3 February 2017

Ricarda Huch is the First Lady of Germany. No, she is probably the First Lady of Europe.

(Thomas Mann)

We are kickstarting our Peirene 2017 series East & West: Looking Both Ways with a book that is unlike any other Peirene novel. The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch is a forgotten classic, first published in the original German in 1910. But the book feels so contemporary – with the extra bonus of being written by an amazing female writer – that I just couldn't resist adding it to the list.

Dubbed 'The First Lady of Europe' by Thomas Mann, Ricarda Huch was a ground-breaking German historian, novelist and philosopher, she authored numerous works on European history, novels, poems, and a play. In 1926 she was the first female writer to be admitted to the Prussian Academy of Arts, from which she resigned in 1933 as a protest against Nazi policy.

Clive James wrote about Ricarda Huch in Cultural Amnesia a few years back, but apart from that, she has been unjustly neglected. Why do some wonderful writers get forgotten? And why are those who are remembered usually male? After the world wars, German-language writers weren't hugely popular among English readers, and it's only relatively recently that Stefan Zweig, Robert Musil and Joseph Roth have regained their popularity. The time has come to redress the male/female balance.

The Last Summer itself is a fiercely witty epistolary novel concerning an anarchist plot to kill the Governor of St Petersburg. The work is topical, amusing and dark.

The novel is translated by our star German translator, Jamie Bulloch. This is Jamie’s 5th book for Peirene. He has also translated Peirene No2: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, No 9: Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe, No 10: The Mussel Feast by Brigit Vanderbeke and No 21, The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift.

Ricarda Huch’s The Last Summer is perhaps the most challenging translation I’ve done so far. It’s an epistolary novel made up of letters written by a number of characters, but you only ever see one side of the correspondence, meaning that many things are merely hinted at rather than being laid out explicitly. Indeed, Huch’s style in the book often shifts from the allusive to the elusive, causing a headache for the translator, especially as the author is not around to field any questions.’ Jamie Bulloch

On Wednesay March 1st at 6.30pm (for 7pm) there will be a celebration of The Last Summer and Ricarda Huch at Waterstones Gower Street. Jamie and I will be in conversation with German literature scholar Karen Leeder. Tickets are £8 and include canapes, wine and whiskey/coffee to see you home.

And a couple of more dates:
Our next Salon will be held on June 17th with French Canadian writer Larry Tremblay. 

James and Julia will distribute our 2017 newspaper February 13th 8.15am to 9.15 at West Hampstead station.

Best wishes Meike