03 November, 2008

The problem with Corvalua

Why will noone publish my history of the Republic of Corvalua? It is not because of the significance of the subject: between 1612 and 1738, Corvalua hosted a major trading port for tropical hardwood and sugar cane and a stop-off point for the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. Nor is it because of the time-frame of the study, which charts the golden era of the port from its last days as a French penal colony (known then as Coeurvalois), to the fire which eventually destroyed the city.

The problem is that Corvalua does not exist.

A fiction editor told me it was not fictional enough. ‘The problem,’ she drawled, sucking her white wine through her teeth, ‘is that it could be real.’ I agreed wholeheartedly - I wasn’t drinking - I argued that this was just why she must publish my book. ‘I wrote it,’ I said, ‘and even I’m not sure it isn’t real.’ She would have none of it. She was at least ten years my junior. I suspect she was drunk.

Another editor, this time of non-fiction, and an old school friend, could hardly hide his embarrassment. I cited the incredible feats of engineering that allowed Corvalua to build ‘skyscrapers’ before the advent of reinforced concrete and several underwater tunnels connecting the Quartier Chinois and Port August; its uniqueness as the first state to proclaim Atheism as its official religion, while maintaining (brutally, at times) complete indifference to religious creeds; its Swiss-style democratic system. He saw me to the door with a pitiful smile and I noticed for the first time that he was going grey.

Was it not enough for those editors that almost 250,000 Corvaluans died in the typhus epidemic that broke out in 1729, brought by a British privateer vessel? Or that the fire - which seems to have started in the cathedral - rumoured to have fallen into ‘corruption and luxury’ - consumed a further 90,000 and left a pall of smoke reportedly visible as far away as the Azores? History has been unkind to the Corvaluans once? Are we to repeat the injustice by letting them disappear into the mists of time, even if imaginary?