International Fiction Bestsellers

The New Czech Comet
Legatova Aloft, Sabach Soused in the Czech Republic, Plus Russia’s Own ‘Magic Mountain’

Streaking across the firmament on her way to the #1 spot in the Czech Republic this month, 84-year-old Kveta Legatova is a “new meteor in the Czech literary skies” who burst on the scene at the age of 80 after a career as an independent-minded teacher in the Czech countryside (where she routinely tangled with the Communist authorities). Legatova’s first short-story collection Zelary debuted in 2001 with an ultra-modest first print run of 400 copies, but has since soared to over 25,000 sold and been praised as a work of “full-blooded, passionate, and tragic” tales from the turn of the 20th century “yet with a flourish, pace, and composition a hundred years younger.” Named for its setting in a remote Czech village during WWII, the book has bounced back to the bestseller list as the Czech film adaptation of its sequel, the novella Joe’s Annie, premieres this month (the film, however, bears the title of the earlier volume). Both books envelop the reader with the “cruel charm” of the Beskides, the mountainous region near the Polish border where the author taught in small schoolhouses, a setting lush with “immense richness in spite of omnipresent poverty.” Joe’s Annie takes up the story of Eliska, a young female teacher-turned-doctor hiding in the mountains from Nazi persecution, who falls hopelessly in love with a man from the region. Legatova won the State Literary Prize (the nation’s highest such honor) last year, and critics have declared Zelary “a breathtaking, naturalistic, and beautiful read from start to finish.” Joe’s Annie, meanwhile, has sold 17,000 copies since its publication in 2002. Contact Milan Machacek at Paseka for rights to both titles. (Our Czech bestseller list, we’re pleased to note, is graciously provided by Jaroslav Cisar, Editor of the bi-weekly magazine Book News — the PW of the Czech Republic — and Secretary of the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers. See our full report on the Czech and Slovak publishing markets.)

Also in the Czech Republic, Petr Sabach is back in play with his seventh and latest offering: Four Men Afloat, or, Drunk Bananas Are Coming Back (the title was #2 last month, but has slipped just below the top ten). A sequel to his earlier ode to punchy produce, Drunk Bananas (about the coming-of-age exploits of four young men in the twilight of the Communist era), Sabach’s newest book tracks the men down 20 years later as they realize that some things in life can never be regained. Inspired by memories of pre-1989 Czechoslovakia, as well as tales spun down at the local pub, Sabach writes in the tradition of Czech greats Jaroslav Hasek and Bohumil Hrabal, and found his greatest success in 1994 with the bluntly titled Shit Burns, a collection of three stories about the collision of male and female world views. The book has sold more than 50,000 copies and is the basis of Cozy Dens, one of the most successful recent Czech films. Sabach will be published in Hungary (Europa), Italy (Marsilio), and France (L’Aventurine); keep an eye out for his other works, which include Grannies, a story of two old ladies with political chips on their shoulders, and The Strange Problem of Francis S., the story of a young man’s drug-induced hallucinatory experience inspired by the life of that bare-footed radical, St. Francis of Assisi. See Paseka for rights.

With Russia fêted as the guest of honor at Frankfurt this year, buzz is sure to build over critic and columnist Dmitry Bykov’s latest offering, Orthography, regarded as a “novel-opera in three acts,” and even “Russia’s answer to The Magic Mountain.” The scene: Bolsheviks hatch a plan in 1918 to reinvent Russian orthography, shipping unemployed linguists and writers to a Petrograd commune to revamp the alphabet. A cadre of young avant-gardists forms its own commune in response, however, and budding reporter Yat is torn between the two camps: fired from his job at a newspaper that was shuttered for being counter-revolutionary, Yat is cast off from society like the letters of the old alphabet, yet caught in the crush of the new order. Bykov’s parable of Russian history and his grand metaphor for revolution are said to be fired by “a tremendous will to transform not only the literary but primarily the social landscape.” His previous book, The Acquittal, an anti-utopian account of a brilliant professor’s arrest and disappearance after a mysterious phone call, has been published in France (Denoël). All rights for Orthography are available from Nibbe & Wiedling in Germany.

Crime-loving Sweden gets a new fix this month as Björn Hellberg brings to life a fictitious Swedish metropolis with a pulsating street life and deep-rooted social gaps in Pariah. The most blighted area in Loviken — aptly nicknamed the “Sewer Rat” — is home to dodgy characters known as the pariahs. One evening in May, the police are summoned to this odious place, where a routine task turns into a nightmare. Hellberg is no stranger to crime writing (he’s written 11 detective stories on top of 23 books about tennis, and “beats Mankell in three straight sets, to use tennis terms”). His new electrifying police squad features Carina Keller, a mother of three; her outspoken partner Stig-Allan Jönsson; and sexy crime scene investigator Mona Ceder. Earlier works have been published in Germany (Argon) and Holland (DeGeus), but all rights are available for this one, which has “all the potential of becoming just as popular as his previous series.” Contact Bengt Nordin.

Lastly, the international press is going gaga over a young Jewish French woman writing under the pseudonym Nima Zamar and her account of six intense years in the Israeli army. I Also Had to Kill, which climbed to number 5 on the nonfiction list in l’Express, tells Zamar’s story of emigrating to Israel at the age of 22, where she joined the army after her skills as a computer programmer caught the attention of the Israeli secret service. Following months of torture-resistance training, she infiltrated Hezbollah camps in Libya, Syria, and Lebanon, posing as a Swiss-reared Palestinian with money to spare. While training at terrorist camps, her mission was to introduce bugs into computer networks so that the systems could be accessed by Israelis back home. Now working in information technology in Paris and raising her 18-month-old daughter (whose father was a colleague in the Israeli army killed during a mission in Iran), she stands by her account without naming names for fear of endangering her associates. Called “a page-turner to the end,” Zamar’s book was published by Albin Michel in France; rights are available from Lucinda Karter at the French Publishers Agency.

Leave a Comment


  1. Jan 29, 20121:42 am

    Enjoyed every bit of your article post.Thanks Again. Want more.

  2. Feb 27, 20124:40 am

    Wow, great article post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

  3. Feb 28, 20121:38 am

    Thank you ever so for you blog.Really thank you! Fantastic.

  4. Feb 28, 20122:06 am

    Muchos Gracias for your post.Thanks Again. Fantastic.

  5. Feb 28, 20124:26 am

    Thank you ever so for you blog.Much thanks again. Awesome.

  6. Feb 28, 20125:23 am

    I cannot thank you enough for the article.Much thanks again.

Back to Top