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The Finno-Ugrian Vampire

Although many teenagers these days would tell you there is nothing more exciting than being a vampire, Jerne Volt Ampere is not ready to embrace her destiny; she would much rather spend her time writing children’s books than sucking the blood of the innocent. Unfortunately this doesn’t sit well with her 200-year old grandmother, with whom Jerne lives in the attic of an old house in Budapest.

Jerne soon finds a job in a small publishing house but her stories are deemed too cruel and obscene for children. At home, her grandmother grows increasingly impatient with Jerne’s reluctance to accept her vampiric legacy, and begins to concoct a scheme to make her granddaughter a true vampire.

This two-part novel tells a story of love, death and one girl’s passion to overcome her destiny, all set against the backdrop of contemporary Hungary.

Praise for The Finno-Ugrian Vampire

Voted the Best Book in Hungary in 2011

Selected for the 2012 European Literature Night

Selected for Adapting For Cinema project

‘Most innovative, trenchant vampire tale…Two engines drive this most unconventional bildungsroman: Jerne’s witty, sardonic narrative voice and “Grandma.”…It’s her [Jerne] voice—misogynistic, wry, astute, and unfailingly deadpan—that keeps us rapidly turning pages even as we savor every sentence….The Finno-Ugrian Vampire belongs at the top of your “must-read” list.’ Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today

‘Written in 2001, long before the recent teenage craze for the Twilight films, The Finno-Ugrian Vampire now appears in Peter Sherwood’s skilful and entertaining translation…amusing postmodernist farce…If at first she [Jerne] believes literature might provide an alternative to the vocation of vampirehood, maturity yields the discovery that authors feed on each other just as voraciously as do bloodsuckers on the living.’ Zsuzsanna Varga, The Times Literary Supplement

‘a clever satire on the whole notion of Hungarian-ness, nationalism and the stereotypes of Eastern Europe…played for laughs’ Tibor Fischer, Saturday Guardian

‘Sherwood’s translation is noteworthy—skillful but unobtrusive. Lauded in Szécsi’s native Hungary and popular in Europe, this tale of an awkward vampire amuses; the disaffected protagonist and the inherent absurdity of vampires in a mundane setting provide a looking glass with which to examine modern life.’ Publishers Weekly

‘This book is so many things – it’s a coming of age tale, it’s about following one’s calling and ignoring the demands of family tradition, it is political and social satire, it plays with words, language and literature. One thing it is not is a conventional vampire story… funny and intelligent and had me giggling and snorting in an embarrassing way… this book is a delight.’ Zoe Brooks, Magic Realism

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire clearly will take its place alongside other present renditions of the vampire myth, including the novels of Anne Rice and the most recent Twilight series. (Perhaps it is unfair to compare Jerne to the rather lock-jawed Bella, but there is certainly no contest when it comes to wit.) Hopefully, readers will find their way to this eminently enjoyable novel, in the highly readable translation of Peter Sherwood.’ Ottilie Mulzet, Hungarian Literature Online

‘If you’ve ever felt like the outsider, even within your own family, Jerne’s tale will resonate like struck crystal. Gawkily unpredictable and meandering, wry and clever and vivid, this is not the vampire story you’re expecting’ WhichBook

‘Strange book in two parts that I both appreciated even if I’m partial to the first one. Do not think about the usual vampire book, because this one has nothing to share with twilight or similaria and the grandmother was one of the funniest character I recently came along’ Libritudine

‘Very funny…The book is witty and bleak, and in the first half in particular it’s lightly drawn together. The second part is more absurd and defiant in its refusal to become what readers might expect’ For Books’ Sake

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire understands that finding one’s own place in the world, the struggle to move beyond the parental yoke, is a far more terrifying reality than falling prey to a creature of darkness…Textured with a witty and ironic language, the novel takes no prisoners…the English language reader should welcome this translation with open arms (or fangs).’ Richard W Jackson, Bookgeeks

