Swiss French Greats by François von Hurter

François von Hurter talks to “Literally Swiss” for #FrenchBookWeek

As a Swiss French publisher in the UK, I don’t know if I have a particular zeal for publishing Suisse romande writers but I would like to find more of them to publish. I deeply enjoyed working on the novels of Jacques Chessex, Quentin Mouron and Nicolas Verdan – all Swiss French, all published by us. But I would like to add to our Swiss list in all Swiss languages. I hail from Geneva, was raised in French, but am not strictly speaking a romand; my commune of origin is Schaffhausen and that origin is very important to any Swiss person. Wouldn’t it be exciting to publish a Swiss Italian or a Romansch novel in English? I am always on the lookout for them. 

In any event, I am very proud that we have published all five Sergeant Studer novels by the legendary Friedrich Glauser (1896-1938). The most prestigious crime prize in Germany is called the Friedrich-Glauser-Preis, for very good reason! And we have just agreed a two-book deal featuring the Basel Inspector Hunkeler by Hansjoerg Schneider. There is definitely some good crime-writing in Switzerland.

Other Suisse romande literary giants that I personally love and recommend:

Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947), a Lausannois who wrote magnificent novels set in the alps or among the lake fisherman of the Vaud coast. My favourites: Aline (1905), Farinet, ou la fausse monnaie (1932), Derborence (1934) / The Night the Mountain Fell, translated by Sarah Fisher Scott.

Blaise Cendrars. Born in La Chaux de Fonds in 1887, as was Le Corbusier. The French will claim Cendrars of course (as they have Corbu), as he moved to France early, fought in WWI, joined the Foreign Legion. My favourite novel of his is based on the story of John Sutter, the Swiss colonizer who launched the California Gold Rush: L’Or (1925), in English (Sutter’s Gold, 1926). 

Nicolas Bouvier (1929-1998), from Geneva. L’Usage du Monde (The Way of the World from Eland Press, 1963), literary travel writing of the highest level. Also The Japanese Chronicles (1975).

Maurice Chappaz (1916-2009), a Valaisan, a renowned poet published by Gallimard, Testament du Haut-Rhône and Le Chant de la Grand Dixence.

Ella Maillart (1903-1997) from Geneva, travel writer, ethnologist, explorer of Central Asia. Try La Voie cruelle (1949): the story of a voyage from Geneva to Kabul with Annemarie Schwarzenbach. Schwarzenbach, another legendary Swiss writer, was fighting her drug addiction at the time. And Oasis interdites, the story of her travels with Peter Fleming across China and into Afghanistan.

By François von Hurter
Publisher, Bitter Lemon Press

Hear François von Hurter talking about publishing in Switzerland and in the UK  at 15:00 BST on Friday 17th July in a special ‘Publishers Without Borders’ FB webinar.


Born in Geneva in 1946, François von Hurter went to university in Fribourg and did his Swiss military service mostly in Thun. After relentlessly recommending books to friends for thirty years, Laurence Colchester, his brother and him decided to start a small publishing house in 2004. Sixteen years and more than a 100 books later we plod on, having fun and meeting people like Jacques Chessex. A privileged existence.

Category: French Book WeekLiterally SwissLS Authors

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