Translation

Book Cover Design and the Legitimation of Crime Fiction in Czechoslovakia (1960- 1980) – The Smaragd Series

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by Marcela Poucova, University of Brno

 

After the 1948 coup which brought the Communist Party to power in Czechoslovakia, the cultural climate changed considerably. Before then, there had been a number of publishing houses whose production covered various literary fields. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviet cultural model came to the fore. Socialist Realism was the order of the day, together with its vision of culture as a means of educating the masses. Private publishers gave way to several state-run ones led by the most devoted party members. Not only some authors, but even certain genres became undesirable.

Both high-brow literature of the highest quality (unless of Soviet provenience) as well as paraliterary genres fell out of favour. Works from the other side of the Iron Curtain without any strong leftist tendencies were deemed to be propaganda. Popular fiction, namely the ‘lower’ genres such as westerns, romances, and crime or spy novels were considered unworthy of the new builders of Communism. Of these, it was only crime and spy literature which managed to ‘turn coat’ and find its place under the new regime, albeit by adapting to the new political order by capitulating to its demands. As a result, from the 1950s, the vast majority of spy novels depicted the uncovering of clandestine activities of imperialistic countries whose ‘prime interest’ was to destroy the new  (Communist) democracies. Similarly, crime novels portrayed individual criminal activities of people who could not identify with the revolutionary ideals of the new society.

In the 1960s, the political scene began to change and editorial policies were relaxed. Culturally, this decade was the most interesting part of the era. As for domestic crime novel production – talented authors emerged for whom the genre brought an interesting challenge and a novel way to describe the reality of society. At the same time, the number of translated novels also increased. Naturally, in the spy genre these were by authors from the Soviet bloc. However, the crime and detective genre started to open up to more global influences. The reasons for this were clear. The public was hungry for a relaxing read that was not burdened with ideological content and, economically, this genre was profitable. Nevertheless, in a socialist state, when it came to ideology, profitability was pushed aside. Publishing houses with devoted party members at the helm created a number of measures designed to select the ‘right’ authors, novels and genres: Continue reading

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Foreign Bodies

Demure

With thanks to Donald Nicholson-Smith

Foreign Bodies” is the  title of a promising, pioneering series of international crime fiction that never was. It was planned as a series of French Crime Fiction translated into English and published in America. The project  had been drafted almost two decades ago by the former  member of the Situationist International, Donald Nicholson-Smith, the translator of  Debord’s Society of Spectacle, Vaneigem’s  The Revolution of Everyday life, Lefebvre’s   The Production of space  and other key texts. Nicholson-Smith is also the translator of the  quintessential French Noir author, Jean-Patrick Manchette, whose situationist trajectory mirrored his. It is not only regrettable but also damaging for the understanding of  the international Noir genre in the English speaking world that this series never   saw the light of day. The contemporary surge of French Noir in English translation due to publishers such as Pushkin Vertigo, Gallic Books, or NYRB  might be seen as an opportunity to revisit Nicholson-Smith’s project. Continue reading

Crime Fiction in German

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Crime Fiction in German (ed. Katharina Hall) is the first volume in English to offer a comprehensive overview of German-language crime fiction from its origins in the early nineteenth century to the present day. As well as introducing readers to crime fiction from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the former East Germany, the volume expands the notion of a German crime-writing tradition by investigating Nazi crime fiction, Jewish-German crime fiction, Turkish-German crime fiction and the Afrika-Krimi. Other key areas, including the West German social crime novel, women’s crime writing, regional crime fiction, historical crime fiction and the Fernsehkrimi (TV crime drama) are also explored, highlighting the genre’s distinctive features in German-language contexts.

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Blood and Sex: Violence and sexuality in Greek crime fiction series of the 1970s.

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By Nikos Filippaios (PhD candidate, University of Ioannina, Greece)

Since its beginning, crime fiction in Greece has usually been distributed by publishers in multi-volume series. The first series of crime fiction translated into Greek were published from the 1910s to the 1930s, initially outside of Greece, in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, where many Greek-speaking people lived, and some years later in Athens (Kassis, 165). Before long however, it centred exclusively around publishers, translators and writers based in Athens. In addition to series of novels and short stories, many magazines appeared dedicated exclusively to crime fiction and the successful family magazines of the era often featured detective stories. Following the difficult decade of the 1940s, in which Greece was wracked by the Second World War and a civil war, the crime, and popular fiction publishing industry in Greece in general, prospered. After the mid-1950s however, something of a “golden era” for popular literature in Greece, a slow decline began, culminating in a defeat by the cinema, TV and, finally, digital media (Filippaios 2015, 5-19).