‘fascinating novel! I loved the refreshing take on vampires, going back to a more traditional view of bloodsucking and coffin-sleeping creatures who, against tradition, go out in the daylight and work meaningless jobs and live in less than privileged circumstances despite being rich.’ A World of Randomness

‘a fascinating read, very accessible and entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Grandma is one of the most original characters I’ve come across for a long time and the contrast between her revelry in vampiredom and Jerne’s reluctance is very well done’ A Discount Ticket to Everywhere

‘an entertaining, sly commentary on Hungary…All in all: an odd, enjoyable literary-vampiric romp’ Complete Review

‘clever and witty piece…refreshing injection of sardonic humour into the vampire vein. Vampy Grandma, with her silk evening dresses and painted toenails is a triumph…I also admired the novel for its linguistic inventiveness’ Bookoxygen

Excerpt

I could call my grandmother cosmopolitan, since she has visited virtually every corner of the globe and everywhere felt immediately at home. But not every citizen of the world is likely to use a china tooth mug decorated with a map of Greater Hungary and the irredentist slogan ‘Transylvania is Ours!’ Because that’s what my Grandmother is like. She comes home at dawn having gorged herself, and uses this mug to rinse out her mouth. Sometimes she wakes me up with the noise of her gargling. And that’s just how it was that morning. I stumbled out to the bathroom as I was, in my nightgown. It was a quarter past five. Grandma was just stripping away the layers of make-up she had plastered over her intense beauty. Because she is gorgeous, like a newly-restored porcelain doll. As the slinky little silk evening dress slid from her slim body, Grandma glittered in all her unvarnished glory and I just stood there awkwardly in the cotton nightdress that I wore now that the autumn nights were drawing in but before the district’s central heating had been switched on.

‘You’re late, Gran,’ I said pointedly.

‘Yes, I’m absolutely livid. This fellow tonight was an absolute disaster. I tried every trick in the book, body language and all, before he realised where I was headed. To cap it all, he lived out in the back of beyond and once I was done I had to wait an hour for a taxi. Meanwhile I watched him bleed dry. Once he’d snuffed it, I left.’

‘Please, spare me the details.’

Sometimes when I think of blood, I feel quite ill. Nauseated. In my mind’s eye I can see the gaping wounds, and it’s as if it was me the blood was draining out of. It makes me grow faint.

‘No good turning your nose up. You’ll get to like the taste sooner or later.’

‘I hope so, Gran.’

It may sound odd for someone like me to address this femme fatale impertinently as Grandmother. However, for one thing it is a fact that we were family and for another Grandma already had more than thirty-three names, none of which she was particularly attached to, while her grandmotherhood was permanent, like the stars in the sky. And for another thing, I always got confused about whether at any particular time she was being Lilith, Lamia or Empusa.

‘Look at me. Don’t I look terrific?’ Grandma forced me to look her in the face. Her lips were still damp and swollen. ‘That’s from the regular consumption of fresh blood. It’s packed with iron and minerals. And now just take a look at yourself,’ she went on. ‘Your hair is falling out and tired, you’re thin as a rake, and that makes your nose stick out of your face even more.’

I turned my head away, repelled by the sight of the bloody mouth. Grandma caught my glance and looked deep into my eyes.

‘You must suck out their blood before they suck out yours.’

That was scary. I went off to make some hot chocolate, wondering who I was to consider as the general subject of that sentence as I measured out the chocolate and the sugar. That’s the kind of thing I drink, as I am still alive. Grandma has been among the living dead for at least two hundred years, so everything she eats tastes like sawdust to her, except for human blood, of course, which is truly flavoursome.

I sat down on my bed, mug in hand. From the window of my small attic room I could see the bare trees bathed by the light of the rising sun. For this nation the City Park in Pest commemorates the most glorious days of its history. Here, in 1896, the Hungarians celebrated what some scholars said was the thousand-year anniversary of the arrival of their ancestors in their present-day homeland (the exact month and day they’ve still not managed to work out).

And then they fecerunt magnum áldomás, had a huge blow-out, as some chronicle or other said. Or was that not in 896? I was always bad at Hungarian history but as a child I was very much taken with the story of the seven Magyar chieftains commingling their blood in a goblet and drinking to seal their alliance. During my years in the wilderness, when I was trying to find myself, it was ample justification to me that my family’s activities in this country were not without precedent. Pretty much nothing can happen without tradition of some kind.

But in this country there is always something to celebrate. The climate is excellent. It’s cold in winter and hot in summer. In the autumn it rains and in the spring the weather is unpredictable. This is something I’ve considered carefully: in my opinion the only thing it lacks is the sea, which would boost the economy through tourism, make for cheaper squid, and enable Hungarian yachtsmen to reach the top rankings in international competitions. On the other hand, it would be annoying if the fig trees were to blossom like mad, twice a year.

Although these Finno-Ugrian people did not fight back with appropriate militancy when they were pincered by aggressive Slavonic and Germanic hordes, Hungary now occupies one of the prime locations in the region. It has wheat with a high gluten content, fructose-rich fruit, wild steeds roam its plains, and fat Hungarian hogs and cattle feed on the mirage-haunted Puszta. Actually, I have yet to see that Fata Morgana but I’m not bothered. Anyhow, the climate is very good for agriculture; this is a rich land.

Grandma had lived in the area around City Park before, at the time of the millennial celebrations, and a number of her unforgettable blood-sucking memories were closely bound up with the Old Buda Castle nightclub. So when she returned to Hungary on the occasion of one of the country’s National Deaths – I can’t now remember which – she was unwilling to lodge anywhere but her old haunts around the park. As for the choice of city, she didn’t hesitate for a moment: in this country there’s no point living anywhere but the capital, Budapest. I really don’t understand what the other eight million Hungarians are doing down there in the countryside. I’ve never been beyond Budapest’s city limits, or at least not further than the airport, but to my mind those country folks must surely all be wallowing around in the mud and dreaming of one day moving up to the Hungarian metropolis.

So, giving the lie to those vaunted vampire legends, we don’t live in some ruined castle. These days even vampires try to find sensible solutions and who wants to spend a fortune on gas, water and electricity? The house where we have a top floor flat has every modern convenience and is in excellent condition, thanks to the house representative’s contacts and string-pulling. The plaster is not

The Assassin from Apricot City

Turkey – a country torn between East and West, Islam and Islamophobia; permeated with both conservatism and post-modernity. As he travels across this fascinating and beautiful country, Szabłowski heads for the most remote villages and towns to meet young women who have run away from honour killings, wives forced by their husbands into prostitution, a family of immigrants from Africa who dream of a better life, and Kurdish journalists and freedom fighters.

A polyphonic portrait of contemporary Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City masterfully evokes the present-day dreams and hopes of ordinary people, weaving a story from their potent and mesmerising tales.

Praise for The Assassin from Apricot City

World Literature Today’s Notable Translation 2013

Winner English PEN Award 2013

Winner European Parliament Journalism Award 2011

Winner Beata Pawlak Award 2011

Nominated for the 2011 Nike Prize, Poland’s most prestigious literary award

‘A reportage book cannot get much better than this…excellent pieces of journalism…The Assassin from Apricot City is right there in the footsteps of the best tradition of Pol…ehm actually world class reportage. If you want to know something about contemporary Turkey from the pen of a brilliant foreign reporter, this is the book you were looking for.’ Lorenzo Berardi, Book Worm’s Head

‘A bold and bracing look at Turkey’s underbelly.’ Colin Thubron

‘the book is an excellent introduction to Turkey’s debates about almost everything going on in the country—fresh, confident, funny without mockery and spiced with cleverly phrased insights…Szabłowski’s comic-strip theater of the absurd gets to the soul of Turkey and masterfully conjures up a conspiracy-theory approach to politics in which anything is possible.’ Hugh Pope, The Majalla

