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French Novelist Popular in Shanghai

Milan Kundera can't compete with Harry Potter and his young friends, but the 75-year-old French author has a surprising large number of fans in Shanghai.

According to Shanghai Translation Publishing House, which was authorized in 2002 to translate and publish 13 of Kundera's works, it has sold more than 1 million copies of the nine books it has published so far.

That makes Kundera the best selling foreign author of literary works in the city, although more than 7 million copies of the five novels of the magic Harry Potter have been sold in the city.

Since the publishing house released the first title, Jacques and His Master, last April, the book has created a "Kundera craze" in domestic book markets, the publisher said yesterday.

Fifty thousand copies of two books released in January -- The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Laughable Loves -- sold out in one month.

The publishing house is now rushing to print an additional 30,000 copies of each title to meet the demand.

Jiang Li, an official with marketing department of Shanghai Book City, said the store sold 4,000 books by Kundera in the second half of 2003, a record for a foreign novel at the city's largest bookshop.

Zhao Wuping, the editor responsible for the books, admits sales are beyond his expectations.

"When I met Kundera in France, he asked me if his works would sell well in China. I only made a cautious estimate -- 20,000 for each title on average," said Zhao.

"Kundera is considered a writer of serious literature, his works are a must for those who studied literature in university. But when the first four titles came out and met warm reception from readers, we knew we were underestimating Kundera's pulling power."

Jin Yijun, a local graduate of the London College of Fashion and a loyal fan of Kundera, said "I always follow his works. Milan Kundera talks about humanity in a simple and direct way."

Zhou Kexi, a well-known local French-Chinese translator and writer, said Kundera's works, especially his classic The Unbearable Lightness of Being, catches people's imagination.

"Kundera's books first appeared on the Chinese mainland 20 years ago. It was popular then. Now history repeats itself."

Zhao said the publishing house put ads in many magazines and newspapers and set up billboards on Fuzhou Road, which is lined with bookstores.

He said he hopes sales will remain strong as the publishing house will release two new titles -- Life is Elsewhere and Farewell Waltz -- in May.
(Xinhua News Agency February 23, 2004)


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