With no single title emerging as the big book of the fair, a handful of titles--fiction and nonfiction--caught the attention of fair-goers, and the wallets of editors. Here, a rundown of some of the books people were talking about at this year's London Book Fair:
Two debut novels which sold in rumored seven-figure deals--Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing and DeSales Harrison's The Waters & the Wild--were of course subjects of chatter. Gyasi's book, an epic about two half-sisters born in 18th century Ghana, was nabbed just before the fair, in a deal William Morris Endeavor's Eric Simonoff brokered with Knopf's Jordan Pavlin. Harrison's literary thriller sold in the States on the eve of the fair, with agent Bill Clegg, who now has his own shingle, closing a North American rights deal with Penguin Random House's Kate Medina.
Another novel that came up in talk during the fair was Affinity Konar's Mischling, which Lee Boudreaux won U.S. rights to, after a two-day auction. Sterling Lord's Jim Rutman sold the book, which is set in Poland in 1944 and follows twin sisters selected by Josef Mengele as subjects of his horrific genetics studies. (Mengele is the German SS officer and physician known, infamously, as Auschwtiz's "Angel of Death.") After Auschwitz is liberated, one sister, along with a fellow survivor, sets off on a journey across Poland to find the other sister, as well as Mengele, in order to exact revenge on the Nazi doctor. The book, which Boudreaux plans to publish in fall 2016, had also sold, at press time, in a number of other countries. Sterling Lord's Szilvia Molnar closed preempts in, among other places, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Israel.
Ali Land's debut, Good Me, Bad Me, also cropped up in various conversations. Christine Kopprasch at Flatiron Books nabbed the novel, at auction, from Sasha Raskin at the Agency Group. At press time, sales had also closed in, among other places, France, Germany, Holland, and Greece. In the novel Milly, the teenage daughter of a serial killer, gets a seemingly fresh start at life, thanks to being raised in a foster home and given a new identity. In spite of this, Kopprasch explained, Milly's "ambition to be good is tested." Land, Kopprasch added, currently works as a personal assistant, but has long been interested in this novel's subject matter; she has a background in adolescent mental health, and her college dissertation was called "Children Who Kill."
On the nonfiction front, Mo Gawdat's Solve for Happy, sold in a number of major deals at the fair. The book, which we initially reported on in this year's London Briefcase, was preempted, in a six-figure deal, by Scribner's Rick Horgan. For Macmillan U.K.'s new Blue Bird imprint, Carole Tonkinson acquired the book. Inkwell Management's Michael Carlisle handled the U.S. sale for Gawdat, who works at Google X. Gawdat was at the fair--the book, broadly speaking, is about how people can enrich their lives--and gave presentations to over 30 publishers.
Another nonfiction book generating some heat was Gulwali Passarlay's memoir The Lightless Sky. Passarlay, who fled Afghanistan when he was 12 after his father was killed by American soldiers, wound up in Iran, before setting off on a year-long trip across Europe. (He ultimately settled in the U.K., and now attends Manchester University.) Subtitled An Afghan Boy's Journey, the book, at press time, had sold for six figures in the U.K. to Atlantic Publishing. Brandi Bowles, at Foundry Literary + Media, is the originating U.S. agent. Atlantic said the book, which will be the Allen & Unwin imprint's lead title for November, "is an urgent story of our times." In addition to recounting Passarlay's story, the publisher elaborated, "it is also the story of thousands of refugees who risk their lives to leave behind the troubles of their homelands in hope of asylum."
*This article has been corrected. A previous article identified Ali Land's occupation as a private investigator. She is a personal assistant.