of a woman’s leg on the street. That leg will pop up repeatedly in his search for ‘the most beautiful girl in Genoa’, a quest that brings him into contact with the prostitutes, locals and outsiders of the port’s rougher districts and seaman’s bars. This is a pocket edition of Dante’s Inferno, written by an author who admits that he likes to exaggerate: ‘Let’s call it an exercise in style. But the fact that I exaggerate doesn’t mean what I say is untrue.’
Eventually the main character becomes hopelessly lost in his own fantasies, leaving his readers with the feeling they have been hallucinating while roaming through a metropolis. The destination was irrelevant; it was the journey that mattered. And anyone in danger of losing the thread could cling to the style of their guide, to those dynamic sentences full of depravity and high contemplation that Pfeijffer has produced in such quantities since his award-winning debut novel Rupert: A Confession (2002).
For those curious about how I came to sign La Superba: I found out about this amazing novel at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October while meeting with Victor Schiferli of the Dutch Foundation for Literature, an awesome cultural organization that promotes Dutch literature to publishers like me from all over the world, connecting Dutch authors to publishers and translators. A synopsis of the novel was included in the “Books from Holland: Fall 2013” catalog that the Foundation published for Frankfurt, and Victor and I talked about the novel. I should also add, the Dutch Foundation for Literature sponsored my recent trip to Amsterdam for two days of meetings with publishers, authors, and translators (all of which I promise I will write about soon, because it was preceded by the German Editors Trip, and that was amazing too!). One of the meetings the Foundation set up for me in Amsterdam was with a group of literary translators (who’ve published with all of my favorite publishing houses, like Harvill Secker, Pushkin Press, Archipelago Books, Open Letter, etc.) including Michele Hutchinson, who translated Pfeijffer’s debut novel from 2002, Rupert: A Confession, which Open Letter Books published in 2009. Michele also translated the sample of La Superba that Victor sent to me after Frankfurt, which I really liked. The book sounded cool, the sample was fun to read, and the author already had a book in English. All good signs. I added the book to my “Want to Publish” list (this is a real list I keep, with male and female author lists, trying to sign one-for-one). But I wasn’t looking to sign anything right after Frankfurt, I was more keen on getting the first list of titles prepped for Fall 2014. But then I signed a new distribution deal (more information coming on that soon…), and as part of graduating to the big leagues, I needed to expand my publishing timeline horizon and look for books to round out the Deep Vellum lists for spring, summer, and fall 2015 because the distributor needs information on each publishing “season” (Spring is March-August, Fall is September-February) about a year in advance. And I just wasn’t working on that kind of timeline. So I needed new titles, and fast. Fortunately, right about the same time I was confirming my Dutch Editor’s Trip (it was just me!) details, the Libris Literatuur Prijs winner was announced (and the prize jury wrote an amazing essay on their choice, it’s worth Google Translating), and it was La Superba! You’re probably asking yourself how I knew this prize had been awarded. And the answer is simple, because all the international prize information I know of is due to one man, Michael Orthofer, and his amazing Literary Saloon (the news/blog section of his incredible review website, Complete Review). Orthofer publishes the most international literary publishing news of anybody, and he’s an indispensable resource for knowing what is going on in the world, who’s publishing what, who’s winning what prizes, what the latest publishing gossip out of Japan or Nigeria or even the UK is, etc. Check out his website, and also his reviews, because his website is often the only resource to publish reviews of so many works in translation, he is an avid supporter of world literature, and he also loves Dutch and German literature (seriously, check out this list of Dutch literature under review there, most of these books have never been translated!). And so I was reading the Literary Saloon one morning (because I read it daily, seriously), and saw the news that La Superba had won the Libris Prijs! At first I was scared I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the rights to La Superba after it won the prize. But after meeting Michele and hearing her fellow translators’ unanimous recommendation that if I were to publish one Dutch book based on the trip, it should be La Superba, I was sold. Seriously, for six translators of every age, gender, and literary taste to recommend the same book doesn’t happen. They don’t have to be so nice, even though it makes me want to publish translations by each of them in turn, it doesn’t happen like that in the fierce underworld of literary translators…but back to La Superba. After meeting Michele and hearing the praise, I asked Michele for her translation of Rupert: A Confession, which I then read on the flight from Amsterdam back to Dallas. It’s a fast read, and so hilarious, so witty, so good, I knew I had to do it. I got back to Dallas and the first thing I did after the July 4th holiday (America!) was to draft an offer for La Superba. Michele put me in touch with the publisher of La Superba, Peter Nijssen of De Arbeiderspers, and I sent him the offer. Yesterday morning I awoke to the good news that my offer had been accepted by De Arbeiderspers and by Ilja himself. I was so ecstatic I think I yelped while laying in bed and scared my cat. The rest is, and will be, history. This will be one of the most fun books to read in 2015, and will come to mark a moment in European literary history, because this novel is as important as it is fun. The rare double whammy!
But seriously, I could have saved myself all the time typing that and just said that after seeing the photo of Ilja in the Books from Holland issue, I knew it was a match made in heaven. Eat your heart out, Knausgaard, I have the newest literary heartthrob! Hey Archipelago, let’s do some readings with Knausgaard and Pfeijffer together and watch the ladies melt and the men squirm awkwardly before their manly might (or swoon too, I’m not judging).