Nine years young, Jacques Testard’s Fitzcarraldo Editions—named after Werner Herzog’s film about a quixotic dreamer—has already published four of the last nine Nobel Prize winners, five if you count Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, whose Nobel was won before she was published by Testard. This is something none of the world’s publishing giants have achieved.
Testard was born in France but has lived in London since he was five. In 2011, he set up The White Review, a cult literary journal that published the then unknown Sally Rooney and Julia Armfield. After being told he was overqualified for a first publishing job, he set up Fitzcarraldo in 2014 from a kitchen table in Deptford.
Trilingual—he reads manuscripts in English, French, and Spanish—Testard noticed that few U.K. publishers were willing to take the risk, or extra expense, in publishing translations, unlike their Continental peers. At his first Frankfurt Book Fair, he bought the unknown Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time, an account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, for $4,275. A year later, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and he sold the U.S. rights to Random House in a 13-way publishing auction.
He set up Fitzcarraldo from a kitchen table in Deptford.
Jon Fosse, who won this year’s Literature Nobel, is so important in Norway he has a home on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo. However, he was largely unknown in the English-speaking world when Fitzcarraldo started publishing him. Similarly, while Annie Ernaux, the 2022 Nobel Prize winner, has been a best-seller in France for decades, she had never gained much attention in translation, something Fitzcarraldo sought to rectify. “I realised some years ago that I wouldn’t have been able to build this list in any other western European country because all our authors are published by the best publishers in France, Germany, Spain, Italy,” Testard told The Times of London. “The stroke of luck I have is that anglophone publishing is risk adverse and tends to look inward.”
Whether lucky or just skilled, Testard has tapped into the taste of a younger generation. Almost half of all readers of translated fiction are under the age of 34, according to the International Booker Foundation. As Testard told The Times, “It’s nice to know that we’ll be growing up with this generation alongside us.”
In many ways, Fitzcarraldo’s tremendous success is not despite its tiny size but because of it. Publishing is an ideas business—you don’t need a great amount of capital to get started in it, at least modestly. So the running is very often made by small start-ups with good ideas carried out with panache. Fitzcarraldo follows in the footsteps of Virago, Profile, Peninsula, Old Street, and Oneworld in outmaneuvering the big publishing houses.
Four hundred subscribers buy every book Fitzcarraldo publishes. And Fitzcarraldo has already, in its short life, established a visual brand identity, important in publishing, with its unillustrated blue-and-white jackets and distinctive typeface. Gallimard’s white jackets with their red-and-black typography have changed very little since the publisher was founded in 1911. I hope Fitzcarraldo Editions will last just as long.
David Campbell is the publisher of Everyman’s Library