Journalist Rosie Goldsmith did an excellent job of introducing and interviewing the six authors, who came from a variety of countries around Europe. They all write in their native tongues but have enjoyed success with English translations of their works too. Each author was asked about their writing and their backgrounds, as well as the inspiration for their novels, and then read a passage from one of the English translations of their work. Hearing about the author's life and then listening to the extract was a great way to really understand what the author had written and why.
I was struck most by the honesty and openness of the authors. There was a strong trend of both dysfunctional families and autobiography throughout the evening, which meant that the authors were baring their souls to us and revealing some of the toughest moments in their lives. Julia Franck's novel Back to Back, for example, dealt with life in East Germany, where she herself was born, and some of the characters were based on her own family members. It was amazing to hear her describe her mother's efforts to move them out of the East, and life in a refugee camp once they made it to the West. She talked about her Jewish grandmother's communist ideals and her view that German communism had developed fairly uniquely after the horrors of fascism and that she always had the feeling that something about this communist idealism was not quite right. Belgian author Dimitri Verhulst, in his book The Misfortunates, had written about his experience growing up with his father and three uncles, all of whom were alcoholics, following his parents' separation. He was eventually moved into foster care. To see a man sit on a stage and tell hundreds of strangers about his turbulent childhood was a truly humbling experience. In a similar way, Danish author Jonas T Bengtsson was quite open to describing his life-long feeling that he didn't quite fit in (without ever really knowing why) when talking about his novel A Fairy Tale.
The main draw of the event for me was to see Julia Franck, as she was the only author speaking of whom I had previously heard. However, the evening turned out to be far more intellectually stimulating than I could have hoped. I was exposed to new authors, new works and also new languages, of which I had not had much (if any) experience in the past, concentrating as I do on the German language. The Foyles stall in the foyer afterwards allowed me to buy a couple of the books, which have been added to my long list of books to read! I have always loved reading and for a while now have wanted to become a literary translator (I currently translate marketing and other non-literary texts from German into English) and I am preparing to study an MA in Literary Translation at UEA from September. The evening spent at the British Library absolutely spurred on my enthusiasm to enter the world of literary translation and I am very much looking forward to reading my new purchases and attending many more events like the European Literature Night in the future.