When either of us is in the mood for a gorgeously written, well-plotted, distinctive tale, we look no further than to Europa Editions. This publishing house was founded in 2005 by an Italian husband and wife team with the aim of bringing the works of European writers to American readers. Luckily for us, they’ve been very successful. Europa now publishes twenty titles a year and landed its first bestseller back in 2008 with The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. They haven’t looked back since, surveying the international literary scene and picking excellent reads.
The settings in these books often seem far away from the clapboard farm houses and New England style church steeples we pass each day. Europa whisks us far away from home (kind of the book equivalent of Calgon!) with their amazing array of stories and authors. This unique publisher can be depended upon for unique stories that take place the whole world over and teach readers something about other countries — and about themselves. (Yes, they probably have published a novel we would not recommend, but we have not yet found it.) If you are what you read, you might want to consume – imbibe, devour!- a Europa title and feel expanded, a bit more empathetic, and perhaps more aware of what is being enjoyed by other bibliophiles worldwide.
Below you’ll find reviews for some Europa books we’ve recently savored and can recommend.
Pure by Andrew Miller (2012). This book is incredibly effective at creating and transmitting to the reader the feeling, sounds, sights, and even smells of Paris in 1785 — and it is not all freshly baked baguettes and roses! Newly minted engineer Jean-Baptise Baratte has been hired by the royal court to perform a rather unseemly job: to excavate and move the overflowing cemetery of “Les Innocents” to the outskirts of Paris. A little known piece of this city’s rich history comes to life in this wonderful novel as the reader walks the city with Baptiste to the Palais Royal, visiting suit-makers, markets, restaurants, even Versailles as he himself becomes acclimated to this most sensory of places. Pure tells the story of a most unusual year foreshadowing the fall of the monarchy, detailing a most gruesome project, but also of a character’s inner growth and capacity for love. ~Lisa Cadow
The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez (2012). Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez rejoice, Ms. Martinez has created characters that will charm you, and their stories that will seem believable even when you know there is no way they are real. While this novel skips the jungles of Garcia Marquez’s Colombia for Spain and northern Africa, it creates magical tales that will linger long after you turn the last page. In this novel, the daughters of Frasquita are haunted by their family’s inheritance — a box that bestows unique things upon each daughter as they come of age. For Frasquita, it bestowed the ability to create gorgeous gowns and fabrics from rags; gowns and fabrics that mysteriously that hide flaws and pregnancies and then disintegrate once no longer necessary. Unfortunately, her gowns incite jealousy and misunderstanding in her small hometown and Frasquita flees Spain for the north coast of Africa where her daughters must come to terms with their own special gifts (e.g., for one, the power to shine like the sun, another a gift of song). Pick this up and enjoy some magical tales, characters and time in far off lands. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow
A Winter’s Night by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (2012). As we enter the final days of February with snow blanketing the fields and nights still longer than the day, the title of this novel naturally caught my attention. But truly, this book knows no one season, time of day, or year. It spans winters and summers, half a century, two wars, and the evolution of the Bruni family who farm a small plot of land in the Italian countryside. For generations, they have opened up their barn to wayward strangers and the community to gather, tell stories, and keep warm on a winter’s night. But the world moves quickly around them and their barn, and their seven sons and two daughters as they mature into a rapidly evolving century. This book has been described aptly as “expansive” (though it is less than 400 pages) and is full of folklore, farming, fascism, legend, and history. It offers readers a strong sense of history and how our life and landscape has changed profoundly in the last one hundred years. ~Lisa Cadow