Publisher brings European focus to Williamstown

WILLIAMSTOWN — Williamstown resident Paul Olchv ry doesn't always carry a suitcase filled with books, but the publisher of New Europe Books arrived with one in hand to greet a reporter at The Williams Bookstore on Monday morning. "The Solace of Trees" was among the short stacks of novels and nonfiction works occupying his portable portfolio.

"If a book brings tears to my eyes, then that's a pretty good sign," Olchv ry said of the novel, which was released in July, while sitting at a table in the store's cafe.

In "The Solace of Trees," a Bosnian child, Amir, watches his parents get killed in the Bosnian War. Navigating to a United Nations refugee camp through rural Bosnia, he eventually lands with a retired professor in Western Massachusetts. College, love and a project editing a professor of Islamic studies' documentary film follow. In the aftermath of 9/11, however, the professor is arrested for terrorist ties, and Amir's own Muslim heritage soon finds him enduring his own difficulties as the War on Terror begins.

"It's a book that speaks to the heart of what is going on with American foreign policy in the world today, with how we respond to the plight of people entering the U.S. as immigrants and refugees," Olchv ry said.

The book's author, southern Vermont resident Robert Madrygin, feels it also makes broader statements about conflicts and the targeting of civilian populations as a strategy of war. A research project during the late 1990s motivated him to start working on the novel.

"The further I got into my research on the war, the more I was shocked by how little I actually really knew about it," Madrygin said during a Skype interview. He was resting near a pool in Costa Rica following a national book tour that brought him to Seattle; Portland, Maine; and almost two dozen stops in between, including The Bookstore in Lenox. He said he heard significantly different ideas regarding the U.S.' policies related to refugees during his travels. Some wanted to completely close the country's borders to refugees; others wanted to open them.

The novel is the author's first. He has enjoyed working with a small publisher like New Europe Books, which boasts a staff of one, on the endeavor.

"It makes it very easy for a debut author who has no experience [with] the publishing world, which is much more complicated and more involved than I ever would have imagined," he said.

Olchv ry's job, in part, is to make the author's experience less complicated. For example, he organized Madrygin's book tour and keeps the author apprised of press obligations.

The publisher has had years of practice. Olchv ry started New Europe Books in 2010 following a decade as a marketing copy writer at Princeton University Press and, later, Globe Pequot Press. The inspiration for his new career, however, began much earlier.

Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., Olchv ry spoke Hungarian at home. While he was studying writing in college, Hungarian visiting scholars encouraged him to pursue his career in his family's homeland. The Cold War was just ending, so he could be part of the changes there, they told him. Olchv ry listened and, in 1990, began a decade-long stint in the country. He found himself focusing on translation instead of his prose.

"I'll confess: I initially looked upon translation as a backdoor to getting my own writing published. It didn't quite happen that way," he said.

Yet, as Olchv ry's translations grew to be his "bread and butter," particularly of Hungarian novels, his passion for the work swelled with the assignments. "I think I'll never stop doing it," he said of translation, though he laments lacking time to draft his own work while juggling his roles as publisher and translator.

Toward the end of his copy writing career, Olchv ry and his family moved to North Adams. New Europe Books was founded shortly thereafter as a self-publisher, initially focusing on topics related to Eastern Europe. Its first title, "The Essential Guide to Being Hungarian," was a book Olchv ry had translated.

In 2011, he signed a contract with Hanover Publishing Services, a sub-distributor, that connected him with Penguin Random House Publishing Services, a distributor. New Europe Books published four books in 2012, including "The Essential Guide to Being Hungarian." The cultural guide sold well, a vital source of revenue for a small publisher.

"This is the type of book that you can publish [and] not feel as though you're selling your soul, but you can also sell it," he said.

While Olchv ry still manages submissions, author contracts, editing (he copy edits the books) and parts of the marketing process, Hanover and Penguin Random House help with much of the rest. They have also given his company more credibility, allowing it to shed the potentially detrimental "self-publisher" label.

Now based in a small Williamstown office, New Europe Books has expanded its geographic lens to all of Europe. Moving forward, it is willing to be liberal about a book's ties to the continent, too. Olchv ry aims to publish four books per year, relying on a militia of freelancers, volunteers and interns, some of which have attended Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, to help him. He has a role in mind for his 9-year-old son, Akosh, too.

"I told him recently that he will be my social media consultant. He was very happy to hear that," Olchv ry said.

"The Solace of Trees" addresses a topic that has certainly fueled more than a few 140-character thoughts recently. It represents the publisher's desire to produce works that delve into timely political subject matter.

"This book, really, to my mind, is a book that has the potential to stir debate," he said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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