Late-blooming literature

Novel set on Mizzou campus becomes European best seller.

Book cover

A novel written half a century ago recently has risen to the top of many European best-seller charts. And its setting just happens to be the University of Missouri campus.

John Williams’ Stoner, originally published in 1965, is about a young man who leaves his Missouri farm to become a literature professor. The man’s life, set in 1910, is seemingly ordinary but also fulfilling and rich. Stoner never took off because Williams' style of realism wasn’t in fashion when the novel was published in the '60s.

So how did Stoner become so popular? The New York Review of Books Classics republished Stoner in 2006 and sold only a moderate number of copies, despite glowing reviews.

But French best-selling author Anna Gavalda came across the novel and loved it so much that she bought the rights and translated it herself. European editors took note of the big-name translator credit, and the book took off.

NPR has recently featured Stoner, and Publishers Weekly called it “a perfect American novel.” Check it out for yourself, and let us know what you think.

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