Karp plants ‘Tree’

Random House inks Gien to turn play into novel, pic

LONDON — Jonathan Karp, entrenched at Random House after a brief stint under film and Broadway producer Scott Rudin, has contracted playwright-actor Pamela Gien to adapt her Off Broadway play “The Syringa Tree” into a novel.

The one-woman show, which features Gien in 28 roles drawn from her life in Johannesburg, where she grew up during apartheid, is running at Playhouse 91 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Matt Salinger, who is producing the play, intends to produce a film adaptation. Gien already has written a screenplay.

The play, directed by Larry Moss, comes to London after its New York run, but ICM, which controls world rights to the title, isn’t yet shopping the book to foreign publishers at the London Book Fair. Rather, the agency is waiting until a manuscript is delivered.

Unusual situation

That makes the deal for “Tree” an anomaly among recent book deals. Tens of millions of dollars in foreign rights will change hands before the fair ends March 27, a large portion of it for books that have just sold to U.S. publishers and whose agents are seeking out foreign bidders.

Fitting that pattern is historian David M. Kennedy’s “The Americans.” Viking Penguin just bought U.S. rights for more than $1 million, beating out three other seven-figure bids, and agent Michael Carlisle of Carlisle & Co. is hawking the book at the fair. A De Tocqueville-esque history of the U.S. by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, “Americans” touches on such subjects as the economy, the welfare state and America’s relationship to violence, particularly in the entertainment industry.

Next hot Euro tome

Among the agents and publishers swapping foreign rights at the fair are several film execs who are prowling the vast exhibition space in search of the next breakout European novel. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in each of the last two years, a French book has come out of left field to spark an acquisitions race between producers — Mark Levy’s “If Only It Were True” and Didier van Cauwelaert’s “L’Education d’une Fee.”

Small French house Editions de Seuil is hoping it has this year’s contender, “La Vie Sexuelle de Catherine M.,” a memoir by Catherine Millet, the director of Art Press, a French publisher of contemporary art books.

“La Vie” will be published in France in April, but Italian and Portuguese publishers already have snapped up rights to this account of Millet’s adventurous sex life. Agent Georges Borchardts calls it “a ‘Story of O’ for the new millennium, except that ‘The Story of O’ was fiction and this is nonfiction.” The steamy book has aroused keen interest among U.K. and American publishers, but it’s not yet translated into English, so as yet there’s no deal.

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