Browsing the shelves at Kyralina – the only French bookstore in Bucharest
The only French-language bookstore in Bucharest, Kyralina has been a go-to place for the francophone community in the capital for the last three years. The bookstore remains clear about the focus of its activity and meeting the reading interests of its public.
Sidonie Mézaize and her partner opened Librairie Kyralina as a generalist bookstore at the end of 2012, with a grant received from the Lagardère foundation. In the meantime, the two owners moved back to France but asked Valentine Gigaudaut, who had just arrived to Romania from Asia, to take over running the place. A journalist by training, Gigaudaut had previously worked in the book industry, where linking French publishers with international ones was part of her job.
The bookshop started as a small place on George Enescu St. “because at the beginning nobody knew if it was a good idea or not,” she explains. What is now the only bookshop in the capital selling only French-language titles was not the only project of its kind but it is the only one still standing. I think one of the reasons we could survive was that we are not here to make money. We know that we will never be rich and we sell the books at the same price as in France, but in RON.” The bookshop covers the transportation cost of books. Kyralina has the Reference French Bookshop label from the Centre National du Livre (National Book Center). As such, she explains, “our aim is to broadcast French books in Romania, at a good price.” This label also means it can receive subsidies for specific projects, as it happened when it created a Human Sciences shelf. The book sector is one of France’s top cultural industries, with a publishers’ turnover of EUR 2.6 billion in 2015. Around a quarter of this number comes from foreign markets, according to data from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry. A staff of three ensures the day-to-day operations of the bookstore, which stocks around 7,000 books, with only one copy of each and new titles coming in every week: mainly those that cannot be found at other retailers of foreign-language books. In keeping with the bookstore’s focus on affordable prices, they acquire mainly livre de poche editions. The bookshop is not looking at adding other category products.
“Our job is to sell books in French. It’s our vocation.”
At the end of last year Kyralina changed homes. “In the first bookshop we knew that we could grow and the more books we have, the more we sell. So it was time for us to move and to become bigger,” Gigaudaut explains about the decision to move to the new location, almost twice as big as the first one. The children’s room takes up a prominent spot, just as children’s books are a significant segment in the Kyralina offer. It is here where families and children come to sample books or simply sit and read. “Sometimes, not every day, but very often, we have grandparents who come here with their grandchildren, and they just sit here and they read a book. It’s very moving. Then we know what we live for,” Gigaudaut says, explaining a generational shift in the foreign-language learning interest. “The grandparents can speak French, the children can’t speak French because they decided to focus on English and now, with the grandchildren, the parents realize it is important for children to speak English and another language. And because the grandparents can speak French they don’t transmit it to the children, they transmit it to the next generation.” Who makes up the public of Kyralina? It is a very diverse audience, the bookshop manager says. “All the francophonie in Romania.” For them, a variety of events are organized regularly on the premises of the bookstore. An upcoming one involves writer Irina Teodorescu as guest. Born in Bucharest, she has been living in France since 1998. She writes in French and has published here two books, the most recent being La malédiction du bandit moustachu, published at Gaïa Éditions.
Best sellers in the Librairie Kyralina
Les Roumains is one of the bestsellers at Kyralina, having sold more than 300 copies. It is written by Mirel Bran, who is a correspondent of Le Monde newspaper in Romania. It delivers a series of portraits of various personalities offering their views on the country. French translations of Romanian literature also rank high on the list of high-interest titles, among both the local French-speaking community but also Romanians who live in France and want to share more about their country. Another best-selling category is children’s books, with one of the latest success titles being Des laurier pour Mono. It is written by Yaël Hassan, a French-Israeli writer who will be in Romania next month.
For a French-speaking audience looking for an insight into local culture, Valentine Gigaudaut has several recommendations. One is Oublier Bucarest by Victor Ieronim Stoichita. Born in Bucharest, he is an art historian and critic now living in Switzerland, where he teaches at the Fribourg University. A personal account of life in Romania of the 1960s and 1970s, the book received in 2015 a French Academy award for the dissemination of French language and letters. Other ones are Matei Vișniec’s Le marchand de premières phrases, a book released in French translation at the beginning of this year, and Liliana Lazar’s Enfants du diable, a take on child abandonment during Ceaușescu’s regime.
By Simona Fodor, associate editor, City Compass Media, email@example.com
Photos: Tomo Minoda/ Librairie Kyralina