Harvill Secker scoops An Yu's 'beguiling' debut after 7-way auction

Harvill Secker scoops An Yu's 'beguiling' debut after 7-way auction

Harvill Secker has triumphed in a seven-way auction to buy debut novel, Braised Pork, and one other book from 26-year-old writer An Yu for six figures.

Kate Harvey, deputy publishing director at Harvill Secker, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights for two titles from Anna Webber at United Agents.

The Penguin Random House imprint will publish Braised Pork, in January 2020 after the debut was only submitted to editors last month. It has also gone to senior editor Peter Blackstock at Grove Atlantic in the US (for one book only) with auctions in Italy, going to Mondadori, and in Germany, going to DTV, for two books, "lots of interest in other territories," Webber said. Braised Pork will be one of United’s top titles to present at London Book Fair next month.

Braised Pork, which is written in English, aims to "capture modern life in Beijing, and the strangeness of this period of drastic change in contemporary China,” Harvill Secker said.

It follows Jia Jia, who walks into the bathroom of her apartment one morning to find her husband – with whom she had eaten breakfast with an hour before – dead in the bathtub. "Next to him is a piece of paper with a mysterious clue, an image that Jia Jia can’t forget," the synopsis reads. "Shocked, disorientated and restless, she embarks on a journey through nocturnal Beijing and rural Tibet: an exploration of myth-making, loss, and a world beyond words, which leads her to a new sense of herself."

An Yu, 26, was born and raised in Beijing and went on to study at NYU, alongside writer such as Isabella Hammad of The Parisian (Jonathan Cape). She is currently based in Paris.

Webber said of the “incredibly moving” piece of literary fiction: “The author wrote me an email - I get a lot of submissions and have a lot of authors - but I was surprised by the title. I loved the title because it was so exciting and that’s the main reason I looked at it.”

Harvey revealed that the Harvill Secker team were also intrigued by the novel’s name. “I don’t want to spoil it as it’s so significant to Jia Jia’s journey,” she told The Bookseller. “It definitely got everyone reading – it’s a genius title I think.”

The book sparked interest within a day of being submitted, leading to a seven-way auction with Harvill Secker splashing six figures on the two book deal. “It went out two weeks ago and there was a lot of excitement, people were moving incredibly quickly - within 24 hours had two editors expressing interest,” Webber said.

“What people find so beguiling, about the author, is how she manages to straddle both cultures so beautifully. It is difficult to capture both cultures.

“The prose exciting and feels totally fresh. It feels like something new and is beautifully written. It is so unlike anything else. There is a realist strand and then there is a mystical strand…which engulfs the narrative.”

Webber added: “There is so much writerly talent that she will go from strength to strength, I am so excited to be working with her.”

Harvey told The Bookseller: “This striking, compassionate, highly visual novel takes its readers to unexpected places, emotionally and psychologically. Its themes couldn’t be more widely resonant – sudden loss, childhood pain, a woman’s self-realisation as an adult and as an artist – but An Yu’s lens is very particular, very contemporary. She is fluent in two cultures, her voice is subtle and surprising, she has found arresting ways to articulate the inexpressible, and her intelligence is razor-sharp.”

She added: “I’m particularly thrilled that we’ve committed to two novels because I think she is a present and future star.”

An Yu said: "What an honour it is to be working with Kate and Harvill Secker on bringing this book out into the world. Braised Pork is set within a culture that is so dear and important to me, but more than that, I want it to be a universal, human story. I’m so grateful to be able to tell this story with the passionate and inspiring people at Vintage."

Braised Pork will be published on 9th January 2020 in print, e-book and audio, with a jacket design by Vintage’s creative director Suzanne Dean.