My Book Party in Eupen

By Arnon Grunberg

In September my new novel was published in the Netherlands. The book launch seems to have become an inevitable part of the publication of a new book, at least in the Netherlands. A publisher in the U.S. once explained to me that book launches were considered a waste of money, but that if I wanted to organize something myself I was free to do so.

In the Netherlands, most publishers still think book launches merit serious investment. What's serious money in the book industry, anyhow? Nowhere else do so many people make so much fuss about so little money.

Too often it is all about money. Otherwise agents would not tell their clients, íYour sales figures hurt.ë

For various reasons, the publisher and I decided to throw a party for my new novel in the small city of Eupen. It is in the German-speaking part of Belgium.

Most people don't know that there is a German-speaking minority in Belgium. It's a leftover from border changes that took place after the First World War.

The fight in Belgium is between the Dutch-speaking Flemish in the north and the French-speaking Walloons in the south. The tiny German-speaking province is an oasis of peace.

That was not the reason that I chose Eupen. A book party is a minor detail and should remain on the periphery of the book itself. Or so I explained my choice of Eupen to the journalists who had traveled from Amsterdam and Brussels to join us for the festivities.

There was no connection between the novel itself and Eupen. The story takes place in South America, but nevertheless the mayor of Eupen was willing to give a speech in German.

Not far from Eupen, the German Ardennes Offensive took place during the last winter of World War II. The mayor of Eupen elaborated on this offensive. We did not want to send the people home with nothing but the Ardennes Offensive in their heads, so I asked a philosopher to speak about the novel itself.

Asking celebrities to speak during book launches—a kind of habit in the Netherlands—can be dangerous. In 2003, during a book party for my novel The Asylum Seeker, a Dutch politician was asked to give a speech. The politician explained politely, but nevertheless rather straightforwardly, how much she disliked my work.

It's my dream to throw a book party in Namibia or Paraguay. I'll stand there in a café or a hotel bar while noticing that only the author himself showed up for the party.


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