Once upon a time in the middle of the night, invaders tried to climb the walls of Geneva, in what is now Switzerland. They were foiled, in part, by a hot cauldron of vegetable soup. The soup, the wall climbing, and the Geneva victory have been celebrated ever since in the Fête d’Escalade, which is literally translated as the “climbing party.” Adults and children dress up, parade through the streets, sing songs, and eat little chocolate cauldrons stuffed with marzipan vegetables. As you can imagine, it’s Geneva’s most-loved street party.
Now, you might think I’m an Escalade expert. After all, I live in Switzerland. The sad truth is that I somehow missed this fabulously rambunctious festival—which is celebrated every December 12th. I only learned of it by reading Anita Lehmann’s lively and entertaining The Geneva Chronicles.
And so, I’m here to tell anyone who is planning a trip to Geneva—or is simply interested in Geneva—to go find The Geneva Chronicles, An Illustrated History as Told by Allo the Allobroges and His Horse. Starting at the beginning (and I mean the very beginning, circa 20,000 BCE), it relates 17 fascinating tales about the City of Calvin. Some tales are mythical (remember the soup that saved Geneva) and some historical (Mary Shelley dreamed up Frankenstein there), but all are stuffed full of fascinating details. For example, Madame de Staël, the daughter of a Geneva banker, was so powerful at the time of Napoleon that it was said there were three powers in Europe: France, England, and Germaine de Staël! The backmatter of The Geneva Chronicles includes a timeline, and the endpapers double as a map of Geneva. What is more, each of the tales includes an illustration by Geneva’s most famous cartoonist, Pierre Wazem. Whether you are an armchair traveler or in Geneva itself, whether you speak English or French, whether you are 8 or 80, The Geneva Chronicles will both educate and delight!
Given what a success The Geneva Chronicles has turned out to be, you may be surprised that it had a bit of an original path to publication. Publishing an English book in Switzerland can be complicated. You sometimes have to fight the good fight to publish what you believe in. But, hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get The Geneva Chronicles’ publication story from Anita Lehmann herself. Here she is to tell us What Was On Anita’s…
First Inspiration: When we first moved to Geneva, my son struggled with settling in the city. I tried to find a child-friendly book about Geneva’s history, but couldn’t find any…so being a historian and wannabe author, I decided to write one myself!
I spent months in the archives and Geneva’s libraries to find the juicy details that make a children’s book interesting and fun to read.
First Bump on the Road to Publication: While writing, I spoke to many publishers, but they weren’t convinced that the book would sell, certainly not in English. They wanted to see funding for both a French translation and to pay an illustrator…I had never done fundraising before, but I wanted to see that book published, and being really quite stubborn (erm…perseverant…), I set about finding a solution.
Grant: Many months later, via connections I had made at the Geneva Book Fair, I met Genevan illustrator Pierre Wazem, a history nerd like me! Together, we set up an association and got funding from the Loterie Romande and the Fondation Henri Moser. Yay!
Next Step: Now that we had an English version, a French version, and a renowned illustrator, a publisher was happy to join the party. Bergli Books publishes books about Switzerland in English, French and German. They were a perfect fit.
Second Bump: The book was meant to be published in 2020…but we all know what happened in 2020! Pierre got Long Covid, and the publication was delayed by another two years.
All in all, from conception to published book, it took ten years!
First Reaction When She Saw the Illustrations: When I first saw the book coming together with Pierre’s illustrations, I nearly cried…The illustrations were tangible proof that it was finally happening! I loved the way Pierre took the text to a whole new level with his playful style.
Mind When She at Last Held the Book in Her Hands: The Geneva Chronicles ended up being the first book I ever wrote…but the ninth to be published! Even so, it feels a bit like it’s my first book baby, and I couldn’t be prouder of it :-).
I can certainly understand that. Congratulations, Anita! Thank you for telling us about your publication journey–and, of course, for getting us excited about Escalade on December 12!
From Caesar to Voltaire, watchmaking to the Jet D’Eau, Calvin to Frankenstein, this is the entire history of Geneva – all told by an Allobroges and his horse! Delivered as 17 entertaining stories, this fascinating and accessible volume is hilariously illustrated by Genevan cartoonist Pierre Wazem. From the ancient myth of Gargantua to CERN, The Geneva Chronicles packs several millennia into 80 amusing pages.
“The Geneva Chronicles contemplates twenty centuries in Calvin’s city. For both children and foreigners, a richly illustrated manual recounts some of the great moments of Calvin’s city.” – Le Temps
Anita Lehmann is the multi-award winning author of both fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, with her picture book Slobber Slobber Kiss Kiss shortlisted for the German Children’s Literature Prize 2020. For adults, she writes under the silly pseudonym of Walburga Appleseed.
If you would like to order The Geneva Chronicles in English, click on the book below.
If you would like to order The Geneva Chronicles in French, click on this book.
If you would like to learn more about me, take a look at my website at sandranickel.com.