‘Szabłowski’s Turkey is a land of paradoxes: Kurds who praise family values but kill their daughters and sisters if they’re raped, artists who loath the West but crave its approval, love-struck young men who long to sleep with their girlfriends but know this would make the women unmarriageable…he tells poignant stories about tangible men and women, a broader picture begins to emerge—baffling as the image may be.’ Jacob Daniels, World Literature Today

‘Witold Szablowski strikes an excellent balance between hard-hitting journalism, astute political analysis, and humorous observations. His reportage provides a fascinating insight into contemporary Turkey, its strengths and many contradictions…essential reading, seamlessly translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.’ Lucy Popescu, The Huffington Post

‘This is not a travelogue: Mr Szablowski is a time-traveller, a disenfranchised Pole who hangs out like Gulliver in a land where politics, crime, humour, home economics and family life seem topsy-turvy yet strangely familiar…We need Mr Szablowski at our side as we walk through Istanbul’s covered bazaar, or follow a protest march. He captures the spirit of Turkey in the way that a handful of Turkish writers, such as Aziz Nesin and Emin Colasan, have done.’ The Economist

‘Its epigrammatic chapters brim with colorful characters from across the country’s varied human landscapes, which the Polish journalist has come to know intimately after many years on the beat… part of what makes “The Assassin from Apricot City” a success is the way it complicates supposedly rigid divisions. The people it describes emerge in various shades of grey, which is perhaps one mark of good journalism.’ William Armstrong, Hurriyet Daily News

Excerpt

instead of a preface

The yellow and white ferry wheezes, groans, spits a cloud of smoke into the sky and moves off.

We are sailing from Europe to Asia. The journey takes about a quarter of an hour. Here there are businessmen along with beggars, women in chadors with women in mini-skirts, non-believers with Imams, prostitutes with dervishes, the holy with the unholy – all Turkey on a single ferry.

‘The captains of these giants are the modern-day Charons,’ says Tayfun, a poet friend of mine from Istanbul. ‘Why? Because the journey across the Bosporus is both beautiful and alarming. Like death.’

In fact the Charons are cool professionals. Otherwise their job would be impossible. The Bosporus is very narrow, in some places barely a few hundred metres wide, but there are thousands of boats and ships going past each other here. Manoeuvring on these waters, and finally steering a huge ferry straight, to the last centimetre, into a small berth – here there is no room for Romanticism or Greek mythology.

Well, unless you are a passenger. In which case, be my guest. When dusk falls and thousands of muezzins start to proclaim that Allah is great, the conversations cease and people sink into a melancholy, metaphysical mood. I often take advantage of this to ask a few random Turks: ‘What’s it like living with this strait? Is anybody here interested in the daily journey between continents?’

They shrug their shoulders. They don’t understand what I’m asking. A strait is a strait.

Only Tayfun the poet isn’t in the least surprised by the question.

‘I have a sort of strait inside me too,’ he says, throwing a large piece of pretzel towards the seagulls chasing the ferry. ‘Every Turk hovers between tradition and modernity a thousand times a day – the hat or the charshaf [veil]; the mosque or the disco; the European Union or dislike of the European Union.’

He has hit the nail on the head. The whole of Turkey is torn in half by an invisible strait. In the morning my female friends drink espressos with their boyfriends, eat croissants and talk about world literature. Then in the afternoon they put on their headscarves and go to their grandmothers’ houses for Turkish coffee.

My male friends will grab a beer and have fun at the disco. But as they drink, they sing songs from two hundred years ago. They act like tough guys who aren’t afraid of Allah or Mohammed, but at Ramadan they dutifully fast, and when their sons grow up a bit, they rush off to have them circumcised.

In the conservative east of the country I myself have seen imams who fly the European Union flag outside their mosques, and shops with clothes for conservative Turkish women will have sexy underwear on sale. ‘If a woman covers her face the entire day,’ the salesmen explain, ‘they’re all the more keen to please their husbands at night.’

