What does Europe mean today? In light of the refugee crisis and financial collapse and the impending risk of failure of the European political project, booksellers from 19 European countries attempted to find answers to this question. Between 2013 and 2015 they have met three times in Berlin, Madrid and Brussels to consider this collectively. L’Europe en livres is the name of their network and catalogue which has emerged from these meetings. Four book titles were selected from each participating country to say something about the history and contemporary life of Europe.
“Our focus is not to follow current EU events, but to offer a fixed inventory of books focusing on the political, cultural and linguistic dimension of Europe, and where Europe is not merely understood as a geographical space, but as a place of interaction”, explains Pierre Myszkowski, who initiated the project from Paris together with Belgian bookseller, Philippe Goff, and with support from the European cinema network, Europe cinémas.
French language and culture is the common denominator of the members within this network. All booksellers involved in the project have French bookstores in other European countries.
Their backlist includes about 300 titles and the most important ones from each country have been selected for the catalogue. All books have been translated into French, but apart from this they couldn’t be more different. The spectrum ranges from Homer to Canetti and Enki Bilal. “For me, the Odyssey is a key text for Europe because this journey represents the first attempt to capture and describe European diversity”, Antoine Priovolos, owner of the French book store in Athens, explains his choice. His colleague in Lisbon chose a text by Edouardo Lourenço, Nós e a Europa ou as duas razões (literally: We and Europe or the two reasons), a politically explosive text dating from 1988 in which the Portuguese philosopher already complained then that economic and financial issues particularly defined the consolidation of Europe. Uli Lust’s autobiographical graphic novel Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (Today is the last day of the rest of your life) also features in this catalogue. In this book the Austrian writer recounts her dangerous trip in the mid-1980s as a young punk travelling across Sicily. The winner of the last Goncourt Prize, Mathias Énard, has several novels featured in which he highlights the perspective from the Near and Middle East of Europe.
“Of course, we don’t have all of these books in stock”, says Pierre Myszkowski, who was once a bookseller in Paris and now works at the Bureau international de l’édition française (BIEF), an organization promoting French publishing abroad and acting as a liaison partner between French booksellers and publishers and their overseas counterparts. Thanks to his initiative the catalogue and a selection of book titles were available last year in participating bookstores. Flora Dubosc presented her top book tips on one of the large book tables in her French-speaking bookstore, Latitudes, in Budapest. “18 francophone booksellers are proud to introduce their most important books from around Europe”, reads the advertising sign. “Reactions to this were positive, but we would have liked more interest. Inspiring readers is just difficult and will remain so.”
By Katja Petrovic
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright