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Phébus Editor Nils Ahl About the Slovenian Literature Phenomenon

On 8 April, also known as International Romani Day, the French Phébus publishing house (part of the Libella Group) published Liza Japelj Carone’s French translation of the novel Namesto koga roža cveti titled Halgato, penned by Feri Lainšček, one of the most acclaimed representatives of contemporary Slovenian literature. Before the book’s official launch, a French delegation of journalists and Phébus representative travelled to Slovenia to visit the enchanting region of Prekmurje, the main inspiration for Lainšček’s works.

During the occasion, an interview with Nils Ahl, editor-in-chief of Phébus’s literary translations department was done. What follows is a brief summary of the conversation.

What follows is a brief summary of the conversation. However, Nils Ahl, who is of French-Danish origin, is not solely an editor. His CV also reveals him to be a prolific literary critic for the high-end French daily newspaper Le Monde; a film and TV critic; translator from Scandinavian langauges, English, and German into the French; and author of children’s literature. In short, Nils Ahl is someone who lives through literature and is familiar with each and every aspect of it.

As he notes at the beginning, Slovenian literature is no enigma to the Phébus publishing house, as it had previously published the French translation of Vladimir Bartols Alamut approximately three decades ago. Due to its content, the novel attracted particular and international attention in the aftermath of 9/11. Phébus has hitherto also published no less than eight French translations of works by Slovenia’s internationally most renowned author Drago Jančar, who has been very well received by the French-speaking audience. In 2014, his novel To noč sem jo videl (Cette nuit, je l‘ai vue; I Saw her That Night) received the prestigious Prix du Meilleur livre étranger best foreign book prize presented by the French Critics and Publishers Association. Ahl added: "When Drago Jančar received the best foreign book prize in France three years ago, we immediately sold 10,000 copies of Cette nuit, je l‘ai vue."

Nils Ahl, who has been at the helm of the publishing house for the past two years, explains that he aspires to maintain a sort of balanced editorial selection between "... languages and important countries and others, who strive to become more recognizable on the literary scene.  I am seeking to maintain a balance between complex and easily accessible literature." And this in spite of a vastly prevailing Anglo-American book production, which provides for 80% of all literature translated into French. “Phébus like all other publishing houses both in France and abroad is steadfast in its endeavours to publish books by various authors from near and far. Quality literature deserves to be read. And Slovenian literature truly is good literature." This was one of many reasons due to which Phébus remains inclined towards continual cooperation with Slovenian publishers and authors.

"Todays Slovenian literature and Slovenian literature that emerged during the second half of the 20th century are very important European literatures. In my opinion, Slovenian literature entered an age of surprising maturity, which is a monumental achievement for such a small country in demographic terms. Boris Pahor and Drago Jančar are great contemporary European writers.”

He was instantly enticed by Feri Lainščeks Halgato, the author’s first ever to be translated into French. The story appealed to him because "... everyday life incidentally full of poetics, dreams, ambitions, and introspection is at the forefront. The world depicted in Lainščeks novel may appear very exotic to the French reader but is protagonists are like you and me. Because it features the Romani community this community is frequently portrayed as a caricature in France as well as other countries I was touched by the subject matter all the more. I believe, still, that literature has to fight for something. For an idea, for harmony. The novel Halgato is important from this very angle."