A Visit From Voltaire

The Santa Cruz Sentinel has a profile of Dinah Lee King, whose novel A Visit From Voltaire, is up for the Orange Prize, along with heavy-hitters like Toni Morrison or Jhumpa Lahiri. King’s book, about a woman who experiences culture shock after moving to Geneva and who receives a visit from a man claiming to be the 18th-century French writer and philosopher, is unavailable here in the U.S.

Booklovers will have trouble finding “A Visit from Voltaire” locally. “The hardcover was beautifully produced but has sold out and, sadly, is no more,” King said. The paperback version, published by Peter Halban of London, is available at Amazon.co.uk but not the American Web site. The online price is 6 pounds, about $11.

Here’s a link to the novel from the UK website. But why, you ask, isn’t the book out in the US? Kung is an American author, after all.

The problem is the novel was published in Britain and an American edition is unlikely. “Many publishers have said that a book starring any Frenchman isn’t going to sell in the U.S. this year,” King said.

This is the kind of comment that sends me into a rage. Yes, sure, this isn’t the kind of book that will compete with Dan Brown on the bestseller lists, but it can find its little niche. Didn’t the same market gurus predict that Stupid White Men wouldn’t sell? I hope that, with the Orange Prize longlist, the publisher might at least consider a small print run.
I do have a particular fondness for Voltaire. I remember getting an excerpt from Candide for one of my French orals in high school. Ah, the heady days of high school–boys, lipstick, rock music, Voltaire.
Related: Voltaire Society of America. Voltaire Foundation. A fan site dedicated to Voltaire.
Okay, sorry for the tangent. Seriously, why not order the book and show those publishers that there are readers in the US who might like to read it?

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