"Sales have nothing to do with politics'

Europe embraces Israeli literature

Literary agent says Israeli literature much better suited for European audience

TEL AVIV - Israeli authors are significantly more successful in Europe than in the United States, and literary experts say this phenomenon is a result of the American public's insular mentality and cultural narrow-mindedness.


Independent literary agent Deborah Harris of Jerusalem says Israeli literature is much better suited for the European audience.


"Europeans are much better readers," she says. "Israeli writers are literarily sophisticated and produce very high-quality work, and there is much more of an audience for that kind of writing in Europe than in the U.S."


Harris says authors such as David Grossman and Meir Shalev, who sell more than 100,000 copies in Israel and 20,000-30,000 copies of their works in Europe, rarely pass the 5,000-copy mark in the U.S.


"It's a real statement about American cultural openness to other cultures," she says.


Nili Cohen, Director General of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, says Dutch and German publishers complain that it is difficult to market books in America.


"It's not fair to generalize, and there are some very good publishers in America" she says. "But it's more difficult and complicated than in Europe."


Cohen says the phenomenon has a lot to do with reading habits.


Americans prefer their own writers


"The Americans look for American writers," she says. "They are not interested about the rest of the world."


Matthew Miller, owner of Toby Press in Jerusalem, says Germany is probably the single largest market for Israeli literature, along with Italy and France, but America is weak.


"If you put the three Israeli literary giants, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and Aharon Appelfeld, aside, there is not a lot of Israeli literature sold in America," he says.


Miller's theory is that America, with its 6 million Jews, has its own Jewish literary culture.


"Why should they deal with things foreign when they have enough of their own angst?" he says.


Harris says the European market is receptive to a wide array of Israeli writers, not only to the big names.


"Look at Zeruya Shalev, who is a major success in Germany; she's a sensation," she says. "Look at Etgar Keret and Batya Gur; both do very well in Germany."


It is not only Israeli writers who sell poorly in the U.S, as renowned European writers also have a difficult time infiltrating the American market.


According to Harris, literary books by European authors are sold in incredibly low numbers in the U.S, and they are almost equivalent to a print-run in Israel.


"Jose Saramago, one of the most important Portuguese writers, may sell more than 70,000-80,000 copies in Israel," she says. "In America, the number would be closer to 5,000."


Harris does not adhere to the theory that implies Israeli authors achieve success in Europe due to their left-wing political inclinations.


"Does it have anything to do with politics?” she says. “Not at all."


Nili Cohen agrees with Harris, and says she does not believe politics is a major factor when it comes to book sales.


"Zeruya Shalev, who is one of our writers, is a major success in Germany, Italy, and France," she says. "And she's not political at all."


פרסום ראשון: 03.13.05, 15:48
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