Posted by: jbwuk | March 8, 2011

Guest Blogger: Meike Ziervogel on Haunting Memories, Fractured Identities

Last Wednesday Peirene and I went to a lunch time event at  Jewish Book Week. German Jenny Erpenbeck and Russian-Austrian Julya Rabinovich in conversation with BBC’s Henrietta Foster.  The Nymph was unhappy.

“I am just so busy at the moment and the last thing on my mind is to sit still and listen to some authors speak,” she moaned on the way there. “And they are not even my authors.”

“I like Jenny Erpenbeck.” I tried to persuade her. “If she hadn’t already got an English publisher, I would seriously consider her for our list.”

“I wouldn’t,” Peirene replied. She was in a truly bad mood. And it only got worse when we arrived at the Royal National Hotel.

“Is this where it is held?” Peirene looked up at the ugly, purpose-built 70’s block and took a deep breath as we entered the foyer. “Frankly, this place is fit for third rate business conferences, but not for a literary festival. Aren’t lit festivals suppose to enhance your spirits and intellect? This place offends my sensitive soul.”

It was time to tell the Nymph to shut up. Her opinions were not wanted. She went into a huff and sat three rows behind me.

To tell the truth, my reason for going to this event was a mixture of duty and guilt. I know the director of the Jewish Book Week, Geraldine D’Amico, well.  Every year, she and her team pull together an eight-day festival with 60 talks, events and workshops involving nationally and internationally renowned writers. It’s the biggest literary festival in London, it’s right at my doorstep and how often do I go? Last year I went to two sessions, this year to one. Not only does the Nymph feel too busy, I do too. And last Wednesday I only went because I thought that Geraldine and those two foreign authors needed my gracious support. I envisaged an audience of about 5.

They didn’t need my support at all. The room, seating about 70, was full. And after the event people were queuing to get their books signed. Also Peirene had clearly undergone a mood change. “So pleased I came. Got me away from my to-do list.”

As we were walking back to the tube station she put her arm in mine. “Did you notice how they tried to give the room a feeling of a literary salon?” she asked me in a conspirator’s voice. “The bird cage with the fairy lights inside, the sofa, the old radio, even a rocking chair.” I nodded. “Yes, I rather quite liked that.” “Yeah, I liked it too,” she replied. Then the lowered her voice even further. “But I think our Salons have more of Salon feeling.”

The Nymph just loves comparing. And while I agree that the interior décor at the Peirene Salon is definitely more home-grown, I have to grant the Jewish Book Week the more comfortable seats. Beautiful upright chairs rather than plastic seats borrowed from a primary school.

Next year the JBW will move to new premises. The fabulous King’s Place on York Way.  Peirene, now a convert to lunch time lit events, is already planning to go. “But you don’t know who will be speaking?” I tentatively objected to this extreme forward planning. “I don’t’ care,” she replied. “If there is one thing I learned last week, it is that listening to a new author is like being introduced to an unknown piece of music. The experience broadens one’s horizon.” Well, I guess, if you want to meet Peirene and me in the last week of February 2012, then come to some lunch lit events at King’s Place. We’ll be sitting in the front row.

Meike Ziervogel is the founder and publisher of Peirene Press. Peirene Press specialises in Contemporary European literature in English translation. “Two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film.” (TLS) Meike also writes a weekly blog, The Pain and Passion of a Small Publisher.  For more information on Peirene’s books & blog, please go to


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