An Author Questionnaire for “The Jewish Messiah”

By Arnon Grunberg

On the subject of "small cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe," I'd like to say a few words about the author questionnaire.

Before this summer I thought that questionnaires were limited to a few occasions: when applying for visa or for jobs. When a lady from the census rings the doorbell to ask you: "Has this household filled out the questionnaire already?" And when you go to an expensive spa where you have to fill out five pages with questions like "Are you allergic to cucumbers, carrots and/or passion fruit?" before you can get thirty minutes of massage.

But there is another occasion. It comes when your book is brought out in the U.S. by a publishing house that isn't independent. (I use "independent" to avoid using the word "small.")

Penguin, which is going to publish one of my novels in January, sent me a questionnaire in August. I was more than happy to fill it out.

As my fellow blogger Georgia de Chamberet recently pointed out, literature in translation is thriving against all odds. So why not help the blossoming?

One question consisted of one word: "Education?"

I'm a high-school dropout—should I fill in "Autodidact"? Too snobbish. I opted for "None."

There was this question, "Please list cities in which there might be special interest in your book, and why."

I thought of a few cities (my novel is called The Jewish Messiah) where you can find people who aspire to be the messiah, but then I decided to leave the question open.

"Please list the names and addresses of people who might be of particular help in the promotion of your book."

This question gave me the creeps. Of course I knew a few authors who might or might not be wiling to give a blurb, but apparently this was about more than a blurb. Hesitantly I filled in a name and an address.

I have been published in many countries in Europe, but I have never filled out a questionnaire. This is not to criticize my U.S. publisher or to ridicule the questionnaire. It's just a reminder that things are done slightly differently here.

When you don't know of cities where there might be special interest for your book, you are still a visitor. I think that was what this questionnaire told me, in the end.


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