|Original book cover|
As you'll know from some of my Christmas Press reviews, veteran YA writer Sophie Masson's small press has been publishing some gorgeous titles, (including an anthology with a story by yours truly. ;-D )
Now, Christmas Press is going back to its beginnings with a new crowdfunding activity, which will allow us to read a book that hasn't been translated into English for a century. I hope you'll check it out. It's rather more expensive to get a copy of this than last time, but worth it, if previous publications have been any indication.'
Sophie has kindly agreed to tell us about it. Take it away, Sophie!
A thrilling new project: launching a ‘new’ classic from the great Jules Verne!
Most readers know the name of Jules Verne. Most English-speaking readers have read or seen a film of some of his most famous works: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days. But Verne also wrote dozens of adventure stories, set in all sorts of exotic locales, such as Australia and the Pacific (Captain Grant’s Children, Mistress Branican) Alaska, China, South America … And, in the 1876 novel, which is reckoned in France to be the very best of all his works, he’s focussed on the biggest country in the world, Russia.
That novel’s simply called, in French (in which language I read it) by the name of its central character, Michel Strogoff . It was my favourite book, aged about eleven or twelve, and it had a huge impact on me, not only in a love of reading—and writing!—exciting stories set in colourful locations, but also set me on a life-long fascination with Russia.
Basically, the story is that Michel (or Mikhail, in Russian) Strogoff, a young Siberian-born soldier in the service of Tsar Alexander II, is sent by the monarch to take a vital, urgent message to the Tsar’s brother, who commands the army in Siberia. He has to take the message by hand because a rebel Tartar army under Khan Feofar has cut all telegraph communications with Siberia, prior to taking over towns in the far east. And they’re being helped by a Russian traitor called Colonel Ivan Ogareff. Colonel Ogareff, a master of espionage and subterfuge, is in disguise and on the run, and no-one knows where he is, though they suspect he’s going to try and get to the Archduke. So Michel sets off, by road and river, on a mission which becomes increasingly dangerous as his enemies come to hear of his presence. Meanwhile, a young Latvian woman named Nadia is on her way to rejoin her political prisoner father in Siberian exile; and soon enough they meet. Then there’s Englishman Harry Blount and Frenchman Alcide Jolivet, rival war correspondents reporting on the upheaval in the empire, who are ready to brave any dangers to get first scoop!
I read the novel I don’t know how many times, swept away by the grandeur of the story, the fantastic adventure, with its wolves, bears, mountain storms, bandits, iced-up rivers, cruel torturers and traitors. I thoroughly enjoyed the funny rivalry and repartee between Alcide Jolivet and Harry Blount, I thrilled to the love I could see developing between Nadia and Michel, both equally tough and brave. And I was swept away too by the description of the journey, which starts in Moscow and ends in Siberia — a journey over water, through forest and mountain and cities and villages: you get a real sense of the vastness and amazing diversity, both human and environmental, of Russia. Basically, it’s a chase novel, and it has the breakneck pace of that, and lots of twists and turns, culminating in an especially unexpected and satisfyingly resolved one. But it is also beautifully written, as tight and clever and witty as Around the World in Eighty Days, and much more passionate and exciting.
Equally to be relished by kids and by adults, it’s no wonder that despite historical anachronisms(the real Tartars not being a threat at all in the 19th cent) French critics reckon it’s Verne’s best novel, and it has also influenced many French writers and film-makers. It’s never been out of print in France and is still a huge favourite with readers, as well as having been transformed into many films and TV series.
But what has always frustrated me is that this great novel was practically unknown to my English-speaking friends. The trouble is that the original English translation(also published in 1876) is stodgy and dated and does not at all capture the lively, crisp, witty and pacey quality of the original work.
And so it’s a dream come true for me to be part of the publishing team bringing back this wonderful novel to English-speaking readers, in a fabulous new translation that will be the first in over a hundred years! To be the launch title for Eagle Books, the new imprint of Christmas Press, Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff, as we’ve titled it, will be translated by Stephanie Smee, whose translations of the Countess de Segur’s classic French novels for kids have been bestsellers. Right now, we’re running a crowdfunding campaign to fund production of a gorgeous illustrated limited edition, and working towards the book’s publication in early 2016. I’m editing Stephanie’s translation as well as writing a foreword—and it feels so magical to be re-introducing to readers worldwide one of the big books of my life!
Readers can contribute to the campaign to get their own collectible copy of this pre-commercial-release exclusive edition, which will be a gorgeous hardcover book, illustrated internally in black and white and with many special features: www.indiegogo.com/projects/eagle-books-present-jules-verne-s-mikhail-strogoff We invite you to check it out and join us in this wonderful adventure!
The campaign runs till mid-May. You can find out more about the book, and our team, including Stephanie, at the campaign site, which features videos, short extracts from the new translation, and more. You can also visit our Eagle Books website, www.eaglebooksadventure.com
Note that the campaign is built around flexible funding, which means that we get to keep the funds raised, even if we don’t reach our target(though of course we hope we will!) This means that no contributor will be disappointed!
Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of over 60 books for children, young adults and adults. She is also one of the founding partners in Christmas Press and Eagle Books.