+SVIZRA is a series of eight playfully designed chapbooks published as an exciting showcase of contemporary writing from the four official languages of Switzerland: German, French, Italian and Romansh. It takes its name from the Romansh name for ‘Switzerland’ and is the result of our latest collaboration with an international group of authors, translators, publishers, designers and editors.
In publishing them, along with other sets on the way, we are continuing our mission to broaden the appreciation and breadth in the UK of contemporary European writing in particular and international literature in general against a still rising political tide of mutual suspicion, intolerance and aggression.
In giving equal visibility and weight to each of the four languages, +SVIZRA offers a range of Swiss writing never before seen in English from a diverse group of some of the best authors living and working in Switzerland today, including National Literature Prize winning Anna Ruchat, Iraqi exile Usama Al-Shahmani, and Romansh author, Rut Plouda.
+SVIZRA is about mutual curiosity and co-operation between languages and cultures but it is also about great stories, and there's certain to be something in this thrilling collection for everyone to enjoy:
+SVIZRA 1: Unsteady Earth by Marie-Jeanne Urech tr. by Andrea Reece
HIS FATHER STILL warm in the grave, Bartholomé de Ménibus leaves his traditional farming village in a bucolic valley and sets out to discover what lies behind the only mountain he has ever known: endless other mountains. Behind each, fantastical Swiftian worlds inhabited by Quixotic characters all convinced that their lifestyle is the only way to face the future. Dairy cows with portholes sewn into their rumps offer consumers 'a window on the product'; elderly folk are abandoned by the roadside as their families drive on through traffic jams to holiday destinations; pigs are farmed in 125-storey skyscrapers. In this quirky, satirical novel, sparkling with surreal humour and inventiveness, Marie-Jeanne Urech adopts the codes of epic medieval quests and epistolary tales of the past as she skips lightly but purposefully towards the essential question: What kind of Earth are we leaving for future generations?
+SVIZRA 2: The New Job And The Owl by Anna Ruchat tr. by Eleanor Chapman & Lucy Rand
IN ‘THE NEW JOB’, a naive and hopeful young girl crosses the border into German-speaking Switzerland for a job as an au-pair in a family that may be more sinister than it at first seems. IN ‘THE OWL’, an elderly lady rummages through her memory to work out what made her daughter so painfully distant. These stories, selected from Anna Ruchat’s Swiss Literature Prize-winning collection Gli anni di Nettuno sulla terra (Neptune’s Years on Earth), detail seemingly ordinary episodes in the lives of her characters and through them fascinatingly unravel decades of complex feelings and relationships. They float lightly upon the ebbs and flows of female relationships and leave the reader pondering what-could-have-beens versus what, inevitably, was.
+SVIZRA 3: In Foreign Lands, Trees Speak Arabic by Usama Al Shahmani tr. by Rachel Farmer
USAMA AL SHAHMANI left his native Iraq and is living as an asylum-seeker in Switzerland. Worried about his brother in Baghdad and bewildered by the inscrutable behaviours of the Swiss (such as their strange propensity for walking in the woods), he initially struggles to get to grips with life in this new land. He grapples with feelings of loss and questions of identity, torn between his adopted country and the culture he was forced to abandon. But, little by little, with the help of a couple of kind strangers, he starts to find his feet and discovers a sense of home through the natural world.
+SVIZRA 4: Elvezia's House by Alexandre Hmine tr. by Elena Pala
IN THIS TOUCHING tale, a Moroccan boy is left in the care of Elvezia, an elderly Swiss widow who lives in an alpine village in the Ticino mountains. Through his tender childhood and teenage years, the boy grapples with the various challenges of puberty and racism while supported by the loving relationship of his adoptive mother, Elvezia, Helvetia – Switzerland.
+SVIZRA 5: Survivor by Julie Guinand tr. by Rosie Eyre
WHAT IF, JUST like that, the world as we know it ended? For an aspiring writer living in a remote hamlet on the Swiss-French border, this once stranger-than-fiction scenario is about to become reality. It begins with the lights and internet cutting out one night – ‘no biggie’, so she thinks. But when her neighbours don’t return from their trip abroad, the cars vanish from the roads and the birds stop singing outside, every aspect of her life is thrown into question...
+SVIZRA 6: Blackboard by Romana Ganzoni tr. by Hannah Felce
WITH THIS COLLECTION of short vignettes translated from Romansh, Switzerland’s smallest official language, Romana Ganzoni takes us on an educational journey through the Engadin Valley. Drifting from past to present, personal to political, local to global, Ganzoni explores the resilience of tradition in the face of the new, cosmopolitan world. Her language is rich and spontaneous as she plays creatively between lines of fact and fiction in her exploration of life and society in a unique and mountainous corner of Switzerland.
+SVIZRA 7: As If Nothing Were by Rut Plouda tr. by Hannah Felce
AGAINST THE BACKDROP of the changing seasons, Rut Plouda deftly interweaves descriptions of the daily routine on her remote Alpine farm with the pain of her disabled son’s early death but also the redemptive joy of his short life. In this deeply moving and personal story, Plouda watches from the window as, despite everything, nature continues to renew. Like running the farm, her grief gradually becomes an everyday reality and life, like the coming and going of the swallows and the turning of the acer leaves, goes on.
+SVIZRA 8: Provinces by Tabea Steiner tr. by Jozef van der Voort
THESE SEVEN ENTHRALLING essays by one of Switzerland’s most promising German-language writers are vivid, open-ended pieces that tackle a diverse array of subjects. From Heidi and her grandfather, through missionary work in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, to a lockdown kestrel webcam diary, the essays draw entertaining links between the author’s own biography, the condition of contemporary Switzerland, and the wider world, and provide, in effect, a satisfyingly contextualising afterword for the series as a whole.