What our Readers are Reading: Peirene Press

We get sent a lot of books to consider for Ninja Book Box and Ninja Book Club, so about a year ago now we started accepting applications for people to join our team as Ninja Readers. Currently we have three people who read for us on a monthly basis, and they give their feedback on the titles they choose. Although we keep any titles that are being considered for the book box top secret, we thought it would be good to start sharing feedback on other titles, including those that are suggested for book club, with you so you can add yet more books to your TBRs. You can thank us later!

One of our newer readers, Catherine, has been reading a couple of titles from Peirene Press, a publisher that specialises in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation. All titles link to the publishers' website. Find Catherine on twitter.

The Last Summer by Ricarda Hutch (trans. Jamie Bulloch)

"It is very short, as expected for Peirene Press - a publisher described by the Times Literary Supplement as producing 'two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film' - and it is very, very tense. 

This book introduced me to Peirene series of translated fiction (in this case, from German by the talented Jamie Bulloch) and to the author, Ricarda Huch (who I now want to read much, much more of!). Although published in 1910, this is the first English version available and I think it could provoke a lot of discussion around a number of themes, perhaps with some companion pieces because of its brevity. A few foci could be:

- Epistolary form: I love a novel in letters, and this one really ratchets up the tension, using the dates of each letter as a countdown.

- Political unrest: a central part of the story is the enforced closure of a Russian state university and the retaliation of students.

- Women: one strong female character in particular, Katya, strikes me as very forward-thinking (and the responses to her and gossip about her in other letters are very interesting!)

- Technology: a typewriter features on the cover for a reason. Katya memorably dismisses this newfangled invention: "she didn't see the point in it: if you had to use your hands, you might as well write". Reported telephone conversations in the letters are also a great source of humour :-)

Without giving too much away, I think people who have read Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters will find this book particularly satisfying."

The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift (trans. Jamie Bulloch)

"This book is brilliant! I've never read anything else that manages to combine Empress Sissi of Austria, duck presses, a royal cocaine syringe and one's weight in violet pralines. The translation from the German is deliciously smooth and it is literally a page turner - its very oddities are what drive you to keep reading. I learnt a lot about the intriguing Empress Elisabeth (on the basis of reading this, I've decided that I want to visit Vienna and learn more about her!), and about the human psyche as well (the blurb described it as a 'psychothriller', and I think that's the best term for it). It's unsettling, uncanny, unusual - another memorable read from the Peirene series."

As you can probably tell from the feedback, both of these titles are now on our list of suggestions for Ninja Book Club! Each month we pick four from this list & compile a poll which book club members and interested parties are then welcome to vote on. Vote for what we read in July here and if you're not already following our blog we'd love it if you'd click the RSS button or the 'Follow' button at the top of the Blog homepage!

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