16 September 2021

Robert Fife Discovers a Five-Year-Old Book

You'd think Robert Fife might know a thing or two about the publishing world. His first book, A Capital Scandal, co-authored by John Warren, was a lead title in Key Porter's fall 1991 catalogue. Fife went solo two years later with Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician. A slight biography published by HarperCollins, it managed to land on bookstore shelves before her 132 days as prime minister were up. I consider this Fife's greatest accomplishment to date.

Bob hasn't published a book since, but he must surely remember something of his experiences with Key Porter and HarperCollins — which makes the front page of Tuesday's Globe & Mail so curious.

Written with Senior Parliamentary Reporter Steven Chase, the article concerns the 2016 Chinese translation of Justin Trudeau's memoir Common Ground. This in itself isn't much of a story — the memoir was also published in  Germany (Für eine bessere Zukunft), Spain (Todo aquello que nos une), Armenia (Ընդհանուր հայտարար), Vietnam (Nền tảng chung), and Thailand (ก้าวใหม่ที่แตกต่างบนทางเดียวกัน) — but should you be paying attention to these editions?

Fife and Chase don't. Their focus is on Yilin Press, the publisher of the Chinese edition, 传奇再续, and the fact that it's owned by the Chinese state.* This, they suggest, was meant to stroke Trudeau's ego, and was part of Beijing's campaign for a free-trade agreement.

Oh, and it also wanted Trudeau’s help tracking down Chinese dissidents.

Yilin has published other writing by Barack Obama and other Western leaders."China's book industry is controlled by the government, with 582 authorized publishers," they inform, which begs the question as to which Chinese publisher they might find acceptable. 
I don't know about Fife, but most of the contracts I've signed have given publishers permission to sell foreign rights and translations of my writing. If successful, we both get a cut. Seems fair.

Liberal campaign spokesman Alexandre Deslongchamps says this was the case with HarperCollins adding that the prime minister's share, and all royalties, have been donated to the Canadian Red Cross.

Fife and Chase have no reason to doubt M Deslongchamps' statements, yet they do.
HarperCollins Canada would not discuss the deal for the Chinese publication of the book or whether any money went to Mr. Trudeau’s private holding company, which is in a blind trust. “I’m afraid these things are confidential business terms that are not typically discussed with third parties,” HarperCollins editor Jennifer Lambert said in an e-mail

And so, I know not to ask HarperCollins about the terms negotiated for Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician.

The real question here is who brought 传奇再续 to Fife and Chase's attention? And why did they wait five years?

* HarperCollins is a subsidiary of News Corp. Yilin Press is distributed in the United States and Canada by Simon & Schuster, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS.
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  1. "I consider this Fife's greatest accomplishment to date." Ha, ha! Nice.

    It was clear enough what was going on, (Scandal! Scandal!) but I hadn't realized the Chinese edition was already five years old.

    1. It is remarkable. Surely no one was clambering for a Kim Campbell bio before she became PM. To think he and HarperCollins managed to get it out before her nineteen weeks were over.

      Well done!

  2. Being published by HarperCollins, which is owned by the infamous Rupert Murdoch, in the first place is what makes me dubious about Trudeau. If Mr Fife hasn't published a book for thirty years, though, perhaps he has other reasons for disliking HarperCollins

    1. There was a time in which all Canadian politicians were published by Canadian-owned houses. No more.

      I'm hoping Murdoch will reissue Jerry Hall's Tall Tales.