Today I’m lucky enough to host the start of the breach blog tour with an introductory essay from Peirene Press. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know how much I’ve raved about the importance of this book at a time when a sense of identity and belonging has been thrown into chaos for many people. breach does a fantastic job of painting a diverse, fair and very realistic picture of the many voices involved in the refugee crisis and holds even more resonance in the face of the recent EU referendum. Here, Peirene Press discusses the motivation behind the inaugural work in their new series of commissioned books…
An Introduction to Peirene Now!
When she’s not scouring the continent looking for brilliant untranslated literature to publish, Peirene is a politically engaged nymph. We campaigned for an ‘In’ vote in the recent referendum, and we even penned an open letter stating the cultural case for remaining in the EU. We donate 50p of every book sale we make to our chosen charity, Counterpoint Arts, who support and produce art by and about migrants and refugees. In the past we have also supported The Maya Centre, an organisation which provides free specialist counselling for deprived and marginalised women.
However, as a publisher which brings translation to a new audience, it can be difficult to thread these concerns into our editorial programme. We have a relatively small publishing slate – foregrounding quality over quantity – of three books a year, all first-time translations of previously published European novellas. If we want to publish a book on a certain topic, but can’t find anything on the subject already written in Finland or Spain, we don’t get to publish it. What’s a nymph to do?
Peirene Now! is the answer. Last summer we put out a call asking for book proposals on the subject of the refugee crisis. Our stipulations were that we wanted short fiction, and we wanted something that would take seriously the fears and concerns of people on all sides of the argument. The stand-out proposal came from a writing duo: Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes. Last winter they visited Calais and collected testimonies and stories from refugees living in the camp. Over several months, in close collaboration with Peirene publisher Meike Ziervogel, they have put together a collection of eight short stories that form a mosaic of human experience.
The opening tale, Extending a Hand, deconstructs the idea of what a border is, and features a cast of characters who have named themselves after such Western icons as Clinton, Obama and GPS. Expect Me, the final story, brings us full-circle as we meet one of the men now living in the UK, which has become something of a promised land over the course of the book. In between, we meet a smuggler, women traveling without men, a grumpy French BnB host, volunteers, childhood friends, a musician and a poet. breach captures a multiplicity of voices, and charts a clear narrative path through it all. Popoola and Holmes have cut through the hype, statistics and the media thinkpieces to look at the people at the centre of migrant crisis. As Sara Maitland has said about the book, ‘This is what fiction is for.’
Over the rest of the week, we’ll be across the blogosphere with breach interviews, extracts & reviews. Tomorrow, head to The Bookbinder’s Daughter for a Q+A with Annie Holmes. On Wednesday, you can go to our charity partner Counterpoint Arts’ website to read an extract from the book, and Thursday sees Olumide Popoola interviewed at Bookish Ramblings. Finally, Friday will see the critics take to the stage, and the first reviews of breach will be let loose on the web before the books release on Monday 1st August. We hope you’ll stick with us over the course of the week.