Cover of Greek edition of 'Berlin, Check-point Charlie' by Gerard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

Cover of Greek edition of ‘Berlin, Check-point Charlie’ by Gérard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

A compelling phenomenon visible in the evolution of Greek crime fiction of this time is an increasing shift towards violence and sexuality, a trend which began during the early 1970s and lasted at least until the end of the decade. This shift became evident between 1968 and 1972, with the appearance of three new series. The most important of these was the “VIPER Series of crime fiction novel by Papyros (English: “papyrus”) Publications, a publishing house established in 1936 in Athens, which expanded into the crime fiction genre in 1968. This series was so successful that, not only did it continue publishing until the early 1990s, but some volumes can still be found in kiosks and bookshops around Greece today (Koskinas, 21/01/2014). “VIPER” initially followed the trend of other famous crime fiction series, including mainly classic writers such as Agatha Christie and James Chase. But from 1975 onwards, its publisher turned chiefly to Gérard De Villiers’ SAS novels. After Ian Fleming’s James Bond, SAS’s Malko Linge was the next most famous literary spy who fascinated Greek readers with his violent and erotic adventures.

The Greek edition of SAS à l'ouest de Jérusalem by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series. Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

The Greek edition of ‘SAS à l’ouest de Jérusalem’ by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series.
Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

In fact, Papyrus Publications’ interest in a more hard-core subgenre of crime fiction, such as the spy novel, probably influenced two other, smaller series. Although both featured fewer volumes and were distributed by smaller publishing houses, they followed the trend of “blood and sex” from inception. The first of these was “Fascinating Pocket Books” and was published by Panthir (English: ‘panther’) Publications. Probably active between 1970 and 1973, Panthir Publications was created and curated by Dimitris Chanos, a writer and publisher who began his career in the iconic crime fiction pulp magazine Mask (Chanos, 221-240). From its very first volumes, Panthir adopted a very specific approach: (a) focusing on “hard-boiled” crime fiction writers, mainly Mickey Spillane, and (b) replacing older cover illustrations, usually with photo collages of scantily clad women, an aesthetic which borrows elements from soft-core pornography. Along the same vein, “Modern Pocket Books”, one of the first attempts from Kampanas Publications and also circulating during early 70s, adopted a similar approach to its covers, but with slightly more conservative images. The main writer featuring in “Modern Pocket Books” was Anthony Morton, a pen name of John Greasy. Particularly popular were his spy novels featuring “the Baron”.

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Piero Chiara in English

The Disappearance of Signora Giulia, by Piero Chiara (2015: Pushkin Vertigo), cover design by Jamie Keenan.

The Disappearance of Signora Giulia, by Piero Chiara (2015: Pushkin Vertigo), cover design by Jamie Keenan.

The first and to date only novel by Italian author Piero Chiara’s (1913 – 1986)  to be translated into English The Disappearance of Signora Giulia (Italian: I giovedì della signora Giulia), tells the story of the investigation into the disappearance of a country lawyer’s wife. While suspects seem easy to come by in this short novel, solutions are another matter entirely. This procedural was initially serialised in a Swiss newspaper in 1962 and is set in the dramatic milieu of the northern Italian lakes, where Chiara spent his childhood. The life of the author himself is no less interesting than the events of his novels. Working during WWII as a court employee, he was arrested by the Fascist Italian government in 1944 after he was rumoured to have placed a bust of Mussolini in the dock. He fled to Switzerland where he was interned in a camp for Italian refugees. After the war he taught history in a Swiss high school. His first writings – a collection of poetry, Incantavi (1945) were published there.  Returning to Italy, he became a post-war literary star, winning over a dozen Italian literary prizes. After his death, The Premio Chiara award was established in 1989 as an annual prize for short story writers.

The novel was published in English for the first time last year by  Pushkin Vertigo.  A new crime imprint of Pushkin Press, Pushkin Vertigo offer a number of foreign crime novels from Asia and Europe, from the 1920s to the 1970s. The Disappearance of Signora Giulia is the third book in this promising collection. Click here for more.

Early French Crime Fiction in America

 

FantomasusPierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, Fantômas , Marcel Brentano’s, 1915

The Circulation of French language crime fiction in America starts with  Gaboriau, and before him Vidocq (whose Memoirs, first published in Paris 1828-1829 by Tenon, Libraire-Editeur, owe much to fiction, and in turn would influence Balzac and most of 19th Century writing on crime, and early crime novels). It is in America that Gaboriau’s L’affaire Lerouge, his first detective novel, published in Paris in 1866, first appeared  in English translation (in the 1873  Boston Edition reproduced below). Continue reading