Being on the border has its advantages. The Turks are creative and quick to learn languages, instantly able to win over people from a wide geographical latitude. Although they are in the worst position imaginable – sharing a border with restless Syria, Iran and Iraq, they are simultaneously part of the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans – they are able to get on well with almost everyone.

But this life on the border has its price. The West regards them as fanatics, and the East as lackeys of the West. Al-Qaida carries out terrorist attacks in Turkey, and for half a century the European Union has refused to accept the country as a member, because it is too big and too culturally alien.

Our ferry has reached the middle of the strait. In the distance we can see the two bridges which straddle the shores of the Bosporus. Tayfun the poet gazes first at the European side, then at the Asian. Finally he sighs and says: ‘Every Turk is a bridge like that.’
Buy book…

EVENT: Book launch – Martin Llewellyn’s House of the Missing, 3 October, London

Event is free with lots of wine. Spaces are limited so please email us at editor@storkpress.co.uk to book your place.

House of the Missing

A girl wakes in a forest—her clothes are scorched, her mind blank. Who is she, how did she get there, and who are the monsters lurking among the trees?

Finding a house buried in the woods, the girl is taken in by the family who reside there, and slowly begins to heal. But, as she returns to life, it becomes clear that to find the answers she seeks, the mysteries of the forest must be unlocked.

A macabre and breathtaking feat of the imagination, House of the Missing will transport you into a surreal, nightmarish world where nothing is certain and violence is never far away…

 

Martin Llewellyn is a graduate of King’s College, London, where he obtained his PhD in French Literature, writing on Georges Bataille. He was born in London and has lived in Brussels, Paris, Prague, Montreal and Toronto; he currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. House of the Missing is his first novel.

(Photo: author’s archive)…

Joanna Jodełka on BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 19 November

Poland (Post-Communism) – Zygmunt Miłoszewski and Joanna Jodełka reflect on how Polish crime fiction has reflected the country’s occupation by both Nazis and Communists, the transition to democracy through the Solidarity movement and lingering accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.

About the author:

Joanna Jodełka was the first woman to win the High Calibre Award for the Best Polish Crime Novel, taking the prize in 2010 for her debut Polychrome (Polichromia, 2009). Her second crime novel, Grzechotka (‘The Rattle’), was published in 2011, followed by her third in 2012.

Polychrome is Jodełka’s first novel translated into English.

(Photo: Magda Adamczewska)

About the book:

Everybody’s life is riddled with secrets…

Maciej Bartol, police detective, casts a large shadow over those around him, although in truth his mother always seems to have the last word. Bartol has been called to investigate two very different death scenes – an art restorer in the most prominent part of Poznań, and a man who runs a homeless shelter. Are the killings linked? What is the meaning of the strange clues left by the killer? Soon the desperate Bartol finds himself asking for help from specialist on Christian symbolism, a woman who isn’t too happy to waste her time on a police investigation…

Buy the paperback or Kindle edition.

A.M. Bakalar on BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 17 December

The world is on the move. More than 200 million people live today in a different country to their birthplace.

Britain is a major crossroads of this seething human migration. Among developed nations more Britons live abroad (4 million) than any other nationality. Inward migration to Britain has been massive. Today more than 13% of the UK population is foreign born.

A panel of New Britons from all points of the compass debate questions raised by making a new home abroad. Questions like: How far do you assimilate? What is it like to leave one culture behind when the new one doesn’t accept you with open arms? How do you raise your children, born in Britain, when you do not fully feel a member of British society yourself? What effect does religion have on people’s ability to integrate into their new homeland?

Presenter/ Michael Goldfarb, Producer/ Anthony Denselow for a Certain Height production

About the author:

A.M. Bakalar was born and raised in Poland. She lived in Germany, France, Sicily and Canada before she moved to the UK in 2004. Madame Mephisto is her first novel and was among readers recommendations to the Guardian First Book Award. She is the first Polish woman to publish a novel in English since Poland joined EU in 2004.

