Two novels have sold to U.S. editors, for a rumored seven figures each, just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, which kicks off on Wednesday. The first novel, The Girls, seems primed to become one of the most talked-about projects at the fair; it was nabbed in a 12-publisher auction, and has already been acquired for film. The second book, The Longings of Jende Jonga, is by a 33-year-old Cameroon-born newcomer.
The Girls has been acquired, in a three-book deal, by Kate Medina at Random House. Bill Clegg, now at his new eponymous shingle The Clegg Agency, represented the 25-year-old author, Emma Cline, selling only U.S. rights. Medina beat out 11 other bidders for the book and Clegg, who declined to comment on the advance, would only say that Random House “made a major commitment not just to this book, but to Emma's career.”
Medina's acquisition comes on the heels of Scott Rudin’s preempt of the film rights to the novel; Rudin optioned The Girls just before Clegg launched the publisher auction. In its announcement about the film deal, Deadline referred to Cline’s book as “the Manson Family novel." Though the description Clegg gave makes no direct mentions of Manson, the inspiration for the work is clearly the murderous cult that Manson oversaw in the 1960s.
The novel focuses on a woman named Evie, looking back at the summer of 1969, when she was 14. During that fateful season, she fell in with, as the Clegg put it in his query letter, “a soon-to-be-infamous commune” and “the madman” who was its leader.
Clegg compared The Girls to a range of titles, from Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral to Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and said, in his pitch letter, that it “expands our collective understanding of a piece of history by pushing it into the realm of fiction.” The Marin County-set work is, Clegg added in the letter, something that “delivers a hauntingly precise investigation into how power is lost when we look to find it in others, how frighteningly mutable the unformed, inchoate self can be, and just how far that self will go to be seen and named.”
In addition to the U.S.and film deals, Chatto & Windus has acquired U.K. rights to the novel. Clegg said that, as of press time, auctions were underway in “most countries in Europe, Scandinavia, Latin America and Asia.”
Cline, who works as a reader in the New Yorker’s fiction department, has an MFA from Columbia and won the 2014 Plimpton Prize for Fiction from The Paris Review.
In the second major deal, David Ebershoff, also at Random House, took North American rights, from agent Susan Golomb, to Imbolo Mbue’s The Longings of Jende Jonga. The novel opens in New York City in 2007 and focuses on the West African immigrant of its title, who lands a job as a chauffeur for a high level executive at Lehman Brothers. Jende’s family becomes close to his employer’s—Jende’s wife is quickly hired by the exec’s wife—only to have both families thrown into disarray when the 2008 financial collapse hits.
Ebershoff said the novel is written with “equal amounts of intelligence, empathy, and talent,” and compared the author to writers ranging from Chimamanda Adichie to Jhumpa Lahiri.
In her pitch letter for the book, Golomb said the immigrant tale “has drawn some of the most delightful and refreshing characters seen in recent fiction,” noting that Mbue shows each character “in an all of their optimism, desires, and disappointments." Golomb added that she is confident Mbue will become "part of the new generation of African writers just being discovered," alongside people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun), NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names), Teju Cole (Open City) and Dinaw Mengestu (How to Read the Air).
Mbue, who moved to the U.S. in 1998 and now lives in Manhattan with her husband and young son, has a B.S. from Rutgers and an M.A. from Columbia. Her first published story will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of Threeprenny Review.