ZeelandAlthough the critically praised novels of former New Yorker correspondent and prolific author Hans Koning have all been published by major New York houses, Zeeland, or Elective Concurrences, his 13th, was published this month by NewSouth Books in Montgomery, Ala. And thereby, as they say, hangs a tale.

Before launching NewSouth last year, publisher Suzanne La Rosa and editor-in-chief Randall Williams headed Black Belt Press, also in Montgomery. There, Randall was alerted to the 77-year-old Koning's newly completed novel, as well as the availability of his previous ones, by Montgomery filmmaker Joel DeMott, daughter of critic Benjamin DeMott, a friend of Koning's. A few months later, shortly after La Rosa and Williams left Black Belt and established NewSouth, they contacted Koning, who lives in Connecticut, and Williams later met with Koning's agent, Frances Goldin, while in New York for the company's first sales conference.

Hailed by PW as Koning's breakout book (Forecasts, Sept. 21), the new novel chronicles the parallel war experiences of a 19th-century French grandfather and his 20th-century grandson. NewSouth will simultaneously release a trade paperback reprint of Koning's first novel, The Affair, originally published by Knopf in 1958, when the Amsterdam-born writer's name was still Koningsberger. The reprint, La Rosa noted, inaugurates a series that will revive all of his previous novels over a six-year period.

Why would a small southern press seeking to define itself undertake such a commitment to a long-established Northeasterner? La Rosa explained, "Though NewSouth is based in the South and is committed to our region, our greatest commitment is to good literature. Koning gives us geographic reach, and makes it clear that the South is not so separate from the world that the issues Koning addresses so eloquently are not worth examining."

The AffairZeeland's first printing is 7,500 copies, significantly higher than the house's 3,000-4,000 print runs for fiction. The small press's promotion plans are also aggressive: NewSouth sent galleys to reviewers around the country, along with a press kit highlighting Koning's background as a soldier fighting for the British in WWII, a radio journalist in post-war Indonesia, and an anti-Vietnam war activist, as well as a playwright, translator and author of 11 nonfiction books in addition to his fiction. So far, Koning has been scheduled to appear on Connecticut Public Radio's Faith Middleton Show on November 1, and in Connecticut and New York bookstores.

In addition, NewSouth's reps spotlighted Zeeland and The Affair at the fall regionals; an ad ran in the daily New York Times last Friday and a pub party will be held at a private home in Manhattan. "This is NewSouth's first party in New York and our first Times ad. Larger publishers do all this routinely, of course, but for a us it's a major undertaking," said La Rosa.

Nonetheless, such enthusiasm is rare for the urbane Koning, who dubs himself a casuality of editors who move from house to house and agents who have asked him to make his fiction more commercial and less European. "But that is not what I had in mind when I became a novelist. I can only write about what I'm seriously committed to," he wrote in an essay for the New York Times's "Writers on Writing" series.