Her writing has appeared in The GuardianThe International New York Times, Wasafiri, B O D Y and Litro Magazine. She was the editor of Litro Magazine Polish Issue and her short story ‘Whatever Makes You Sleep at Night’ was published in Wasafiri.

A.M. Bakalar lives with her partner, a drum and bass musician, in London. She is currently at work on her second novel.

(Photo: Mariusz Smiejek)

About the book:

What would you talk about if you were stuck in a room with a drug dealer for five days?

Meet Magda – hardcore drug-dealing queen, or guardian angel? She is one of the new wave of Polish immigrants to the UK, a woman who will stop at nothing to expand her drug dealing business, and will even make the ultimate sacrifice of the people who love and trust her.

Already established as a major drug importer to the UK, Magda has to return to Poland to attend a funeral of a family member. She only has five days, before she goes back to London, to convince her mysterious listener to come back with her and help her build up her empire.

Magda begins to tell the unexpected story of her life – the cover jobs in London, the strained relationship with her family who know nothing about who Magda really is, and her development as a cannabis dealer. Can you really trust somebody who is two people, how do you know when to believe a professional liar? … Menacing, fast-paced, with a unique and intense voice, A.M. Bakalar’s first novel reveals unexpected truths about the lies we all tell and the people we really are.

 

 

Buy the paperback or Kindle edition.

Review of Szabłowski’s The Assassin from Apricot City on Book Worm’s Head

‘A reportage book cannot get much better than this…excellent pieces of journalism…The Assassin from Apricot City is right there in the footsteps of the best tradition of Pol…ehm actually world class reportage. If you want to know something about contemporary Turkey from the pen of a brilliant foreign reporter, this is the book you were looking for.’ Lorenzo Berardi, Book Worm’s Head

Praise for The Assassin from Apricot City: 

World Literature Today’s Notable Translation 2013

Winner English PEN Award 2013

Winner European Parliament Journalism Award 2011

Winner Beata Pawlak Award 2011

Nominated for the 2011 Nike Prize, Poland’s most prestigious literary award

‘Its epigrammatic chapters brim with colorful characters from across the country’s varied human landscapes, which the Polish journalist has come to know intimately after many years on the beat… part of what makes “The Assassin from Apricot City” a success is the way it complicates supposedly rigid divisions. The people it describes emerge in various shades of grey, which is perhaps one mark of good journalism.’ William Armstrong, Hurriyet Daily News

‘Szabłowski’s Turkey is a land of paradoxes: Kurds who praise family values but kill their daughters and sisters if they’re raped, artists who loath the West but crave its approval, love-struck young men who long to sleep with their girlfriends but know this would make the women unmarriageable…he tells poignant stories about tangible men and women, a broader picture begins to emerge—baffling as the image may be.’Jacob Daniels, World Literature Today

‘A bold and bracing look at Turkey’s underbelly.’ Colin Thubron

‘the book is an excellent introduction to Turkey’s debates about almost everything going on in the country—fresh, confident, funny without mockery and spiced with cleverly phrased insights…Szabłowski’s comic-strip theater of the absurd gets to the soul of Turkey and masterfully conjures up a conspiracy-theory approach to politics in which anything is possible.’ Hugh Pope, The Majalla

‘Witold Szablowski strikes an excellent balance between hard-hitting journalism, astute political analysis, and humorous observations. His reportage provides a fascinating insight into contemporary Turkey, its strengths and many contradictions…essential reading, seamlessly translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.’ Lucy Popescu, The Huffington Post 

‘This is not a travelogue: Mr Szablowski is a time-traveller, a disenfranchised Pole who hangs out like Gulliver in a land where politics, crime, humour, home economics and family life seem topsy-turvy yet strangely familiar…We need Mr Szablowski at our side as we walk through Istanbul’s covered bazaar, or follow a protest march. He captures the spirit of Turkey in the way that a handful of Turkish writers, such as Aziz Nesin and Emin Colasan, have done.’ The Economist

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