Marc Fournier's Fusion BookstoreFriday, April 30, 2010
I read in my Vancouver Courier yesterday that Marc Fournier is closing Sophia Books at the end of May. I went down to my photo files and looked up under Duthie Books and Manhattan Books. I found no photographs of Marc Fournier. On a lark I looked under Fournier and found that I had written (I wrote many I now realize) a Rear Window for Charles Campbell’s Queue Magazine (included then and now, in a modified and much diminished form) which appeared with the Thursday Vancouver Sun. The article I wrote was dated April 6-13, 2000 and it had to do with the opening of Sophia Books. Charles Campbell had come up with the idea of these one-page Rear Windows in which city events of the past would in some way connect with an event in the present. It was Campbell’s method of keeping our city’s past alive in our memory.
After reading the Courier article written by Jeremy Shepherd I felt a great loss and came to the realization that I was to blame (and many in my same position) for the closing of a bookstore that was vital to our city’s culture.
Sometime in January I saw my huge book collection and with the immediate future of having to move out of our large home to a perhaps small apartment I know many of my books will have to go. How do you part with books? I have read every book in my collection. Getting rid of any of them would be the same as scraping off from my brain’s memory a moment shared with it. Financially I could not even afford the remainder books of Chapters. I determined in January that the Vancouver Public Library was to become my personal “bookstore” of choice.
Just about every José Saramago, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Leonardo Padura, Daniel Chavarría, Francisco Umbral, José Carlos Somoza and Juan Manuel Prada came to my possession via Sophia Books. With my Argentine artist friends having returned to Buenos Aires I find myself isolated in my Spanish language and I no longer have that obsessive imperative to read in Spanish. I am now very careful in choosing which books I read. With impulsive book buying now in my past I can fully depend on the excellent selection of our Vancouver Public Library.
I wonder how many like me, and of my age, may have made the similar decision of not buying books. I would think that I am not an exception so I do feel responsible in contributing to the loss of Sophia Books.
What is in store for the future of bookstores in Vancouver is something I can not in any way predict.
I know I will miss that phone call from Marc, who in his French accented Spanish would say, “Acaba de llegar tu Capitán Alatriste.” And I cannot stop here before I fully give credit to Marc Fournier who as manager of Manhattan Books and then as owner of Sophia Books gave be back my "lengua materna" (Spanish) which had almost slipped out of me as this Antarctic penguin languished in an all-English Arctic.
1990 Rear Window
In spring of 1986, Montreal-born Marc Fournier, then 24, arrived in Vancouver, looked around and decided that to survive here he needed a French/Japanese dictionary. He found it at Makoto Inoue’s Sophia Books on Nelson Street.
Soon after, Fournier began work at Celia Duthie’s Manhattan Books at Robson and Thurlow. This photo (by Tom Abrahamsson) was taken in 1990. Yuki, one of Inoue’s seven daughters, visited the store one day, met Marc and soon married him.
Shortly before Manhattan Books closed on April 26, 1999 – the first casualty in the implosion of the Duthie’s chain – Manager Marc Fournier placed a book in my hand. “I thought you might want it, so I ordered it.” It was a translation from Portuguese into Spanish of José Saramago’s diary, Cuadernos de Lanzarote. As I was about to leave, $50 poorer, he added, And here is Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s third installment of his Capitán Alatriste series, El Sol de Breda.”
Leave it to Fournier to introduce an European and Latin American phenomenon to cosmopolitan Vancouver. The Capitán Alatriste series is still not available in English translation, bur for a much-diminished version of Pérez-Reverte’s talents, look to Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a reprehensible adaptation of his novel El Club Dumas. Or try the good adaptation of his novel The Fencing Master, a Spanish film with English subtitles.
I don’t think I am the only one in Vancouver to thank Manhattan Books and Marc Fournier for being able to read again in my mother tongue without leaving town. For others it might be German, Italian or French. After Manhattan’s closing, I was never able to find the same rich variety of books in Spanish at either the UBC Bookstore or in Seattle’s University Bookstore.
One forsaken customer was a woman from Punta Arenas, Chile (the southernmost town in South America) who found it easier to order her books from the Manhattan than from Santiago, Chile.
At the end of 1999, the unemployed Fournier was being nagged at home by desperate readers wanting to order books in languages other than English. Fournier, who likes to visit book fairs in Montreal, Europe and the new one for Spanish books in Guadalajara, Mexico, is always current on who’s hot. The French community, in particular, depends on Fournier as he is in charge of the French program for the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival.
Meanwhile, the 75-year-old Makoto Inoue felt it was time to retire. In mid-February, over some sushi, Marc told me about the inspiration behind the “new” Sophia Books. “One morning I woke up and realized that besides English, my kids spoke French and Japanese, and they would soon have no place to buy books in the city. If fusion cooking is hip, then I will do a fusion bookstore, oriental and occidental. Here was a way for Sophia Books to continue.”
Finding a location larger that the Nelson Street Store was easy, as Don Stewart of MacLeod’s Books pointed Marc down the street to the building on the corner of Richards and West Hastings – a building that housed the Bank of BC, at the end of the 19th century.
Publishers in Quebec and Europe, who had lost business with Manhattan’s closing, were supportive, and offered generous terms. The toughest problem, Marc confessed, was computerizing the Japanese title inventory.
Some of the old Manhattan feel survives. Customers will find the same large magazine and newspaper selection, the same interesting world music (Marc is also a DJ about town) and even some of the old employees. And a bit of Duthie’s also survives in the form of the shelving that came from the former Arbutus Mall location. With both MacLeod’s Books and Albion Books nearby, Vancouver may have a book row in the making. Any day now, Marc may place in my hand the soon-to-be-released fourth installment of Pérez-Reverte’s Capitán Alatriste serial novel, La Venganza de Alquezar.
- Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Addendum April 30, 2010: Arturo Pérez-Reverte has yet to publish La Venganza de Alquezar and his last and 6th Capitán Alatriste novel was Corsarios de Levante.
Two Other Rear Windows:
And a Rear Window by Les Wiseman: