Before the Shadows Flee

Louis-Philippe Dalembert

(Sabine Wespieser Éditeur, 294 pages, 2017)

 

The novel, Before the Shadows Flee, is not so much a different view of the Holocaust and the people who suffered its effects as it is a different view of the world in which the Holocaust occurred—and some of the people (Haitians!) who tried to change things.

Before the Shadows Flee is a Holocaust survival story. The period’s anti-Semitism, shattered family life, concentration camps, and death or exile was a terrible time for the Schwartzberg family, who had long been settled in Poland then made a bad decision to move to Berlin as the Nazi threat increased. The family scattered, with two of them, young Doctor Ruben and his uncle Joshua, sent to Buchenwald. The book focuses on Ruben as he gets released, tries to reach America on the ill-fated MS St. Louis, is returned to Europe, and ends up stateless, frightened, alone, and terrified in Paris.

On the other side of the world was Haiti, the first nation to abolish slavery on its own soil by force of arms; a nation that had decided to ditch the whole ridiculous notion of race. Ever since the enactment of the Nuremberg race laws and Kristallnacht, Haitians had dreamed of fighting the issue with Herr Hitler. They promised Haitian citizenship to all Jews and considered them to be under the protection of the Vodou mysteres [voodoo]. Just before Christmas in 1941, Haiti declared war on the Third Reich and the Kingdom of Italy.

In Paris, Ruben falls in with a lively group of expatriate Haitians. He is befriended by a sophisticated poetess, seduced by a diplomat’s sexy wife, and taken dancing by their rum-swilling compatriots. He applies for Haitian citizenship, but just as he is about to get his new passport, he’s arrested by the French police and sent to a concentration camp. He is rescued from the horrors by his friends and makes his way to Haiti and a truly new life.

Before the Shadows Flee is fast paced and especially fascinating in depicting Haiti’s complex racial, religious, and social life. The book tells the story of Ruben’s travails and travels, but his relatives pop up in unexpected and often moving ways. The deeply satisfying family saga is one of survival, of learning how to adapt to rapid and extreme changes, and of learning to live and love in new and different ways in the worst of times.

Louis-Philippe Dalembert was born in Port-au-Prince and lives in Paris. He has been a guest professor in the United States and Switzerland, and a writer-in-residence in Rome, Jerusalem, and Berlin. He is the author of novels, essays, short stories, and poetry. His work has been translated into many languages. His novel The Other Side of the Sea was published in 2014 by The University of Virginia Press.

 

My Sky and My Earth

Aure Atika

(Fayard, 208 pages, 2017)

 

A touching portrait of a woman in love with freedom. –Elle

***Prix de la Coupole Finalist***

At six months old, Aure Atika’s mother left her in the arms of Keith Moon, the drummer from The Who—an unthinkable choice for most mothers, but Atika’s mother was anything but most. In this surprisingly vivid story of unconditional love, first-time author and renowned actress Aure Atika transports us back to her psychedelic childhood, and relives the unconventional relationship she shared with her mother Ode. The chapters, short and intense, unfold through the eyes of four-year-old Aure, and grow with her into adulthood. Filled with palpable details and poignant reflection, with each scene Atika paints the picture of a childhood she knew even as a little girl was not normal, but one that she defends fiercely to this day.

Aure Atika’s was a mother who might hide sachets of opium in the furniture. Who might leave in the middle of the night to go to a party. A mother who fought, physically, with both hands and feet, and who slammed doors in her lovers’ faces. A mother who would whisk her daughter to fine dinners in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, while the pair lived in cramped, tiny apartments, and staged magical adventures, sleeping on the beach under a duvet.

Yet she was a mother whom Aure loved madly. In the same way a little girl takes care of her doll or younger sister, Aure took care of her mother. She cajoled her, protected her. She sang lullabies to comfort her. She was, at times, her mother’s mother. She admired this woman more than anyone, and would not have traded her for another. Ode was to Aure, as the title to this heart-rending novel reads, her sky and her earth.

“An artist who writes about her mother, this is not uncommon. Hence the difficulty of the exercise,” reflects Clara Dupont-Monod in Le Parisien Magazine’s recommended reading list for February 2017. “Yet Aure Atika rises to the challenge.” She does so bravely and beautifully, without shying away from graphic details or raw emotion. “Declaration of love, survival manual in the delirious jungle of the 1970s, this book makes you want to go kiss her mother [and your own]!”

Aure Atika is an award-winning actress, director, and screenwriter. My Sky and My Earth is her first foray into fiction. She has discussed this book in multiple television interviews and has enjoyed a great deal of praise from the French media for her writing.  

 

The Dreams We Trample

Sébastien Spitzer

(Editions L’Observatoire, 2017, 300 pages)

 

Magda Goebbels is the most powerful woman in the Third Reich. Little Ava is the child in block 24A, the concentration camp brothel, and she is the sole remaining custodian of Magda Goebbels’ father’s memory.

April 1945. Magda Goebbels and her six children descend into the Führerbunker. The incarnation of the Aryan race, adulated by the people and their Führer, Magda has modeled her image to meet her ambitions. She has gone to great lengths to obliterate the old Magda, beloved adopted daughter of Richard Friedländer—merchant, furrier, German, and a Jew. Arrested during the first raids, Richard has never stopped writing to her.

Meanwhile, a few miles away, the Allies are advancing. Some survivors of the camps try to escape their hell. Among them is three-year-old Ava, a child of the KZ-Bordell in Auschwitz. An orphan, dumb and stateless, she clings to a leather scroll. Inside are letters written by a father, prisoner of the Nazis, to his daughter: letters signed Richard Friedländer, written to a certain Magda. Ava is the custodian of their tragic memory, the ultimate keeper of the true story of a man condemned by his daughter’s silence.

As Magda inexorably sinks in the abyss of the Nazi madness, Ava, miraculous survivor of the horror, strives to escape her destiny.

The Dreams We Trample is a striking first novel with historical precision, literary power, and emotional force.

Sébastien Spitzer is a freelance journalist. He has published several investigations on Iran, the United States, and international terrorism. The Dreams We Trample is his first novel. He lives in Paris.

 

 

In Praise of Passion

 

Carlotta Clerici

(Editions Denoel, 2017, 256 pages)

 

I left my husband after stumbling upon a man, one morning, on the shore of a lake. He reached out his hand and helped me off the boat onto the dock, and I immediately knew my life had changed forever. We looked at each other and I was his entirely, completely, body and soul, forever his. At any cost, at the risk of losing myself. Against all and everything. Being his was the only thing I could be.

Eloge de la passion.jpg

—from Eloge de la passion

The story of a happily married woman who breaks out of a life of routine, boredom, and the angst of motherhood, at the risk of losing everything.

Matilde, an Italian musician, has lived in Paris for years. A jazz pianist, she founded a band with two of her friends, and her career is blooming. She is married to a conductor, and they have a daughter. But despite her seemingly happy life, Mathilde sinks ever deeper into a daily routine too orderly and reasonable to satisfy her, leaving her in a state of somnambulance. A solo performance in Milan will change her life.

On the shores of the lake by which she grew up, she meets Francesco, a photographer. Without a second thought, she surrenders body and soul to a passion that shakes all her certitudes, and wrecks all she has built over the years. She loses herself; but, far from sinking, she draws a new life force out of the perilous affair.

Although she was born in Italy, near Lake Cuomo, Carlotta Clerici has lived and worked in Paris for over twenty years. A stage director and playwright, she chose to write in French. All her plays are published and performed in both Italy and France, including Ce soir j’ovule (Les Cynes, 2010) and L’envol (L’Harmattan, 2005). Eloge de la passion is her first novel.

 

Vera Kaplan

Laurent Sagalovitsch

(Buchet Castel, 160 pages, 2016)

 

Every year, during Hanukkah, a man travels from his home in Canada to visit his mother’s apartment in Tel Aviv, using the time to think about his past, visit his mother’s grave, and contemplate what her life might have been like before he was born. While she was alive, he had been unable to convince her to reveal any details about her past, apart from the story of her fleeting encounter with a stranger, his father, whose name she did not know, nor ever attempted to find out. The young man knew his mother was originally from Germany, but who were her parents? What was her life like in Germany? Why was she taken away from her mother and sent to a foster family in Israel? His mother always refused to talk about it.

One December, while visiting her apartment, he receives a bulky package from Germany addressed to his late mother. It contains a letter from a lawyer in Wiesbaden who has been trying to find his client’s daughter to tell her that her mother, Vera Kaplan, has committed suicide and left everything to her. The lawyer is unaware that her daughter has also died, so the package has found its way to Vera’s grandson. Along with the letter are two notebooks written by his grandmother. The diaries detail the horrific fate of a young woman caught up in the turmoil and horrors of German Jews during the war.

The young man reads the documents. They finally answer all his questions, and change his life forever.

The diaries detail the terrible choice Vera was forced to make to save her parents from the gas chambers: collaborate by denouncing other Jews or die with her parents. She was a victim of “history” who turned into a predator, caught in a moral dilemma of the most poignant kind.

At first we are both repulsed and deeply troubled by the monster that Vera became. In the second diary, however, we follow her transformation from an innocent, sympathetic young girl to a desperate survivor and finally to the hardened criminal who would spend ten years in prison for collaboration after the war. The reader is plunged into the hell of Vera’s existence and comes to understand—while never condoning her behavior—how the inhuman treatment of the Jews during World War II could turn the most ordinary person into the kind of monster she was trying to fight.

Powerful and disturbing, the novel is based on the life of Stella Goldschlag, a known German collaborator.

Laurent Sagalovitsch was born in Paris in 1967 but has lived in Canada since 2009. He was a book reviewer for the French daily newspaper Libération, and the weekly magazines Les Inrocks and L’événement du jeudi. His other works include Dade City (1996, Actes Sud),  La Canne de Virginia (Actes Sud, 1998), for which he won the Hachette Foundation prize, Loin de quoi? (Actes Sud, 2006), La Métaphysique du hors-jeu (Actes Sud, 2010), and Un Juif en cavale (Actes Sud, 2013). In 2011, he started the blog You will never hate alone. In 2016, he was a finalist for Prix des lecteurs de L’Hebdo and the Prix du Parisien Magazine.

 

Fragments

Nina Leger

(Éditions Gallimard, 155 pages, 2017)

 

***Winner of the Prix Anaïs Nin, which pays up to €10,000 toward translation into English***

Mise en pieces.jpg

Jeanne is haunted by men’s penises. She collects memories of them in an imaginary “palace,” where each room holds a penis . . . nothing else, for she keeps no other memory of her multiple lovers.

She remembers every one of these sexual organs in precise detail. She goes to sex shops, accumulates lovers, hotel rooms, dildos, her mind invaded by her obsession, perhaps to the point of madness. We know nearly nothing of her. A few hypotheses come up as to her age and her profession, but they are contradictory. The novel offers no escape, shutting us up with Jeanne in the locked rooms that mark her path of sexual roaming.

This literary text is fascinating in its cold, implacable nature and for the extreme precision of the writing. The novel is brief, tight, blunt, hard as a diamond, and provokes a strong sense of unease. No psychological or sociological explanation is offered concerning the character of this obsessive nymphomaniac. The author is not looking to incite compassion or arousal. The story is as much a fiction as a poetic passage through contemporary solitude.

Nina Léger was born in 1988. Mise en pièces is her second novel, following Histoire naturelle (JC Lattès, 2014).

 

Heat

Joseph Incardona

(Editions Finitude, 146 pages, 2016)

 

***Sélection Grand Prix RTL***

Finland is known for its forests, lakes, snow-covered fields, and statuesque blonds. It is less well known for its hilarious array of bizarre competitions: swamp soccer, wife-carrying races, and cell phone throwing, among others. But perhaps the most famous competition held in the city of Heinola was the Sauna World Championships: Whoever could stay in the sauna the longest was crowned the winner. The competition drew a large crowd every year, with winners who became celebrities and attracted their own rock-and-roll-style groupies. With “heats” (pun intended) that began in saunas with a temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit, the remaining finalists sweated it out (literally) at a scorching 230 degrees.

Based on true events that happened during the final competition in 2010, Incardona has devised this short novel that incorporates dark humor, farcical situations, and sex. We meet the two main contenders—the three-time champion, Niko, and the three-time runner-up, Igor—and they could not be more different. Niko is a famous porn star in his native Finland with a strong following of groupies who would do anything for him—and do. Igor, his arch rival, is a retired Russian naval officer who served on a nuclear submarine. Niko is a tall, strapping, muscular, wild Adonis with dyed blond hair. Igor is short, stocky, and not very attractive, but with an iron will. As the novel progresses, we gain insights into their personal lives, which prove to be both absurd and often tragic. The author skillfully leads us to feel both sympathy and revulsion for his characters, who embody humankind’s innate desire to overcome adversity, whatever the cost.

As the author explains in a note at the end of the novel:

This story is a free adaption of what happened in Heinola, Finland, on August 8, 2010.

I have modified certain aspects of the rules of the Championship, imagining an ending that is different from what happened at the official competition in order to adapt them to a work of fiction.

The characters are my own and are not the protagonists of any news items; I invented their lives and their pasts. And so, in accordance with the official formula, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

There is, however, one thing that belongs to both the real world and the world of fiction: man has an aptitude for the absolute which, even in events that might seem the most ridiculous, borders on the tragic and, sometimes, leads to a state of grace.

Since 2010, the Sauna World Championships no longer exist.”

Joseph Incardona is a Swiss novelist, playwright, and director. He is the author of some fifteen novels, including Lonely Betty, (Finitude, 2010), winner of the Prix du Roman Noir du Festival de Beaune, Trash Circus (Parigramme, 2012), Derrière les panneaux il y a des hommes (Finitude, 2015), winner of the Grand Prix de littérature policière, as well as two plays and a full-length film, Milky Way, (co-directed with Cyril Bron), which won the Prix du public, festival du film policier de Liège. Some critics have compared him to the American writer Harry Crews. Incardona lives in Geneva. He has also had a story appear in English in the anthology French Feast (Whereabouts Press, 2011).

 

 

The Bridgetower Sonata

Emmanuel Dongala

(Actes Sud, 333 pages, 2017)

 

The Bridgetower Sonata is the story of how a young black boy of Caribbean descent, George Bridgetower, becomes a violin prodigy, traverses three cities, and encounters both fame and destitution, in a fast-moving historical novel that starts in 1789 with the revolution in Paris, moves through aristocratic London, and ends in musical Vienna in 1804. With his eccentric father Augustus, George Bridgetower meets everyone from Joseph Haydn to Thomas Jefferson to Ludwig van Beethoven.

At the beginning of 1789, the 9-year-old violin prodigy George Bridgetower arrived in Paris with his father, a black man from Barbados who used to pass himself off as a prince from Abyssinia. Arriving from Austria, where George had been taught by Haydn, they had come in search of fame and fortune on the back of the boy’s talents.

Augustus, George’s father, was born free in Barbados and learned aristocratic manners from an Austrian prince, an exotic guise that serves him well in Paris. But the attack on the Bastille shakes the city, and father and son flee to London. In dark, smelly Rotten Row, they struggle to make contacts and avoid thieves. The Prince of Wales takes the violinist under his wing, and exiles his increasingly erratic father. Finally returning to Austria, a mature George establishes himself in Vienna, where he first befriends but later angers the famously irascible Beethoven.

The book ends with an intriguing musical footnote: before their falling out, Beethoven had initially dedicated a now-famous piece to George. The sonata we know as the Kreutzer was briefly called The Bridgetower Sonata.

Emmanuel Dongala has taught at the University of Brazzaville and Chemistry at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in the United States after escaping from the civil war in Congo. He lives in the United States. He is the author of a number of award-winning novels including Johnny Mad Dog (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2007; Johnny Chien Méchant, Le Serpent à Plumes, 2001) and Little Boys Come From the Stars (Penguin, 2002;Le Serpent à Plumes, 1998) and The Fire of Origins (Chicago Review Press, 2003; Le feu des origines, Albin Michel, 1987).  His work is featured in the Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, and he has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. A film was made based on his book Johnny Mad Dog in 2008 directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. He is also the author of several other novels and short story collections. His 2010 book Photo de groupe au bord du fleuve, published by Actes Sud, was voted the best French novel of 2010 by the readers of Lire magazine, and won the Prix Ahmadou Kourouma of 2011.

 

 

Marilyn 1962

Sébastien Cauchon

(Stock, 216 pages, 2017)

 

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Marilyn Monroe’s career, lovers, husbands, and “problems” are all well known. But her daily life—and especially the last months of her life—has not been part of her published history. Sébastien Cauchon’s novel, based on in-depth research and interviews, provides a fascinating journey through the last month of Marilyn Monroe’s life.

Marilyn Monroe spent the last months of her life, in 1962 Los Angeles, in the company of people many have never heard of before: Eunice, Whitey, Agnes, Ralph, Ralph again, and also Paula, Inez, Larry, Evelyn, Cherie, May, and Pat. Who were these people? What did they mean to her life and death?

They started as acquaintances—fellow actors, close friends—but all ended up being her employees. They were a shadow army of allies from her early days, augmented by new recruits. They provided a range of services: a housekeeper, a makeup artist, a hairdresser, a masseur, a stylist, a coach. An accountant, a publicist, and a photographer might be on any celebrity’s staff; a body double might be necessary; and, for Marilyn, certainly a psychoanalyst. Some of her people were outspoken, some discreet; some were credentialed great professionals, others were clearly hangers-on. Hers was an entourage for want of a family, and although there were some genuine friendships, there were also open and latent rivalries, suspicions, and betrayals.

These people were the witnesses of her last weeks, her last hours. Who were they and what relationship did they have with the woman who died at thirty-six, universally adored but alone in her sparsely furnished house in Brentwood, California? Some refused to betray her confidence, others have benefited from a fleeting connection with the icon. Almost are all now dead.

Sébastien Cauchon describes the final days of this brilliant actress, a unique star and a complex woman, through thorough portraits of each of the people who were closest to her at the end.

Film lover, collector and Marilyn Monroe specialist, Sébastien Cauchon interviewed the great photographers who immortalized the star (Bert Stern, Bob Willougby, George Barris, Douglas Kirkland . . . ) for several magazines (Paris Match, Première, Gala, Télérama, Studio . . . ) and chronicled the memories of Larry Schiller, one of the last photographers to photograph the actress, for the August 2015 cover story of French Vanity Fair. He is the co-author of Marilyn de A à Z (Tana Editions, 2012), and Director of Communications for UniFrance.

 

 

The Wild Boar

Myriam Chirousse

(Buchet Chastel, 160 pages, 2016)

 

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A novel that takes place in an all too ordinary day in the life of a couple reveals the deep, destructive crevasses in their relationship and exposes the dangers all relationships face in letting patterns of behavior take over true feelings.

Christian and Carole live in a dilapidated old house on a mountain plateau in the middle of nowhere. One Saturday a month, the young back-to-nature couple leaves their remote rustic home to drive to the nearest mall to shop for groceries, and then to Carole’s grandmother’s for lunch. But on this day, nothing goes smoothly. The dominos start to fall, and suddenly everything goes wrong. As the day takes them from their home and the mall to a few shops, a Chinese restaurant, a visit with Carole’s grandmother, and finally a nocturnal expedition to an ATM, they are both forced to face their lives in a new way.

Myriam Chirousse has her characters say to each other, unwittingly, exactly the wrong words at precisely the wrong time. The words are not extraordinary, nor do the events they describe diverge greatly from the ordinary. The problem is that Christian and Carole have said these same things to each other over the years and in fact have done these same things again and again. Even in the supermarket, as they fill the cart, they reach for the same things, without a list, without a discussion.

Chirousse’s dark and quietly strident novel warns us of the dangers of falling into habit, especially as a couple. In the final almost apocalyptic scene of the novel, there is an accident involving a wild boar. To Christian, behind the car, working in the glare of the taillights, this is a fortunate encounter, and he is pleased they will have wild boar to eat all winter. But Carole has wandered in front of the car and her shadow in the headlights creates a distorted and terrifying image of herself. She screams and then turns and stares, unblinking, at the headlights. The difference between their views, for once unscripted, unpracticed, is wide. But will it cause an irreparable schism, or will they wake up healed the next morning? The decision is the reader’s, not the author’s.

Myriam Chirousse is the author of two other novels, Miel & Vin (Buchet Chastel, 2009) and La Paupière du jour, Buchet Chastel 2013). She is also a translator from Spanish to French.

 

 

Once Upon (How Many) Times

Hélène Couturier

(Le Dilettante, 160 pages, 2017)

 

Infidelity creates guilt but fidelity is monotonous. So, torn between the two, Mathilde has always lied a lot. When her partner asks her how many times she has been unfaithful, she first wonders if he wants to know how many partners she has had outside of their relationship, or how many partners and how many times with each one. The next thing she wonders is what kind of lie can she tell.

The question of infidelity casts a chill on Mathilde’s relationship with her partner. There is a brutal and sarcastic settling of scores. Then, when, her partner announces that he’s met someone and is leaving her, she cannot believe it, despite the reasons she may have given him to leave. She thought he would always be there for her.

She is truly devastated, and it would make complete sense to break down. But instead she decides—so as not to act like a woman who has just been jilted—to go out on the town, in this case the eternally effervescent Barcelona. After all, she is fifty, has nothing left to lose, and there is a world of men out there she can distract herself with.

Her night on the town includes a series of strange encounters wavering between tragedy and comedy. There’s the Pakistani drug dealer, the West Indian Rasta with a shaved head, and the alter-globalist Israeli. Out of it two portraits emerge: that of a woman who wants to remain in control of her desires, and that of a town, which, come nighttime, turns into a vast playground for adults.

Once Upon (How Many) Times is a poignant and hilarious send-up of our innermost contradictions, a celebration of desire, and a reflection on relationships and those who enter them. Among the many ways of viewing life and life with another, is there a right way?

Hélène Couturier is the author of several previous novels and two children’s books. The novels include Fils de femme (Rivages Noir, 1996), Sarah (Rivages Ecrits Noir, 1997; Rivages Noir 1999), and L’homme à la peau foncée (Joëlle Losfeld, 2004).

 

Loves

Léonor de Récondo

(Sabine Wespieser, 276 pages, 2015)

 

***Sold 80,000 copies in France in hardcover and paperback in the Points Seuil collection, in large print with A Vue d’oeil, and as a book club edition with France Loisirs***

***Spent sixteen weeks on Livres Hebdo bestseller list**

***Received glowing reviews in all major newspapers***

***Film rights optioned***

*** Sold in Germany (Dorlemann), Italy (Rizzoli), and Spain (Minuscula)***

***Winner of the Grand Prix RTL-Lire 2015 and the Prix des Libraires 2015***

Amours is poised to follow the success of other historical fiction with a lesbian bent, such as Tipping the Velvet, and the popularity of revisiting classic novels of class and society, such as the retelling of Pride and Prejudice. While this novel is not a retelling, it has a similar feel of a stifled marriage and trapped young woman such as that at the center of Madame Bovary—here with the lesbian twist. It also has a bit of Downton Abbey in the secrets kept by important families of the aristocracy (or in this case the upper class of the local bourgeoisie) and in the secrets shared by ladies’ maids and their employers, plus a hint of women’s liberation in the burning of corsets and the advent of looser clothing for women at turn of the century.

Set in 1908 in a small provincial French town, Amours starts out as the portrait of a loveless bourgeois arranged marriage. Victoire likes her new last name, her social status, and her house full of servants, but doesn’t warm to her husband, the workaholic notary, Anselme. She does not enjoy the perfunctory sex, and, unsurprisingly, after five years of marriage, doesn’t become pregnant. Anselme, meanwhile, has been raping seventeen-year-old Celeste, the maid. When Celeste finds herself pregnant, she is told keep quiet and never reveal the father. Victoire figures out who it is, however, and confronts Anselme. They agree to keep the child and raise it as their own.

When the little boy is born, Victoire tries to care for him but soon feels nothing for the crying child, whom she starves of touch and affection. The baby stops eating. When Celeste realizes her baby is dying, she knows that only she can save it. At night she fetches the child from Victoire’s room, takes him back to her bed, and lies down with him against her skin, and in a short while the child begins to thrive again. The night Victoire realizes what Celeste is doing she goes to Celeste’s room and lies down naked against her, and soon physical touch alone is enough to revive Victoire, too, but in a sexual way. She discovers the beauty of the female body, and realizes that another person can find her beautiful, too. Erotic passion evolves between the two, innocent as they are to sex as an act of love. Ultimately Celeste, realizing that they are living an impossible love, and that society will not accept it, dies alone in the clearing in the forest where she used to go as a child with her brothers and sisters. She finds peace at last.

This is Léonor de Recondo’s second novel following her previous bestseller, Pietra Viva (Sabine Wespieser, 2013), about six months in the life of Michelangelo. She is also a professional baroque violinist.

 

No Fairy-Tale Endings

Oscar Lalo

(Editions Belfond, 224 pages, August 2016)

 

A language as exact as it is inventive.

—Le Monde des Livres

A stunning debut novel in which the author gathers his words majestically in order to express the unbearable . . .

This debut novel demonstrates the enduring need for a child to understand his abuse: What actually happened? And, most important, why did it happen?

When he was just eighteen months old, the narrator was sent, with his older brother, to spend the summer months in a camp called “Home.” His parents think that the money they are spending will buy him an outdoor life, full of sunlight, clean air, and good food. They believe that he will be well taken care of by the family—including young children—who run the camp. They have no idea that they are sending him into a hell of abuse that he has no way of understanding or even reporting. For years the same traumatic scenario is repeated.

The couple who run the camp have children, but their children never mix with these boys or any of the other campers. They are protected from the knowledge that their parents are abusing the children. The abuse by the mother is mental, the father’s is sexual.

As he grows, this child, who cannot be sure of what really happens, realizes he can never become truly adult until he revisits and dissects his time at the camp. He locates the camp mother who has survived her husband but is now old, sick, and dying in the hospital. In a deeply intimate discussion, the narrator learns that she, too, had been abused as a child.

Oscar Lalo spends his time writing: pleas in court, courses in law, songs, and screenplays. No Fairy-Tale Endings is his first novel.

 

The Real Lives of Pretty Girls

Capucine Motte

(JC Lattès, 250 pages, 2010)

Translation sample available

She was funny, vibrant, joyful, thin, an antelope; she was, therefore, fully equipped to meet the man she needed. Not one whom she would love, but one who would bring her everything that a young, poor girl longed for. In this world, money, real money—other people’s money, not the money one earned oneself—was a moral attribute. The only one that could be bought, with the smallest thing, a breath, a soul. Camille was ready to pay.

—The Real Lives of Pretty Girls

At twenty-four, Camille Corday, originally from Bordeaux, has just finished her studies at the École du Louvre, where she was sent by her mother in order to immerse herself in culture and, above all, meet a man. This decision turns out to have been a mistake: there are only women at the École, and Camille doesn’t have the money to fit herself into the stylish art world. Anyway, Camille knows that there is no career that will allow her to attain the luxurious and elegant life to which she aspires. She also has no silly romantic delusions about marrying for love. So when she meets and is seduced by Niels Phileas, a young Franco-American heir, Camille thinks she has found her chance.

She follows Niels to the United States, where she discovers the darker side of paradise: Niels’ split personality, the vapidity and lack of culture among the rich and beautiful circles he frequents, and, especially, his steely and difficult mother, an old French princess set on imprisoning him on the Phileas stud farm in middle-of-nowhere Kentucky. Camille stays attached to him nonetheless, feeling vague gratitude, pity, and affection for him. They’re preparing to wed when Camille starts to have strong feelings for someone else. But should she forfeit her successful life for mere true love?

The Real Lives of Pretty Girls is social satire, a contemporary Vanity Fair or Madame Bovary. It brings us into the heart of the upscale Parisian neighborhood of Saint-German-des-Près, but also to other milieus frequented by the rich and happy (or not): Miami, Palm Beach, New York City, the Hamptons, and Saint Barths—and, of course, Kentucky horse country. Capucine Motte has written a ferocious and lucid first novel: a moral fable about a society obsessed with money, beauty, sex, and soul-searching.

Capucine Motte has been a lawyer in New York and Paris. Her second novel, Apollinaria, le grand amour de Dostoïevski, was published by Éditions JC Lattès in 2013.

 

Sorry, I Have to Go

Agnès Martin-Lugand

(Éditions Michel Lafon, 378 pages, 2016)

 

***From the author of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee (over 30,000 copies sold to date) and Don’t Worry, Life Is Easy (coming out in May 2017)***

Yaël is a carefree, lazy but gifted young graduate who lives for the weekends so she can party with her friends. Bored doing an internship in a top translation and interpreting agency—she was brought up bilingually, as her mother is English—she is in no hurry to find a permanent job. She would much rather spend time with Marc and the other two couples (one of whom is her sister and future brother-in-law) who make up their close circle. Full of life, laughter, and sarcasm, Yaël couldn’t be happier. But when Marc suddenly disappears, everything changes.

Fast-forward ten years: Yaël has become a workaholic. Her internship turned into a permanent job, and she has worked her way up the ladder to become second in command to her boss, the pitiless Bertrand. There is even a hint of her making partner in the successful firm. She tirelessly organizes meetings, dinners, and business deals, serving as both broker and interpreter. Her strict routine allows no social or private life. While the other two couples are now married with children, Yaël has no time for a real relationship. She is at the beck and call of her boss, day and night, prepared to drop whatever she is doing and leave when he calls—and she thrives on it. Feared by her colleagues, arrogant and insensitive to her family and few remaining friends, she has turned into a cold, obsessive robot who is only interested in work and success.

Her recurrent migraines should tell her that something is wrong, but she ignores them and takes more and more painkillers. But one day, exhausted and her head throbbing, she makes a mistake during a business meeting that will once again change her life. Sent home for the rest of the day, she wanders the streets of Paris, completely at a loss and terrified she has ruined her chances at making partner. She wanders into a bric-a-brac shop and to her amazement finds herself standing face to face with Marc.

Their reunion after so many years is thrilling to her other friends but causes Yaël to build even more walls between herself and them. Because she is on the verge of collapse from overworking, her boss orders her to take three weeks’ vacation. Against her will, she agrees to join her sister and the others in their family home in the south of France—and Marc has been invited, as well. What follows is Yaël’s resistance to and eventual awareness of the person she has become. The love between Yaël and Marc is rekindled, but when her boss calls her back to Paris and tells her he is opening another office and she will be in charge, she must make a choice between Marc and a more balanced life, or her career. Or can she find a way to have both?

Agnès Martin-Lugand practiced as a clinical psychologist for six years before becoming a full-time writer. She has published four novels that have sold nearly one 1 million copies worldwide. Happy People Read and Drink Coffee is being made into a film by Weinstein Co.

 

The Man WE loved

Catherine Cusset

(Gallimard, 304 pages, 2016)

 

***Short-listed for the prestigious Prix Goncourt, long-listed for the Prix Renaudot, the Prix du Décembre, and the Prix Interallié, this novel has been recognized as a great literary success***

*** Also won the Liste Goncourt/Choix Roumain, Liste Goncourt/Choix Belge, Liste Goncourt/Choix Suisse***

He was her lover, then her friend, always a soul mate, the one she trusted to read her very first novel. He was a brilliant, disorganized intellectual, an expert on Proust, French cinema, music of all kinds (but oh, that Nina Simone . . .), so sensitive (and sensual) that among his many love affairs he counted Paris and New York. He was passionate, overwhelming—and overwhelmed by conventionality, life’s cruelty, a sense of forever being misunderstood, and a dark cloud of depression that he had to fight, and fight and fight—alone. Until one day he could fight no longer. Diagnosed as bipolar at the age of thirty-eight, it was too late. At thirty-nine, he took his own life.

Catherine Cusset’s beautifully and skillfully written account of her friend Thomas’ life and death begins with his suicide before taking us back in time to explore his mind and soul. The novel is both an homage to his memory and an attempt at resurrecting him. Delicately balancing Thomas’ story between biography and fiction, Cusset reconstructs him, filling in her lapses in factual knowledge with her intuition and intimate knowledge of him as her former lover and close friend. His love affairs, academic successes and failures, his relationship with his mother and sister and many friends are all set against the backdrop of his internal struggles. Like the author, readers are unaware until nearly the end that his struggle is due to a medical condition. His appetite for life is so intense that even his closest friends cannot believe he could ever be depressed.

In this novel, Cusset uses a fascinating literary technique: the novel is written in the tu form (the familiar form of “you” in French), which cleverly places the author in a unique space between the impersonal third person and the direct first person. Because of this, the book reads as both dialogue and internal monologue. It is only in the Epilogue that Cusset explains:

Now I can say nothing but “you.” “He” is too distant, as if I were talking about you to someone else. “He” kills you even more.

What is a portrait? Will the things I know nothing about make my depiction false? Will anyone be able to hear your laugh? Will anyone see, as I can see, the contour of your life, the line that veers off so greatly when you leave for the United States at the age of twenty-three and, like a sports car, speeds towards a wall where it will surely crash?

Cusset’s novel is a moving tribute to her lost friend. Perhaps she could not accept his death until she saw him reborn.

Catherine Cusset was born in Paris in 1963. A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure, she earned a Ph.D. in Paris and another at Yale, where she taught eighteenth-century French literature for twelve years. She is the author of twelve novels published by Gallimard between 1990 and 2016 and has been translated into sixteen languages. Her novel Le Problème avec Jane won the Grand Prix des lectrices, Elle Magazine, and Un Brillant Avenir won the Prix Goncourt des lycéens.

 

When the Trees Danced with the Sky

 

Jean-Michel Guenassia

(Albin Michel, 304 pages, 2016)

Translation sample available

Jean-Michel Guenassia’s novel is based on the last months of Van Gogh’s life while under treatment by Dr. Paul Gachet. The novel suggests that a secret affair between Van Gogh and Marguerite Gachet, the doctor’s daughter, was the real cause of his death, and that he did not commit suicide.

Told from the perspective of Marguerite and interspersed with newspaper articles and fragments of letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo and other artist friends, the novel offers insight into the powerless position of women at that time. As a nineteen-year-old young woman, Marguerite was completely under the control of her father, who is described in the novel as extremely severe.

Her mother has died and Marguerite has been promised in marriage to the son of a family friend since childhood. She and Georges Secretan are good friends, but Marguerite has unorthodox, “modern” ideas for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century. She wants to become a painter at a time when the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris did not accept women, and does not wish to marry Georges—or anyone, for that matter—until she meets and falls in love with Van Gogh. When her father discovers their affair, he beats her and locks her in her room, forbidden to speak to anyone. But Marguerite is defiant: She will remain a prisoner until she is twenty-one and then she will marry Vincent. An unusual turn of events sets her free, and in their last meeting together, Van Gogh is shot. He dies three days later.

Dr. Paul Gachet was a homeopathic physician who treated Van Gogh for “nervous problems” during his stay in Auvers-sur-Oise. Their relationship developed beyond merely patient and doctor; the two became friends. Gachet was an amateur painter and a collector of Impressionist art, which was considered too modern, even ugly, at the time. He accepted paintings from Van Gogh in lieu of payment for his medical services and even welcomed the artist into his home for discussions and meals with his family. In June of 1890, he allowed Marguerite to pose for Van Gogh. The two portraits—Marguerite Gachet at the Piano and Marguerite Gachet in the Garden—were painted when she was about nineteen years old.

In the notes at the end of the book, the author acknowledges Alyson Richman Berkley’s novel (The Last Van Gogh) in which she suggests that Van Gogh and Marguerite were having a secret affair. She believes that Van Gogh might have been fond of the girl, and perhaps she of him, but that the doctor kept them apart. However, there is no evidence to prove whether this was true.

There was also no conclusive proof that Van Gogh committed suicide, as the author explains:

“Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide has been contested since the beginning of the 20th century, but the thesis of suicide, of the ill-fated artist, the victim of society, was convenient for everyone. Today, this hypothesis seems unlikely; it is contested by many art historians, but no irrefutable proof exists of either suicide or an accident.”

The author even cites a portion of the forensic scientist’s report:

“. . . It would be extremely difficult to shoot oneself at that spot [the left side] with the left hand. The simplest way would be to place one’s fingers at the back of the grip and to use the thumb to pull the trigger. One could also hold the weapon with the right hand, to keep it steady . . . Holding the revolver with the right hand would be even more absurd. To do so, one would have to place the right arm across the chest and, once again, hold the barrel from behind and fire using the thumb, possibly using the left hand to keep the weapon steady.

“In all the possible scenarios, traces of burnt powder would have been found on the palm of the hand that held the gun, since the cartridges of firearms in 1890 still contained black powder . . . there would have been soot, powder marks and burnt skin around the point of entry. All those things would have been clearly visible . . . which proves that the gun was more than 12 inches away from its target, even as much as 24 inches.”

In this story where fact, fiction, and theory intertwine, the reader is drawn into the life of a young woman at the turn of the century—her struggles and defiance—as well as given insight into the life of one of the world’s greatest artists.

Jean-Michel Guenassia was born in Algeria and practiced law for six years before becoming a writer. He began by writing for television and the theater, publishing his first novel in 1982, Pour cent millions, for which he won the Prix Michel-Lebrun. His novel Le club des incorrigibles optimistes (2009) won him the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens. La Vie rêvée d’Ernesto G. was published in 2012. La Valse des arbres et du ciel is his fourth novel.

 

The Arnolfini Affair: Secrets of the Van Eyck Painting

Jean-Philippe Postel

Preface by Daniel Pennac

(Actes Sud,160 pages, 2016)

 

"An old painting must be deciphered like a manuscript: it has text, subtext, symbols, history.... The Arnolfinis present us with a puzzle whose answer we no longer possess."

Guillaume Emer, Charlie-Hebdo, 21 September 2016

"These pages, which I turned at top speed, showed me plainly that I had not seen what I had seen, that I had seen nothing of what there was to see! My excitement while reading Jean-Philippe Postel's book had less to do with his description of the Van Eyck picture (which I felt I knew well) than with the relentless dismantling of all the optical illusions that I had been calling my "memory" of the painting."

Daniel Pennac, from the Preface

"This is a short book, fast-paced, accessible to all and richly illustrated. The reader inhales it in a few hours and is left thrilled and illuminated."

Reader, Critiques Libres 

Jan Van Eyck's small but world-famous "Arnolfini Portrait" came into the possession of the National Gallery in London in 1843 after passing through many hands, among them those of Margaret of Austria, Mary of Hungary, Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte and possibly the Dukes of Wellington. The picture, done on an oak panel in layered oils (a technique Van Eyck pioneered), may be considered the Gallery's réplique to the Louvre's Mona Lisa. Its composition is usually dated 1434, for it bears a sibylline inscription in decorative gothic script: "Johannes de Eyck fuit hic 1434" (Jan van Eyck was here in 1434). The painting, almost the first to represent a man and a woman together in a non-religious context, specifically a bedchamber, was long presumed to portray a married couple, Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and Costanza Trenta - perhaps even their wedding picture.  

Mystery, however, has always surrounded the Arnolfini Portrait. As Jean-Philippe Postel himself puts it, "whoever has seen it even once remembers it. It instantly arouses admiration because of its construction and by a je-ne-sais-quoi of timelessness.... A great deal of ink has been spilt over it, yet it remains shrouded in mystery. Looking at it is like reading a mystery lacking the last chapter.... You figure it out, seem to say this man and this woman whom we have been calling the Arnolfinis for more than five hundred years."

Postel, who is not an art historian, presents a fully documented and highly original interpretation of Van Eyck's "double portrait," as witness his thorough notes and bibliography. He is fully aware of the many commentators who have preceded him, among them Erwin Panowski, Raymond Queneau, Margaret L. Koster, and Marco Paoli.  But, so far from being an academic gloss, his book, described as "an investigative novel" and based on what the author calls "careful clinical observation," sets out to look again – and in the minutest detail – at the mystery (or rather mysteries) cloaking this work. His approach resembles that of the late Daniel Arasse, who argued that we look at art but "don't see anything" (see his essay collection On n'y voit rien, published in 2000 and translated in 2014 as Take a Closer Look by Alyson Waters for Princeton University Press).

Over time, a vast array of solutions has been offered to the many conundrums embedded in the Arnolfini Portrait. Postel revisits them all, confirming or debunking them - and raising new issues. The reader is captured willy-nilly by the suspense of his gumshoeing.

Are these two really the Arnolfinis, or is the name simply a modification of "Hernoul-le-Fin," evoking the patron saint of cuckolds, Hernoul de Crépy? Is the woman pregnant, or holding her skirt up in a manner fashionable at the time? Why is the Brussels griffon in the foreground not reflected in the circular mirror in the center of the picture? What of the two figures standing by the door to the room who are to be seen in that mirror? What is the significance of the single candle burning in the chandelier in the full light of day? How can the date of 1434 be reconciled with the fact that Arnolfini married in 1426 and his wife Constanza died well before 1434? Why are various clues in the picture indices of death?

As with all good detective stories, Postel's has a surprise ending, but of course it should not be given away. Suffice it to say that the author's decision to quote the following sentence from Jean Paulhan was not a casual one: I have hardly any belief in ghosts and apparitions, but I realize that I am probably wrong about this.

Jean-Philippe Postel was born in Paris in 1951 and practiced as a physician from 1979 until his retirement in 2014. This is his first book.

 

My Life as a Zucchini

Gilles Paris

(Plon, 288 pages, 2016)

 

***Translated sample available***

**Adapted into a full-length animated film by Claude Barras***

***Winner of the Cristal and le Prix du Public at the Annecy Festival, the Valois de diamant at the Angoulême Festival, and the Prix du Public at the Melbourne International Film Festival; tipped for an Oscar and rated third best film at Cannes in all categories***

Did you say “Zucchini”? 

The name of a member of the gourd family as a nickname, that’s something you don’t hear every day! The very life of Icarus—aka Zucchini—has nothing ordinary about it: His father “left on a trip around the world with his chick” (a situation even more comical because the little boy took the “chick” literally); his mother only cares about the television set, which she watches all day long, is only interested in drinking beer, and only has energy to give her son “the worst beatings of his life” . . . The nine-year-old boy’s surroundings are definitely gloomy. And yet Zucchini does not complain and puts up with his situation by cursing the heavens, which he holds responsible . . . until the day when, under a pile of clothes, he finds a gun. Then his adventures begin . . .

Neglected and lonely, yet full of optimism and acceptance of the world as he knows it, Zucchini’s life changes dramatically after he accidentally kills his mother and meets Raymond, the detective in charge of his case. He is sent to an orphanage, where he finds adults who love and care for him, give him a home and an education. But more important, he finally finds true friendship with the other children—each with a tragic story—and love for little Camille. We get to know the other children: the cantankerous Simon, the shy Alice, and the two brothers who are mad about dictionary games. We meet, too, the adults who educate and care for the children.

Raymond—a widower with a son—continues visiting Zucchini and grows very fond of him and Camille. Visits to Raymond’s home, to the beach, to a circus all make life full and satisfying. Could something good actually come from such a tragic event? As Zucchini puts it:

Sometimes, you know, I dream I’m still with Mommy. I didn’t look through her dresser; I didn’t play with the gun. She still talks to the TV and I’m all alone . . . and I don’t know what to do when I’m home . . . One day I’m a big boy and I go to work at the factory and when I come home all I do is give beer to Mommy and we watch television late into the night and we don’t sleep in our beds any more, just on the sofas, and then, I’m happy to wake up and know that one day I looked through her dresser.

My Life as a Zucchini, written from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, is poignant, sad, often funny, uplifting, and inspiring—all at the same time. With an appeal to teenagers and adults, this book will stay with you long after you have read it.

Gilles Paris was born in 1959 and is a writer and journalist. He is the author of several other novels, including L’été des lucioles (Héloïse d’Ormesson, 2014) among others.

 

Merry Suicide and a Happy New Year!

Sophie de Villenoisy

(Editions Denoel, 141 pages, 2016)

 

***English sample translation available***

RIGHTS SOLD: RUSSIA (AST) ● CZECH REPUBLIC (Albatros Media/Motto) ● SLOVAKIA (Albatros Media/Motto) ● ROMANIA (Lider) ● KOREA (Sodam & Taeil)

Feature film rights sold to UGC

Totally washed out, Sylvie, a single and childless forty-five year old, is about to end it all. But a series of unexpected events thwart her plans. This is a merry comedy that will give you the desire to live to the fullest.

“What are you doing for Christmas?”

“I’ll commit suicide, how about you?”

Single, with a handful of friends, no parents, boyfriend, or children, Sylvie is convinced that her life is meaningless. Suicide seems to be the only option. She is monitored by a shrink called Franck who imposes all kinds of off-kilter challenges on her. But her mind is made up: She will commit suicide on December 25. However, an unexpected encounter with a homeless woman shakes her beliefs to the core.

In turn hilarious and moving, Merry Suicide and a Happy New Year! is a salutary read in today’s world: a celebration of life written with finesse and wit. A combination in tone between the films It’s a Wonderful Life and Bridget Jones’s Diary, de Villenoisy’s writing style seduces the reader from the very first lines, delivering an enjoyable mix of humor and tenderness, with plenty of surprises to boot.

Sophie de Villenoisy is a journalist, author and screenwriter. She has published many books. Merry Suicide and a Happy New Year! is her first novel. She lives in Paris with her two children and husband.

 

A Little Nothing

Camille Anseaume

(Editions Kero, 252 pages, 2014)

 

***Long-listed for the Prix Closerie des Lilas 2014***

***Rights sold in Dutch, German, and Korean***

The biggest commitment we’d ever made to each other was to say we’d be in touch at the weekend—and that was on a Tuesday. [ . . . ] It’s about more than sex, but a lot less than love. We’re stuck somewhere in the middle.

—From A Little Nothing

At twenty-five, Camille’s world falls apart when she finds out that she’s pregnant by the man with whom she shares her bed—but little else.

When her lover hears the news, he walks out and doesn’t come back. And so begin twelve weeks of hesitation—amid meetings with friends, shouting matches with her family, and doctor’s appointments. Camille draws up lists of pros and cons, despairs as she climbs the seven floors to her garret flat, and bursts into tears when one of her yogurts plunges to a sticky end on the floor. The clock is ticking, but she just can’t make up her mind: Should she keep the baby and bring it up on her own, or get rid of it, and try to pick up where she left off?

Camille Anseaume has written an endearing and poignantly accurate novel about the painful yet joyous transition from one way of life to another. At the end of the day, this tender, poetic, and amusing narrative says more about the birth of a mother than the birth of a baby.

Camille Anseaume is a journalist for women’s magazines. She also runs the blog Café des filles, voted Best Blog by ELLE magazine’s editorial team. She is also the author of a second novel called Ta facon d’etre au monde (Editions Kero, 2016).

 

 

My Kingdom for a Guitar

Kidi Bebey

(Éditions Michel Lafon, 320 pages, 2016)

 

Francis Bebey, the Cameroonian-born writer, guitarist, and composer, was one of the best-known singer-songwriters of Africa. My Kingdom for a Guitar is a novel based on his life, his exile from his home country, and his passion for music.

Francis is the youngest of a large family in Cameroon, a country governed by the French at the time of his birth, in the 1920s. His father is a minister, and the only way for Francis to escape from a predestined, unfulfilling future is to excel at school.

He is willing to work hard, following the example set by his older brother, Marcel—a doctor and the founder and editor of the local newspaper, L’Opinion. Marcel, however, fought in the Cameroonian Resistance, was imprisoned, and tortured to death.

Francis is sent to Paris on a scholarship. There he meets his wife-to-be, also a Cameroonian, and mother of his three children.

To make ends meet and support a growing family, Francis works for several radio stations and is later hired by UNESCO to research and document traditional African music. He and his wife plan to return to their native country in order to contribute to rebuilding a stillborn state after fifteen years of war for independence and internal struggles, but never settle back there. Francis spends his life in exile, but his music transcends borders.

The novel is narrated by their daughter, who was born in 1961 and grew up in the only African household in her Parisian neighborhood, speaking Douala at home and French in school. Kidi Bebey’s tribute to her late father and his family is a combination of recollections and fiction, where the reader witnesses the admiration of a daughter for her father and the love of a man for his music, all while questioning the space left for aspiration in life.

Kidi Bebey is a journalist and a writer. She is the author of several children’s books. My Kingdom for a Guitar is her first novel.

 

THE FLAME'S SHARE

Gaëlle Nohant

(Éditions Héloise d’Ormesson, 2016, 496 pages)

 ***25,000 copies sold in hardcover and 100,000 copies sold in paperback***

***Prix du Livre France Bleu/Page des Libraires 2015, Prix des Lecteurs sélection 2016***

***Translated sample available***

Downton Abbey in Paris.

Le Figaro Magazine 

I’m not just infatuated. I’m madly in love! Best historical novel of 2015! Sublime!

—Gérard Collard, La Griffe Noire 

Beautiful language, smooth and elegant, unusual destinies, and the fascinating exploration of a forgotten world. A dazzling fresco.

Marie France

In 1897, in Paris, there was a fire that was to France what the sinking of the Titanic was to British and American high society. The French Charity tragedy also decimated many members of the upper class in one catastrophe. In The Flames’ Share, Nohant gloriously blends fiction and reality in a modern style that is reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas.

Paris, May 1897. The Charity Bazaar is a major annual event in the social calendar of the French aristocracy. The cream of Parisian society not only attends, but also run the booths where objects are sold for the benefit of the poor. The site of the Bazaar is on Rue Jean-Goujon in a temporary wooden structure with a draped canvas ceiling. Presiding over the event is the Duchesse d’Alençon, little sister of Sissi, the Empress of Austria. This year, heedless of what others will think about her choices, she has taken two young women under her wing: Violaine, Countess of Raezal, and Constance d’Estingel, a delightful lady who just finished her education in a boarding school run by Dominicans who just turned down a wedding proposal from the handsome writer and journalist Laszlo de Nerac.

These women, all the women—and it is mostly women who are in the hall—look lovely in their light, airy apparel. The atmosphere is joyful. Then, on the fourth of May, the second day of a planned five-day event, the Bazaar hall catches on fire. Within minutes the entire building is reduced to ashes. Hundreds of aristocratic women die in the fire, trapped inside the hall. Nohant, however, follows lives of Duchesse d’Alençon, Constance, and Violaine to show how the fire seals their destiny and changes forever the refined but cruel upper crust of French society.

Gaëlle Nohant is the author of one other novel, L’ancre des rêves (Robert Laffont, 2007. Prix Encre Marine). She is also the author of a work of nonfiction about rugby, and a collection of short stories.

 

 

The Ayranisation Administrator

 

Alexandre Seurat

(Le Rouergue/Actes Sud, 182 pages, 2016)

 

The shadow of the Occupation looms large over certain families, even generations later. The faces are unseen, unconnected to names. Who, for example, was Raoul H.? The first time his great-grandson hears the name, he knows only half-truths and rumors and a hint of things left unsaid.

The narrator of The Ayranisation Administrator is determined to find out more about his great-grandfather Raoul H. and the mystery surrounding his son, the narrator’s grandfather. The narrator urgently wants to understand why his own brother was so obsessed with the Shoah, the Holocaust. Why did he commit suicide after speaking of getting his arm tattooed with the number that Primo Levi wore? What did his brother know that he does not?

The narrator interviews family members and does research in the national archives, gradually uncovering the uncomfortable truth that his great-grandfather was in charge of confiscating the businesses, homes, and possessions of Jews during the Occupation. He was said to be handling the sale of their property and returning the profit to the owners, but of course that never happened: Most of the Jews were deported or turned away, and never compensated. The narrator learns that while his great-grandfather worked at selling what was not his to sell, his son was allowed to come home from the officers’ prisoner-of-war camp in Germany and was given a comfortable position in a factory that made parts for German airplanes. A release from these camps was most unusual, almost unheard of, and such a job was beyond the dreams of most French people. Most likely Raoul was able to get his son home and be given a job by joining the effort to discriminate against Jews and becoming part of the administration. As the narrator works his way through the records, two names keep appearing, capturing his attention. Finally he uncovers the truth about how they were treated by Raoul and what that had to do with his life and his brother’s.

The narrator slowly and painfully learns more than he wants to know about the history of his family. The novel is documentary, based on actual archives, and written with a mixture of great suspense and intense gravity, leaving us with the same feeling of dread that the narrator feels as the truth is revealed. Even among those closest to Raoul, apology for him was more common than blame, leaving lingering questions about whether there ever was any remorse about the family’s behavior and resulting benefits from the ill-begotten wealth gained during the war.

Alexandre Seurat, a student of the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, is a professor of literature in Angers. His first novel, La Maladroite, gained considerable recognition (finalist for the Prix Fnac, short-listed for the Femina, winner of the Prix Envoyé par la Poste) and was translated into Italian, Dutch, and Slovenian.

 

The Big Game

Céline Minard

(Editions Payot et Rivages, 192 pages, 2016)

 

A woman decides to build a scientifically advanced dwelling in the mountains to isolate herself from humankind. Without explaining her choice to anyone, she tries to survive in the wild. Thanks to her training and tenacity, and through climbing, hunting, gardening, and playing music, she intends to find her true self.

Every day she takes notes and depicts what happens to her, including philosophical thoughts, such as deciding if being in distress is due to an outside event or a state of mind.

One day she discovers, to her chagrin, that someone else also occupies this mountain: a nun, who steals tools from her and destroys a camp she made. The narrator acts as if confronting a wild animal and works on earning the nun’s trust, with patience. Respect builds slowly and they end up working together to join two mountain peaks with a slackline. On another encounter they hallucinate over a very strong brandy while listening to the wind through bamboo stems.

By the end of the novel, the narrator has found peace, and, filled by the life that surrounds her, she is ready for winter to come. The author uses both descriptive scenes and philosophical reflections, from a neutral to an ironic tone, but the writing is always rich and lively.

The Big Game is Céline Minard’s tenth novel. She won three literary prizes for her last book, Faillir être flingué (Payot et Rivages, 2013), and is considered as one of the most original voices in French contemporary literature.

 

For a Long Time, I Was Scared of the Night

Yasmine Ghata

(Éditions Robert Laffont, 162 pages, 2016)

 

Suzanne assigns a class of high school students a creative writing project: Bring an object from home that has significance for you. She means it to be a simple project, but for one of the boys in her class, Arsène, a refugee orphan from the Rwandan genocide, it is painful beyond belief.

When Suzanne begins to explain the project, most of the kids in the writing workshop ask questions, raise their hands, or just listen. Arsène tries to tune out, to not hear the enthusiasm of his classmates. He knows the project has nothing to do with him; that, unlike the others, he has nothing he can bring. When he gets home, he lies down on the bed in the room his adoptive parents gave him and stares at the ceiling, into a void.

Finally, with every bit of courage he can manage, he gets up and slowly walks down the hall to the cupboard where a tattered suitcase has stayed hidden from his view for eight years. As his adoptive, loving, mother watches, Arsène grabs the handle and pulls the suitcase down. When it reaches the floor, he collapses in his mother’s arms, crying the tears he has not cried for all those years.

At school, Arsène tries to tell the story of his suitcase. Week after week he tries and fails. To tell the class about his suitcase, he would have to tell the story of his survival. He would have to tell how, as an eight-year-old boy, he did as his grandmother told him to do—he fled his home, his village, with nothing but the suitcase containing a few necessary items. At night he slept inside the suitcase—he was that small. Once the suitcase even saved his life: An enemy patrol spotted the suitcase by the roadside and a fighter came over to inspect it. He lifted the top, saw Arsène, but told his companions that it was empty and closed the lid again.

In fits and starts, Suzanne manages to coax the story of the suitcase, and Arsène’s past, onto paper. But as Arsène reopens his suitcase and the wounds of his past to the fresh air, Suzanne is forced back into her own hidden and painful family history. At last, inspired by Arsène’s courage, she returns to the apartment in which she grew up and where she lost so much. As she walks through the apartment, she starts to come to terms with her own pain, and realizes that she, too, must write about it.

A coming-of-age and coming-to-understanding novel that speaks to the many things, large and small, that we all hide.

Yasmine Ghata’s first novel, The Calligrapher’s Night (Fayard, 2004; Hesperus, 2007), was translated into thirteen languages including English, and received several awards, including the Prix Découverte of Prince Pierre of Monaco.

 

 

 

ILLITERATE

Cécile Ladjali

(Editions Actes Sud, 224 pages, 2016)

 

When Leo was quite young, his parents left him. His illiterate grandmother then took him in. When Leo started school, he was already behind the other children. Reading and writing never became part of his life.

Ironically, as an adult, Leo found work at a printing house. There the humiliation of feeling stupid intensified, but that feeling was nothing compared to that of keeping his modern-day handicap from others, of having to go through life alone in order to protect his secret. He lives in a modest but comfortable apartment with a next-door neighbor who is both beautiful and caring. His isolation might not be so painful, might not have to continue, if only he could tell her how much he cares for her. The lack of ability to read and write makes it difficult for him, like others with his problem, to express himself aloud.

Unfortunately for people like Leo, communication doesn’t come easy in a world that doesn’t understand him. His determination to become someone he doesn’t have to be ashamed of anymore blinds him from realizing how kind a person he is. Ultimately the consequences of not being able to read prove to be devastating.

Illetré is a poignant novel, a portrait of a man whose handicap defines his relationships, his life, and his own reflection. In this powerful novel, Cécile Ladjali takes the reader on a heart-wrenching journey from hope toward reality.

Cécile Ladjali was born in 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland. She teaches French in high schools and at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. She has published novels, essays, and plays.

 

 

The Two Sorrows of Claude Monet

Michel Bernard

(Editions de la Table Ronde, 2016, 224 pages)

 

***Selected for four literary prizes including the prestigious Prix Renaudot. Major exhibit of Frédéric Bazille’s work coming to the National Gallery in Washington from the 9th of April till the 9th of July 2017***

Claude Monet is celebrated as one of the greatest painters of all time, and he was a rich man when he died in his beloved Giverny. This is the man we know best, deeply honored, painting scenes from his gardens. In Michel Bernard’s rich and illuminating novel, The Two Sorrows of Claude Monet, we learn about a younger Monet who was a stylistic rebel, ridiculed by the establishment Paris art world as an Impressionist. He was the mythic artist in a garret, poor, unable to sell his paintings, often going without a meal and frequently in despair, even to the point of attempting suicide.

In the depths of his difficulties, in 1862, Monet met the young painter Frédéric Bazille. Bazille came from Montpellier, the son of a wealthy family. The men became friends, joining with artists Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. Bazille was very generous with Monet, often paying for food and drink, and supported him emotionally and financially by buying his paintings, including the later-famous Femmes au jardin. Monet painted his own Déjeuner sur l’herbe, inspired by Manet’s, including Bazille in the scene out of fondness and in recognition of and gratitude for his generosity. In 1866, Bazille lent him a green dress in which he posed his beloved model and lover, Camille. The painting, entitled Camille, but most often referred to as The Woman in the Green Dress, won the silver medal at the 1866 Salon and established Monet as a major artist.

They were his two greatest loves: Bazille, the supportive friend, and Camille, the lover-model who later became his wife. His greatest sorrows were that he lost them both. First, and early, he lost Bazille to war. Bazille’s father had bought a replacement soldier for his son, but Bazille enlisted in the army when the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870 and was killed within months. Though he died young, his body of work was large enough to be the subject of an exhibit in Paris hosted years later by Monet. Camille died nine years after Bazille, of tuberculosis—and poverty. A deeply grieving Monet vowed never again to be poor.With the support of one and the love of the other, Monet became the painter we know today. The Two Sorrows of Claude Monet shows how he and his work evolved because of and despite his sorrow from the loss of these two people. The story of this time of his life is made richer by being written against the fascinating backdrop of French history and history of art at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. It is filled, too, with little-known details of the painter’s life; for example, Monet abandoned his first water lily paintings in 1897 only to rediscover them in his basement twenty years later, when they would become his greatest source of inspiration, and arguably the greatest mark he left on the world of art.

Michel Bernard is a civil servant and the author of a number of books including Les forêts de Ravel (La Table Ronde, 2015, Prix du Festival Livres & Musiques de Deauville 2015).

 

 

On the Seventh Day

Luc Lang

(Éditions Stock, 538 pages, 2016)

 

SAMPLE TRANSLATION AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

One is gripped by the need to find out the truth. At the start of [On] the Seventh Day is that book that gets a hold on you and won’t let you go.                                 —Technikart

It may well be that Luc Lang has written his best novel yet.     —Vogue

Thomas is wakened by the call no one wants to receive: His wife, Camille, has had a car accident and is in the hospital in the town of Bolbec, Normandy. He leaves the children, Anton and Elsa, with their caregiver, and races to her side. Camille’s car, they tell him, veered off the road into a ditch on a narrow country road and she is in a coma. His mind cannot make sense of it. She was supposed to be returning home to Paris from a business meeting in Le Havre, and would not need to be in the area. She had no reason to be on that road. Unless she was meeting someone? A co-worker? Was there something about her life he did not know?

Thomas is a rising corporate star in a software company that creates programs to track employees’ productivity. But he takes so much time off to be by Camille’s side and conduct his own obsessive investigation into her accident that he finds himself demoted. When she dies, he and the children find refuge on the family’s goat farm in the Pyrenees, run by his gruff and solitary older brother, Jean. Jean and the farm become the glue that holds the little family together, and they return there often. Thomas barely knew their father, who died in a fall while climbing with Jean. He yearns to know more. But before he can, tragedy envelops the family once again when Jean dies in a fall in the mountains. Was his death a suicide or a freak accident? What is happening—has happened—to his family?

The one person left who may be able to help him make sense of it all is his estranged older sister, Pauline. She works as a doctor in a remote part of Cameroon surrounded by squalor and violence. It is there that Thomas discovers the truth about his family’s dark past, and finds hope for the future.

Luc Lang is the author of a dozen books, articles, and essays on contemporary art and literature, including the novels Mille six cents ventres (Fayard, 1998; Prix Goncourt des Lycéens; published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2000 as Strange Ways) and the short story collection Cruels, 13 (Stock, 2008; University of Nebraska Press, 2015 as Cruel Tales From the 13th Floor).

 

Destiny’s Repairman


Cyrille Fleischman
(Fayard, 146 pages, 2010)

***Recipient of a 2016 French Voices Award of $6,000 towards translation and publication***

Entire work available in English sample translation

After the Second World War, when the Germans were gone, the Jews remaining in Paris had lives to live. In Destiny’s Repairman, first published in the year of the author’s death, Cyrille Fleischman re-creates the postwar Yiddish community in the Marais. This collection of thirteen stories is a window into Yiddishkeit, the culture of the Ashkenazi Jews, as it was stitched into the fabric of midcentury Paris.

The Jews who lived in Paris after the war were rooted in the Marais, in a small quartier around Place St. Paul known to them as the Pletzl since, in Yiddish, pletzl means “little place.” Ashkenazi Jews had started arriving there in the late 1800s, and by the beginning of the First World War, almost twenty-five thousand Jews, originally from Central Europe, were living in the area. More than half of them were killed in the Nazi concentration camps.

In these thirteen stories, Fleischman tells of those who lived in the Marais after the war. His characters are clerks, plumbers, storekeepers, matchmakers, philosophers. They are cautious conservatives or Communists, longtime French citizens or newly arrived immigrants, realists or idealists. They seem curiously unburdened by “the difficult years,” to use one character’s phrase. In fact, we see only rare and oblique references to the devastation of the Jewish community of Paris during the Occupation. The characters are instead resolutely focused on life with its more manageable daily challenges and conflicts. As they face everyday events, themes of the fragility of identity and perils of existence emerge. Their culture was particular to them, but it was influenced by the city in which they lived and a part of the Parisian identity.

A descendant of Ashkenazi Jews, Cyrille Fleischman was born in Paris in 1941 and, aside from the war years, when his family fled Paris and hid in a village between Vichy and Lyon, he lived in the Marais. Fleischman wrote thirteen collections of short stories, all of which take place in the Marais in the 1950s. His other collections include Rendez-vous au métro Saint-Paul and Nouveaux rendez-vous au métro Saint-Paul, which received the Prix de l’Académie Française in 1995. Some of his stories have appeared in English translation, notably in an anthology titled Paris Metro Tales (Oxford University Press, 2011), and in World Literature Today, Yale French Studies, and Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies. In a book review of Réparateur de destin published in The Forward, American author and translator Benjamin Ivry notes that Fleischman’s work is “long overdue for translation.”

 

 

The Petits Rats of the Paris Opera

Astrid Éliard

(MERCURE DE FRANCE, 181 PAGES, 2016)

***Prix littéraire de la Ville d’Arcachon 2016***

***Sample translation available***

Astrid Éliard’s The Petits Rats of the Paris Opera takes us into the world of three teenage petits rats (“little rats”) of the famed Paris Opera Ballet: aspiring young ballet dancers who sacrifice normal teenage lives in order to train intensively every day at the most prestigious ballet school in France—and one of the most prestigious in the world.

Delphine was the star of her ballet school in Montpellier and was thrilled when she was accepted into the École of the Paris Opera, but is disappointed to find, upon arrival, that her classes are filled with tedious, repetitive exercises that don’t feel to her like real dancing. Stéphane, who is immensely talented, was a troublesome and distracted child until he saw a video of étoile (principal) dancer Nicolas Le Riche soaring two meters in the air and fell in love with ballet. His teachers at the École delight in his ability to grasp choreography immediately and jump with explosive power. And Chine, who has a face like a porcelain doll and prefers to keep to herself, is happy to leave her immature, neglectful mother behind to board at the École and devote herself to the love of her life—ballet.

Over the course of a year, the three form relationships with each other and the other dancers at the school. They find themselves battling homesickness, losing touch with their friends from home—who seem to be, all of a sudden, leading very different lives—and growing more and more nervous about their ability to make it in the extremely competitive world of professional ballet. Chine and Delphine strike up an unlikely friendship, and all three fall head over heels for the wrong person. But when a serious accident befalls one of them, they’re reminded of just how fragile their bodies are. The Petits Rats of the Paris Opera is a touching, funny story of adolescence and of the high-pressure world of classical dance.

Astrid Éliard is a journalist, a literary critic for Le Figaro, and the author of two previous novels, Déjà l’automne and Sacrée Marie!.

 

The Fiancée on The Donkey’s Back

Vénus Khoury-Ghata

(Mercure de France, 170 pages, 2016)

 

Vénus Khoury-Ghata, a Franco-Lebanese author, follows Yudah , a young woman from a Jewish nomadic tribe, through the Sahara desert in the early 1800s. The trip echoes the footsteps of the dissolved army of the Emir Abelkhader, who directed the first Algerian resistance in the nineteenth century; the novel rewrites a little-known and deeply fascinating page of French colonial history.

 The Jewish tribe Qurayza, a nomadic people of the Sahara desert, searches for subsistence and protection from those who kill Jews without any reason. In 1835, eight thousand of them had been killed in Mascara. In order to avoid new tragedies, to save the tribe, the chief of the Qurayzas, the Rabbi Haïm, has made the decision to unite with the powerful Emir Abdelkader by presenting him with one of the most beautiful girls of his community.

 The chosen one is Yudah, whom the Rabbi accompanies himself from their desert home to the town where the Emir has settled his harem while he is off at war. The wandering and waiting is long and confusing for Yudah, who waits in vain for the return of her unknown fiancé. At the front, the Emir has been captured by the French, and deported to France. His harem , including Yudah and others, will soon follow him, transported through worlds they never knew existed.

 They find the detained Emir in Pau and camp in the streets. The French administration, disturbed by the followers, deports them to the Isle of Sainte-Marguerite, in the South of France. Yudah is one of the few surviving deportees—they have been decimated by cold, hunger, neglect, and illness. She survives the deportation and makes her way back to Pau, and then to Amboise, where her royal fiancé, under house arrest, ponders his defeat.

 As Yudah begins to understand what has happened to her, her people, and her hopes, she makes her way to Paris. There she dies on the barricades of 1848.

 Vénus Khoury-Ghata is a French-Lebanese poet and writer. She has lived in Paris since 1972, and has published several novels and collections of poems. Three of her collections have been translated and published in the U.S. by Graywolf Press.

 

Call Me Lorca Horowitz

Anne Plantagenet

(Éditions Stock, 216 pages, 2016)

 

Why did this minor news story that I chanced across in a magazine grab my attention? Was it because of this strange secretary’s name and personality? The way she took another woman’s place? Or because this all happened in Andalucia where I lived and loved and even had a child? Besides my son, I have nothing from that period of my life. The woman I was then is incomprehensible to me now and that’s mind-blowing. I didn’t know but I had to investigate. That’s why I set off in search of Lorca Horowitz.”                                                                                                       —Anne Plantagenet

Rocío Perales and her husband, owners of a trendy and immensely successful architectural firm in Carmona in southern Spain, hired the dumpy Lorca Horowitz. It was a terrible mistake, but how could they have guessed that this awkward, overweight secretary would ruin their charmed lives in such a strange way?

First Lorca siphoned money from the firm. Then she used her ill-gotten wealth to transform herself into the mirror image of Rocío Perales, the boss, the woman she both hated and admired. Increasingly, everywhere that Rocío goes, she finds Lorca. Lorca turns up at her gym, and her thinning body becomes honed to perfection. She appears at Rocío’s hairdresser to have her hair styled as Rocío does; and there she is at Rocío’s favorite restaurant. Rocio also notices that Lorca has begun to wear clothes by the same designers she wears . . . it’s all impossible, and still, it is happening. Or is it? Is Rocío being paranoid? Gradually she slides into depression. She goes from being a self-assured, stunning woman and admired professional with an adoring husband to a doubting and destroyed, insecure being. Where has the real Rocío gone? Who is the new Lorca?

Call Me Lorca Horowitz, a suspenseful novel based on a true story, reads like a psychological thriller and a full-out investigation. The strange-yet-true story is told in the alternating voices of Lorca Horowitz and the author, who explains her obsession with this odd woman by examining her own past. It is a creepy, crazy, and deeply satisfying read.

Anne Plantagenet’s novels include Trois jours à Oran, published by Stock in 2014; she has also written biographies (Marilyn Monroe, Folio biographies, 2007; Manolete, le calife foudroyé, Au Diable Vauvert, 2010), and short stories (“Pour des siècles des siècles,” Stock, 2008). She is also a prolific translator of novels from Spain and South America.
 

As the Night Comes When the Day Is Gone

Libar M. Fofana

(Gallimard/Continents Noirs, 428 pages, 2016)
 

“The seventh novel of Libar M. Fofana, Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s’en va, tells us of a world in which brutality is the rule and happiness the exception. The author, born in Conakry in 1959, interlaces several genres together with humor: a chronicle of everyday degradation in Guinea, a diary of impossible love, a criminal investigation, a judiciary report, and log-books offailed immigration to Marseille.” –Le Courrier Suisse

Praise for L’étrange rêve d’une femme inachevée

“The Guinean has established himself as one of the most sensitive novelists of this generation of young African writers. And one of the most audacious, too, who dares to venture to the frontiers of unsaid feelings, drawing inspiration from the testing of boundaries.” –RFI

“Through the gusto of his storytelling and his talent at bringing the characters’ reasonable, and especially unreasonable, wishes to life, Libar Fofana invites us to see the full range of a reality that we readily turn away from, even when it is our primary concern. His novel is a lesson in humanity, worthy of reflection.” –L’humanité

Malick shook his head with consternation.

“How do you know that you could never live in Guinea again, seeing as you’ve never gone back?”

“I’ve seen many that tried to settle down there again come back here.”

“I don’t understand anymore, my uncle. Yesterday, you missed your country and its griots. Today, you’re saying that you couldn’t live there anymore.”

Voilà, that’s the source of my unhappiness.”

Conakry, Guinea, is a difficult place to survive for the characters of As the Night Comes When the Day Is Gone. Here, a woman dies in childbirth, leaving her nine-year-old son Bouya to care for the newborn infant with no way of supporting his sister and himself except by begging.  Khady, a seventeen-year-old girl, is sold into marriage to an old man with rotten teeth in order to pay off her family’s debt. And Malick, a twenty-three-year-old man, dreams of the wealth and opportunities he is sure await him in France—if he could only somehow obtain a plane ticket to get there. The plane ticket is promised by Khady’s new husband if Malick will impregnate her, thus providing the husband with an heir. An agreement is made, but the consequences of the decision are, of course, disastrous.

Some of the sprawling cast of characters in As the Night Comes When the Day Is Gone are lovable and some are a little less so, but all have lives blighted by extreme poverty, HIV, one-sided love, or casual cruelty. We follow them as their paths intersect and the story eventually leads us to Marseille, a city full of African immigrants weighed down with enormous burdens. They’re undocumented, and therefore unable to find real work or medical care; they’re homesick, but they’re unable to return home.

Libar Fofana’s epic draws on his own experience, intermingling the daily tragedy and brutality of the immigrant experience with humor, love, and friendship. He was born in Conakry in 1959, fled at the age of seventeen after his father’s arrest, and has lived in France since 1984. As the Night Comes When the Day Is Gone—a title borrowed from the last line of Hugo’s Les Misérables—is a touching, gripping, and funny glimpse into the misery that so many immigrants face every day.

Libar Fofana is the author of seven novels, including L’étrange rêve d’une femme inachavée (Gallimard, 2012), for which he was awarded the Prix Ouest-France/Étonnants Voyageurs.
 

The Green Citroën

Manu Causse

(Éditions Denoël, 256 pages, 2016)
 

***Already sold in Germany (at auction), and Italy, and offers in The Netherlands***

A combination road trip, thriller, and fairy tale in which a father and his autistic son go on the run in a beat-up green Citroën. A heart-warming, soul-striking journey of initiation that reveals the secrets and fault lines that all families have.

After Isaac was born, even before his autism was fully understood, his parents argued about how to care for him. The stress overwhelmed them; they soon separated and placed Isaac in an institution. His mother continued to be constantly critical of her ex-husband and regularly tried to bring legal claims against him. Isaac’s father, Éric Dubon, was a cartoonist who often was not employed and had emotional struggles of his own. Éric meant well by his son, but nothing he did could bring the boy out of his cocoon. And then one day he inherits an old green Citroen 2CV from his uncle . . .

Éric acts quickly and unexpectedly. He gets behind the wheel of his little green car, takes his son without permission, and runs away with him. As the two fugitives embark on their strange journey, old memories and ghosts from the past haunt Éric. What happened in his past to cause him to leave everything but take with him an autistic boy who seems incapable of changing his rigid behavior? And how does Éric see the future? With the help of a moody teenage girl, tracked down by a mushroom-loving cop, and accompanied by an arrogant and noisy kitten, the father and son duo embark on a bewitching rite of passage. In The Green Citroën, Manu Causse tells a witty and unusual tale in which he explores father-son relationships, autism, and family secrets.

Manu Causse worked as a cultural organizer and a teacher before dedicating himself to writing and translating. He is the author of several novels, including Romeo@Juliette (Talents Hauts, 2006), and a YA novel, Le pire concert de l’histoire du rock (Éditions Thierry Magnier, 2014).
 

The Night Crier

Nelly Alard

(Gallimard, 144 pages, 2011)
 

***Translation of entire text by Grace McQuillen***

***Winner of the French Voices Translation Grant 2016***

Praise for Couple Mechanics

Nelly Alard delves into the core of infidelity with wry observation and subtlety. Riveting, beautifully detailed and totally addictive. You won’t be able to put this down. —Tatiana de Rosnay, New York Times best-selling author of Sarah’s Key

Vive la France. Nelly Alard is at the top of her game in this page-turner with her direct, fluid prose and her exploration of a modern couple in crisis. —Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat

How does a daughter come to terms with her father after his death, when, although he raised her, he constantly degraded her with abusive words? Alard makes a brave and insightful attempt at understanding in this lyrical, dark, and even humorous novel, which is addressed to her dead father.

After the death of her tyrannical father, Sophie returns home to Brittany to help her mother and siblings prepare for his funeral. During that week of planning, and even at the funeral, she relives her tormented childhood—but she also narrates the ongoing preparations for the funeral, which, like so many family events, does not go smoothly and often even approaches hilarity. As the days go by and the funeral preparations proceed, she comes to understand the meaning of the death of this man who so influenced her life . . . and slowly regains her taste for living.

Alard notes that she writes “without putting gloves on,” saying the things that are true but one is not supposed to speak. Certainly the narrator is not supposed to say that she is relieved her father is dead, but she does. And people from Brittany are not supposed to say that they hated growing up there because it rained all the time, but she does. And most certainly, children shouldn’t draw a blank trying to think of kind things to say about their late father, but that is what happens to Sophie and her family. A wife caring for her husband through thirty years of Parkinson’s disease is not supposed to admit that she sometimes felt like leaving him on the floor, or she let him wander the yard holding a dangerous power tool, but that is part of the truth of this straightforward novel.

The geographical, sociological, and historical context of Brittany, as one interviewer at Le Télégramme put it, is another character in the novel. Alard grounds the family’s story in a very specific place and time as a way to approach the familiar theme of family relationships in an original way. The family’s history, the Breton traditions and separatist movement, the gravelly language Sophie hears throughout her childhood but never fully understands, the rivalry between Bretons from the north and those from the south; all these things make up the world that shapes and holds the story. Of particular importance are the mystical beliefs surrounding death in Breton culture, illustrated by numerous excerpts written by Anatole Le Braz in the late nineteenth century, which are scattered through the text and form a macabre chorus to this story.

Nelly Alard is the author of one other novel, Moment d’un couple (Gallimard, 2013; Couple Mechanics, The Other Press, 2016). She is also an actress and screenwriter. Le crieur de nuit is her first novel.
 

Dispersez-vous, ralliez-vous!

Philippe Djian

(Gallimard, 208 pages, 2016)
 

One immediately recognizes what makes [Djian’s] charm: The improbable stories that he alone is capable of inventing. . . . With Djian all is not said, or said in order, it’s up to the reader to make assumptions. But that’s how the novel works, the kind that gives you as much to read as to imagine.—Les Inrockuptibles

There is nothing more touching than watching this young woman evolve. —Libération

The metamorphosis of a young woman from feral outsider to trophy wife, to estranged and drug-addicted young mother, to a strong resilient woman. A life in fits and starts with, as often with Djian a twist on the femme fatale of old.

Myriam is a fiercely reclusive and troubled eighteen-year-old living alone with her abusive father. Alone, because her mother left when Myriam was too young to remember. Alone because her brother Nathan was thrown out of the house, after he had slept with their sixty-something-year-old neighbor. After the neighbor and her husband commit suicide, their son Yann lures Myriam into a banal carnal relationship that evolves by default into a domestic one.

Yann, a film producer who is twenty-five years older than Myriam, becomes very protective of her but encourages her to open up to the world. Myriam dips her toes in the water of Yann’s and his dynamic sister’s intense social life, but remains passive and submissive. She spends hours on the balcony, and when she does leave the apartment, seldom ventures farther than the zoo across the street. She seems as trapped as the animals behind the bars in the zoo. Myriam soon becomes pregnant, but becoming a mother doesn’t arouse her emotionally. Nor is she awakened by the return of her troublesome drug-dealing brother or the reentry into her life of her mother, now dying of cancer. Drugs become Myriam’s solace for the emptiness inside her. And, as the drugs take over more and more of her, she almost loses the little she has left: a daughter who abuses her, a husband who cheats on her, a mother and brother who only come back into her life to use her.

Djian takes us through fifteen years of Myriam’s life as she moves from recluse to recovery, from solitude to compassion and love of others, particularly her daughter. We take hope as we find she is a woman more resilient and sensitive than ever suspected, who is capable of taking control of her life.

One elegant particularity of the novel and tour de force by Djian is how he renders the plot in ellipses that allow readers to fill in the gaps, their imagination set adrift in a sea of suspense.

Philippe Djian is a popular and prolific French author. He won the 2012 Prix Interallié for the novel Oh… (Gallimard). His novel Betty Blue was published by Grove/Atlantic in 1998, and both Unforgivable and Consequences by Simon & Schuster in 2013.

The Children of Toumaï

Thomas Dietrich

(Albin Michel, 277 pages, 2016)

How would Shakespeare write a tale of star-crossed lovers today? A Muslim woman and a Catholic man by birth, both born in Chad, meet in Cairo—a meeting that they seemed to have been made for. Their love takes them to Paris, but the real back­drop is one of social and political realities, of religious radical­ism, arranged marriage, and ancient traditions, and finally, the modern horror of illegal immigration.

Sakineh is Muslim from a high-ranking family in Chad. Since her childhood, she has learned to ignore or suppress her feelings, but she waits with increasing anxiety to hear of the husband her father will choose for her. And then one day, the heavens speak—there is a violent storm and Sakineh’s father dies in a lightning strike. With no one to arrange the marriage, Sakineh is sent to Cairo to help her pregnant sister. Her life there, however, is even worse than it was before; she has no freedom and is treated like a slave by her new family. She can see no way out.

Emmanuel was also born in Chad; his path to Cairo was totally different from Sakineh’s but was also full of danger and despair. He was a student from a poor background, Christian, and raised by a single mother. As a young man he joined the communist party and became known—too well known—for his anti-government propaganda. When it becomes necessary for him to flee Chad, he goes to Cairo.

When Sakineh and Emmanuel meet in a strange and unfriendly city, they realize that they are indeed meant for each other; it is as if they had only lived for that moment, and that only together can they escape their many problems. Like Romeo and Juliet, they defy authority and hostility, overcome their differences, and risk their lives to reach the European continent. In Paris they lead the miserable lives of so many illegal immigrants, but their love is sealed with a child. With the power of love, they are able to achieve many seemingly impossible goals, but will they succeed in at last gaining real freedom from their past and present?

Thomas Dietrich is twenty-five years old. He graduated from Sciences Po Paris, and in 2014 was awarded the Prize Folire for his first novel (also published by Albin Michel). He lived and worked in several African countries and writes of the Africa he has known, different from that usually reported on, away from the cities. The Children of Toumai is his second novel.

Hold Back the Night

Denis Tillinac

(Éditions Plon, 169 pages, 2015)

Provincial life is boring, predictable, stifling, and follows a set of totally conventional rules in the Loire Valley towns of Chaumont and Blois. Hold Back the Night paints unconventional portraits, in two letters, of two of the area’s inhabitants: François and Hélène. Both are over sixty, both feel that the best of life is past, and both are married—to other people.

After beginning a passionate and moving affair with François, Hélène decides that what they are doing is so destructive of all she has known that they should not see each other anymore. In the first part of the book, François is so distressed by her rejection that he writes her a long letter, describing his life before meeting her. He has everything he always believed would make him happy in life: a wife he loves and, along with everyone else, finds “perfect”; grown-up children he cares about; and a profession he enjoys and is respected for. Yet he is miserable, and cannot stand being apart from Hélène.

In the second part of the book, Hélène’s letter to François reveals her own past as well, and her pattern of pretending in order to conform to what is expected of her by family, friends, and community. The working-class man she married has one goal in life: to climb the social ladder and be accepted as someone of greater stature, someone to be respected. He achieves his goal, but at the expense of his relationship with his wife, who realizes her husband doesn’t really know her. Her love for François makes her clearly see that she has been sleepwalking for most of her life. François has awakened her and she is prepared to leave her husband for him, but is François willing to leave his wife?

Hold Back the Night explores the problems and frustrations of love in later life. Tillinac explores with clear sight and tenderness the social pressures of family, friends, children, and aging parents, and the complications that occur when love comes with so much history—complications that are not present in younger love. But he exposes, too, the depth of a relationship that maturity makes more meaningful.

Denis Tillinac is the author of numerous prize-winning books, including Je nous revois (Gallimard, 2006), Dictionnaire amoureux de la France (Plon, 2011), and La Nuit étoilée (Plon, 2013).


Kannjawou

Lyonel Trouillot

(Éditions Actes Sud, 192 pages, 2016)

Five young Haitians are growing up on the same street in one of the poorest quarters of Port-au-Prince. They are all dreamers, trying to make sense of their lives in a city, in a country, devastated by poverty and hampered by decades of occupation and mismanagement.

Wodné, Sophonie, Joëlle, Popol, and the narrator dream of a bright future in the miserable district that is bordered by a seemingly endless cemetery. They and their country experience social exclusion from the international community and damage caused by years of military and “humanitarian” occupation. In this burdensome situation, they find solace in plotting improbable revolutions, in the teachings of Jacques the professor and his vast library, or in Man Jeanne’s historical injunctions. Man Jeanne is the oldest inhabitant on the street, and represents the collective memory of the neighborhood.

The unnamed narrator, Popol’s brother, is the youngest of the group and dreams of being a writer. Words become his passport off the street. Year by year, friend by friend, he fills diaries with their lives: Wodné becomes so radical that his resentment turns to hatred; Popol becomes increasingly resigned to a hopeless life; Sophonie gives up her studies to let her sister, Joëlle, a chance to pursue hers . . . but Joëlle is in thrall to Wodné despite his anger and jealousy.

Kannjawou, which in Haitian evokes a big party, is a bar on the far end of the street where the almost-adult friends live. The rich and the representatives of the occupation forces go there to party. Anselme, a sick old man, father of Sophonie and Joëlle, dreams of such a party before he dies, but it is a party he will never attend.

By placing his latest novel against the backdrop of current events, Trouillot portrays, with an enraged and powerful poetic voice, a portion of humanity beset by illusions and filled with repudiation of its situation. He speaks for a people and their culture that keep being denied by the pragmatism of international strategies. His voice sings, and cries, and shouts the need for change.

Lyonel Trouillot is a novelist and poet who writes in French and Haitian Creole, a journalist, and a professor of French and Creole literature in Port-au-Prince, where he lives. Two of his novels have been translated into English by University of Nebraska Press.

 

Pour la peau

Emmanuelle Richard

(Éditions de l’Olivier, 2016, 222 pages)
 

***Winner of the 2016 Prix Anaïs Nin, which provides up to 10,000 of translation funding***

Out of under her desire, ours takes shape, the desire of a reader to bathe in this clear language, devoid of any artifice, and of an only too rare freshness. —Libération

Original […] courageous, masterful writing, with the author’s voice intensely present from start to finish. —Le Monde des livres

Dry, savage, lapidary, half way between the Annie Ernaux of Une passion simple and the later Duras. —Livres Hebdo

A beautiful read. This love story is to be devoured. It’s beautiful, intense, and sad. —Femina

Pour la peau is the autobiographical story of the passion of “Emma” for “E,” a man whose thoughts are never revealed. After their breakup, Emma puts their brief love into writing, to better preserve it, while also exorcising it by rendering it in fictional form. In mostly chronological order, Emma focuses on the man she loves, painting in careful strokes and minute detail a portrait of the man, and of the evolution of her feelings for him, from an initial repulsion, to a gradual appreciation, to the sudden moments when she falls in love.

Love, as the author relates in an interview, is at the same time a destruction and a construction of the individual. In Pour la peau, the narrator discovers she can love someone more than she ever thought possible despite his not fitting any of her preconceived ideas of a loved one; a flawed man, and much older than her. The love is destructive because she accepts things that are outside the limits of behavior she has always deemed important, all to melt into the other, to give up the self entirely, to think only of the well-being of the other. Indeed, E’s appearance first repulses her. His elbows are covered in scabs, which he picks. The lines on his face say he is a man who has self-destructed, fallen. He drinks too much, smokes too much, does drugs, and is also addicted to the woman who left him, though she will be the end of him. But E and Emma’s love has constructive elements, too: He is tender in a way she has never experienced, he is educated and traveled—he speaks of David Foster Wallace, and he lived in London for fifteen years—and he has a collection of music that adds, gradually, to what she sees in him. Their deepest love lasts only four weeks out of an endless summer; the rest is an unraveling. Emma describes in sensual and erotic prose how their bodies met, from the first time to the last, with every detail she can recall of how they made love, where, and when.

As one reviewer put it, the novel “helps us to overcome.” Pour la peau is the beautiful, seamless rendering of one woman’s survival, through writing, of a love gone.

Emmanuelle Richard is the author of one other critically acclaimed novel, La légèreté, published by Éditions de l’Olivier in 2014.

At the Men’s Table

Sylvie Germain

(Albin Michel, 272 pages, 2016)
 

**Selected for the Prix Cazes Brasserie Lipp 2016**

“There are no other books like the ones that Sylvie Germain has been writing for thirty years, and that marvelous originality culminates in her new novel.” –Le Figaro

“A bewitching tale, destabilizing, that paints a world dominated by the predatory fury of man.” –L’Obs

“Rarely are novels simultaneously so somber and so radiant.” –Madame Figaro

 “At the boundary between fabulist tale and ultrarealist novel, [Germain] fashions a sensorial language, mixing politics, naturalism, the imaginary, and mysticism. The reader is seduced, moved, struck, dazzled. A sublime fable, uniting nature and culture in the oneness of the living world.” –Marianne

The sky is shattered by explosion after explosion, fierce divisions are drawn between neighbors, and an abandoned piglet metamorphoses into a human boy. Sylvie Germain’s mythical, eerie At the Men’s Table brings us into a world destroyed by civil war.

Babel, a blond boy whose bright eyes waver between light milky blue and the dark blue of the sea, has no memory of his childhood and no understanding of the human world. He is discovered by a group of women bringing their laundry to the wash house to do by hand, since the violence of war has destroyed their electricity. They feed him, wash him, and name him Babel because the only sounds he is able to make are babbling imitations of their own words. Babel is tormented by the other children in the community and ignored by the elders, who are too weary from the constant warfare to take much interest in his welfare. What no one knows—including Babel himself—is that he was born a piglet, orphaned by a bomb that roasted his mother and siblings to death and kept alive only by the breast milk of the one other survivor, a woman whose infant son had also been killed. During a tussle with a wounded boy, the pig unconsciously and unintentionally came to inhabit the boy’s body.

Over the years, Babel learns to speak, read, and write, and finds a loving adoptive family: Clovis, the political and pugnacious satirical blogger; Rufus, Clovis’s quiet brother who teaches Babel to read; Yelnat, the melancholy magician-clown who travels in order to forget his memories of the war; and Zonka, Clovis’s beautiful and vivacious daughter, Babel’s first lover, and the one to rename him with the more dignified Abel. And then there’s Doudi, the crow who has been Abel’s constant companion since his porcine days. Abel finds solace in working first at a zoo and then as a gardener, surrounding himself with the animals and plants with which he feels an unusually strong kinship. Little by little, he integrates himself into the human world, struggling to understand conceptions of nature, religion, philosophy, and politics as seen by humans, until a tragedy—caused once again by human vindictiveness and cruelty—befalls him and his family, and Abel realizes that the human world is more savage than the animal one.

In language both lyrical and sparse, Sylvie Germain explores the relationship between humans, animals, and gods, plays with ideas of savagery and civilization, and questions the political responsibility of artists. At the Men’s Table is a powerfully relevant parable, a fable as thought-provoking and absorbing as it is heartbreaking.

Sylvie Germain’s literary career spans thirty years, during which she has been awarded the Prix Femina (1989), Grand Prix Jean Giono (1998), Prix Goncourt des lycéens (2005), Prix Jean Monnet de littérature européenne (2012), and the Grand Prix SGDL (2012), as well as been elected to the Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique in 2013. Ten of her novels have been translated into English.
 

The Polish Director

Antoine Mouton

(Christian Bourgois Editeur, 120 pages, 2015)

Imagine reading a book, and then, when you close the cover, the plot changes and the characters turn into other people. At first that might be amusing, but the Polish director doesn’t find it so. It drives him crazy—really crazy—when a theatre in Paris asks him to adapt a novel by a dead writer for the opening-night play. But the characters and situations vanish each time he opens the book. The text has a life of its own.

The rehearsals are a complete mess: An alcoholic interpreter has been hired to translate the Polish director’s tirades into French; a well-known actor has been hired, but he just sits around all day, waiting for the director to cast him—but in what part?; the best-known actress in the play is assigned a role that comprises lying face down on the stage under a fur coat, her only speech a strange soliloquy toward the end—and that is drowned out by music. The director is being driven crazy by the ever-changing book, and in turn he is rude to everyone. He humiliates them, criticizes them and then apologizes, and does it again. The performance lasts eight hours, the costs are far beyond budget, and why is that huge chest of drawers standing in the middle of the stage?

Like a Ionesco play, full of absurdity and humor, the wonderful characters in The Polish Director all fall into place as pieces in the puzzle that explains the Polish director’s folly. Can he discover the roots of his impending insanity before it’s too late?

Antoine Mouton has published four books, including short stories and poems, but The Polish Director is his first novel. He works as a bookseller at the Théâtre de la Colline in Paris, and writes for Trafic and Jef Klak.

Good-bye Summer

Arnaud Le Guern

(Le Rocher, 152 pages, 2015)
 

A summer in the French countryside and the city left behind—a dream come true. And yet . . . Arnaud Le Guern’s novel, Good-bye Summer, captures the contradictions inherent in a vacation under the sun in a lakeside town.

The narrator, traveling to Evian with his mistress, experiences the combination of leisure and ennui, feline indolence and feverish desire, that can come so easily to vacationers under the French sun. This hedonistic honeymoon of a vacation changes abruptly when the narrator’s thoughts refocus on his family. At their home in Evian, he cannot avoid thinking about his brother Pierre, whose suicide he has yet to come to terms with. And his grandmother has had a stroke that makes her mistake him for his dead brother. And he misses his daughter, Louise, but cannot reach her.

In his playful but cruel spats with his gorgeous mistress, in his relentless sexual desire, and in his cynical social outlook, the narrator is similar to François, the decadent Sorbonne professor who narrates Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 best-seller, Submission. But where Fran­çois is completely indifferent to his family, Le Guern’s protagonist seeks pleasure in order to escape the oppressive burden of death that hangs over his family and his vacation.

A candid, nostalgic, and melancholy snapshot of a life of leisure in a sunny lake town in France, Good-bye Summer is the fifth book by 1970s and ’80s cinema enthusiast Arnaud Le Guern. He has also written a fictional biography of the French director and screenwriter Paul Gégauff.

78

By Sébastien Rongier

(Fayard, 136 pages, 2015)

“A story of mourning, told in the fragmented style of a puzzle, which follows an original narrative path, non-linear, where the images of the past and the sensations of the present intertwine in a diachronic and whirling way.” —Livres Hebdo

“From this mosaic of snapshots, Sébastien Rongier creates a novel that is just, sensitive, delicate, catching the spirit of an era in all of its truest and most human.” —Page

“Sébastien Rongier excels at describing in delicate touches this sad and bruised France, between yesterday and today, incapable of dreaming of a better tomorrow, drowned by absences and losses…[Rongier’s] second novel, a very French narrative of a provincial bistro on the brink of the 1980s, is also the story of separations and initiations, of a farewell to childhood and to mapped-out destinies….from these scenes of lives that are obscure and without glory, to the writing as simple and luminous as that of Chekhov, floats a heady melody.” —Télérama

On a Saturday evening in 1978, a young boy sits at the back of a brasserie near the cathedral of Sens in Burgundy. The air is thick with cigarette smoke, Johnny Cash’s voice rasps over the jukebox, and Max, the owner of the bar, continuously refills the draft beers and whiskeys of the patrons who have come to escape the monotony of their daily lives.

A room full of disparate people; a novel full of changing emotions that pull people together, drive them apart. The boy is patient as he waits for his father to return. He chews on the colored straw of his menthe à l’eau and plays with plastic Bidibule egg-shaped toys. On the bench next to him is a mysterious bag of clothing. His father – a hairy-chested man with a green-checkered shirt and a heavy silver chain around his neck – left to use the telephone, leaving behind half his beer; but it has been too long now for a telephone call, and as the beer grows warm, the child begins to worry. He will spend the rest of the night waiting and wondering, too scared to leave the table.

At a nearby table, Alice is waiting for a man, too: her married lover, who will never show up. She drinks Get 27 mint liqueur and reads Georges Perec’s La vie mode d’emploi. Christelle watches her enviously from the across the bar as she mentally rehearses her rejection speech to her boyfriend, Thomas, who plans to propose to her tonight. Thomas can offer her a comfortable, solid life, but Christelle wants to attend university in Paris, wants to be more than a butcher’s wife. To her, Alice’s loneliness seems like liberty.

At the bar, a group of four extreme-right nationalist men – supporters of the recently formed National Front political party – converge on Max, hoping to use his military background in the Algerian War to convince him to join their cause. But Max is not the man they hope he is: he is illegally hiding and protecting Mohamed, an Algerian man he met in the war and the brasserie’s chef, who was nearly killed in the bloody Paris massacre of FLN Algerians in 1961.

Honoré, a seventy-year-old man whose beloved dog Pupuce died the week before, sits at the bar drinking a kir and pretending to read a newspaper. Out of habit, his hand keeps reaching under the table to pet the dog that’s no longer there.

78 is a lilting, touching snapshot of a particular moment in time still very much affected by war, written in a series of Perec-like vignettes that float between perspectives and time periods, bringing the characters to life. As the novel continues – as the hours pass – the characters argue, shift their stances, grow more tired and a little more buzzed – and all the while, the boy waits for his father.

Sébastien Rongier is the author of the novel Ce matin (Flammarion, 2009) as well as a number of essays on art and aesthetics including Cinématière (Klincksieck, 2015) and Théorie des fantômes (Les Belles Lettres, 2016)

The Wedding Season

Jean-Philippe Blondel

(Libella, 192 pages, 2016)

"A strong plot and a touching portrayal of how any of us might feel when unexpectedly confronted by the detritus of young love . . . In Alison Anderson’s lively translation, “The 6:41 to Paris” is a timely reminder that the past is always waiting to ambush us." —The New York Times on Blondel's The 6:41 to Paris

How easy it is to desire change; how hard it is to actually implement it. Through the lens of his camera, Corentin finally learns to focus on the possibilities directly in front of him.

Twenty-seven-year-old Corentin’s seasonal job as a wedding videographer allows him to lead a comfortable life: to drink champagne, eat smoked salmon canapés, and watch loving couples toast the beginning of their lives together. Attending ceremony after ceremony, he records the joy, love, and intimacy of countless happy—and sometimes not-so-happy—couples.

He may be adept at finding and filming the optimism of others, but he can’t seem to find it in his own life. He’s at a standstill, both professionally and personally. With only a vague, nagging sense of discontent, he has put aside his artistic ambitions of making “real” films in favor of the safe, easy, comfortable job working alongside his godfather—the job that was supposed to be temporary. Meanwhile, all of his relationships, romantic or otherwise, quickly disintegrate due to his lack of commitment and effort.

When he meets Aline Dulong at her wedding to Christophe Célesta, his first impression is that of a little gray mouse, plainly dressed, with her long hair pulled back into a ponytail. But he changes his mind when she requests that he film her alone, talking to the camera about her feelings for her new husband. Her words flow easily and lovingly, transforming her face into something beautiful.

Inspired by Aline’s willingness to open up in front of the camera, Corentin decides to film his friends and family confessing their stories and feelings about friendship, love, former marriages, and new marriages. The project allows him to rekindle old friendships and learn about his family at the same time as it renews his creative identity as a filmmaker. It soon proves to be a turning point in his life, as everything else begins to fall into place.

Jean-Philippe Blondel was born in 1964 in Troyes, France, where he lives as an author and English teacher. His novel The 6:41 to Paris (New Vessel, 2015) has been a best-seller in both France and Germany.

I Was Silent

Mathieu Menegaux

(Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, 191 pages, 2015)

Italian rights pre-empted by Bompiani.

Claire had everything: a successful and fulfilling career, great friends, and a faithful and loving husband. At nearly forty, that’s a lot to be grateful for, as Claire’s mother frequently reminded her. But Claire wanted the one thing she couldn’t seem to have: a child. It was found that her husband Antoine’s fertility was the problem. They tried fertility treatments, but to no avail.

And then, one day, Claire becomes pregnant. Antoine is overjoyed, and they begin immediately planning for the baby. Only lurking in the past, sometime around the beginning of her pregnancy, something horrifying happened to her, something she never told Antoine, never told anyone about. And she remains in complete denial until the day her baby’s eyes start turning from blue to black. Then she remembers.

As time goes on, the weight of Claire’s secret, and the shame she feels about it, erode her sanity, leaving Antoine lost, and almost equally deranged. Claire does something desperate, something nobody else can understand, and that leads to her arrest and trial. Will she muster the courage to tell the truth before it is too late? Or is it already too late? She has been trapped in her prison of silence, but now she is imprisoned in a high-security women’s facility outside of Paris.

A page-turning thriller by an author with searing psychological insight, Mathieu Menegaux’s first novel, I Was Silent, is scrupulously constructed, beautifully written, and deeply insightful into the mind of a female character. I Was Silent echoes the acuity and intensity of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach.

Je me suis tue is Mathieu Menegaux’s first novel.

Crans-Montana

Monica Sabolo

(J.C. Lattès, 252 pages, 2015)

“Crans-Montana emerges as one of the most wondrous novels of the fall. An absolute triumph.” —Elle

“Monica Sabolo describes young girls like Sofia Coppola films them. With much grace.” —Les Inrockuptibles

It starts in the 1960s. At Crans-Montana, a high-end ski resort in Switzerland, a group of fascinated boys watches, from a distance, three girls. The three “Cs” they call them—the inseparable Chris, Charlie, and Claudia. They form a perfect entity, a three-point constellation. Claudia, from Italy, has long blond hair, small hips, and a beguiling smile. Chris has dark curls, olive skin, and wears her nails like claws. Charlie has long, long legs and small, high breasts.

Through the years, through the seasons, during winter or summer breaks, on the ski slopes, at the swimming pool, or in the nightclubs, Serge, Daniel, Edouard, Patrick, and Max watch every move the girls make without ever daring to approach them.

Life is beyond beautiful for these rich kids and their parents: Money is flowing, as are the champagne and the drugs. Days are devoted to shopping and beautifying, nights to parties.

With their voices intertwining, we follow them across the next thirty years. We read about the hopes and destiny of golden youth, marked by the scars of family secrets, the mistakes and indifference of preceding generations. We learn about their unhappy marriages, their children, their love affairs, their fears, their separate lives that meet over and over again at Crans-Montana. Inevitably something will happen, and nothing will remain the same.

Haunting and darkly moving, Crans-Montana depicts a lost generation, the one of post-war years, looking for something to exist for.

Monica Sabolo was the Editor-In-Chief of Grazia magazine. She now devotes her time to writing. Her first novel, All This Has Nothing To Do With Me (Picador, 2015), was awarded the Prix de Flore.

When Next You Meet the Great Big Sun

Daniel Parokia

(Libella, 206 pages, 2015)

***Shortlisted for the Prix de Flore***

"I would not hesitate to call this first novel of Daniel Parokia an absolute miracle...perhaps [Parokia] could be called an older, male Sagan? But rewritten with the playful whimsy of Echenoz...Mr. Parokia reconciles the Minuit style with the chic despair of Drieu...Evidently, the shadow of F. Scott Fitzgerald tints this deep blue novel. Such grace is rare in contemporary literature." -- Frederic Beigbeder, Le Figaro

Provence, summer 1959. Doris Day croons “Que sera, sera,” and beautiful girls sunbathe topless. The fragrance of Ambre Solaire is everywhere: jasmine and rose, mixed with the distinct and essential smell of benzyl salicylate—the smell of the beach. Paradise—except the sun’s activity is at a record-breaking high. Electromagnetic storms interfere with navigation, beachgoers are suffocated by the stifling heat, and tempers flare with or without cause...

Seventeen-year-old Joël has a simple plan for his summer: He will practice catching flies in midair. Then Liliane and Gilles Blin, a pair of wealthy nineteen-year-old twins, crash their blue convertible Floride into his parents’ car. The three form a group, and although they are a trio, Joël cannot ignore Liliane’s fluttering eyelashes and bronzed skin. Antoine Craig, a twenty-eight-year-old architect, and Evelyne, the Blins’ younger cousin, soon join them. As the five vacationers fall under the sun’s spell, their antics become more and more absurd. Together they swim, play golf and tennis, and dance in nightclubs—until their money runs out. The solution? Enroll Evelyne in the Miss Canadel beauty pageant, pocket her prize money, and sneak off to make a fortune in a Monte Carlo casino. A potentially joyous time, but each of them has fallen in love with the wrong person.

When they have an opportunity to sail to Toulon, they seize it as an exciting adventure, not noticing the clouds forming overhead. The storm arrives and passes, tossing the boat and its still laughing occupants. In the frenzy, they don’t realize that Evelyne has gone missing. The tragedy that follows will mark an end to the summer—and the end of their innocence.

When Next You Meet the Great Big Sun is beautifully written, teasing, and tenderly cruel, a modern-day Françoise Sagan–style novel of amoral adolescence.

Daniel Parokia lives in Lyon. He studied philosophy, linguistics, and mathematics and has been a professor emeritus since 2012. When Next You Meet the Great Big Sun is his first novel.

The fugitives

Yves Bichet

(Mercure de France, 180 pages, 2015)

***Shortlisted for the Prix Renaudot***

A heat wave is washing over France, causing dehydration, heart trouble, nursing home deaths, and water shortages. The residents of the Bosc retirement home—a 1980s-style five-floor concrete monstrosity on the banks of the Volane River in the south of France—have had enough. Instead of giving in to the crushing heat and the monotony of daily life at the Bosc, they plot an illicit late-night visit to a nearby casino.

The residents, who are more than ready to take part in temporary escape, are a group of distinctly odd misfits. Gigi is younger than the others, perhaps a simpleton, who loves floral chiffon clothes, cutesy nicknames, and making observations about the weather. The Baron has terrible nephews who visit him every week to harass him for money. There’s Barbanson, who doesn’t quite understand he is an ex-officer—and so keeps a gun under his pillow and does push-ups every morning—and Vignaud, a former banker with a dirty sense of humor who uses a wheelchair to get around. Douss loves aerial hip-hop and scaling the walls of buildings. Their leader is Clémence, the beloved and beautiful nurse who arranged for them go to the casino without telling the director. All might have gone smoothly had Gigi not had a diabetic crisis. When an ambulance brought her back to the Bosc, the escapees were found out, and Clémence was promptly fired.

Indignant, and fiercely protective of Clémence, Douss and the others steal a pickup truck and run away from the home. Thus begins a Robin Hood–style adventure: They steal water, fans, and fresh food from supermarkets—where managers are hoarding products and lying to the news about the quantity of their supply—and redistribute them to nursing homes to help with heat relief. As they go, evading the police, they are aided by garage mechanics and supermarket employees. The gang of runaways ducks around, over, under, and through a world they had never before experienced; and as they go, their bond grows stronger, stranger, and ultimately more dangerous. In particular, Clémence and Douss are forced to face some difficult and dizzying decisions.

The Fugitives is charming, quirky, darkly hilarious, and touching, a life-changing intergenerational road trip; a romp in the glorious style of Little Miss Sunshine.

Yves Bichet worked in agriculture and construction for twenty years before devoting himself to writing. His earlier works include La part animale (2005), Resplandy (2010), and L’homme qui marche (2015). 

The Judge

Christophe Lambert

(Plon, 279 pages, 2015)

Not a superman but a very human man with superior skills and an intense need for justice. Christophe Keller, in jail for avenging the murder of his wife and daughter, studies law—then steps outside the law to hunt down evildoers. He is focused, relentless, and talented at his chosen task—is he also unstoppable?

Convicted after taking revenge on the men who murdered his wife and daughter, Christophe Keller studies law in prison. His studies convince him, however, that the legal system is often flawed or powerless. When Keller leaves prison, he turns into a bringer of justice. With his exceptional physical strength and combat techniques acquired while serving for the elite branch of the Israeli army, he becomes “The Judge.”

The persona first emerges in the Paris metro. Keller, with the unexpected help of a passerby, stops a gang attacking a woman and her little sister. He wins the brief fight, they are all dead but one who has escaped, and a young girl has been kidnapped. He forces the remaining thug to carry a message to the world: “The Judge is here.” Then he disappears.

Who is this elusive avenger? The media want to know, the police try to stop him—Detective Mérigneux and his team are on the case—and the politicians in power need a scapegoat to help them win the upcoming elections. Mbossi, the king of a ghetto, is also after him for the killing of some of his men. And he has the perfect bait: an eight-year-old girl, the same little girl abducted in the subway.

With both organized crime and the police after The Judge, there is only one way for him to escape: attack.

This is the second novel by Christophe Lambert, an American-born French actor who starred in Greystoke and Highlander.

Once Upon a City

Thomas B. Reverdy

(Flammarion, 268 pages, 2015)

***Longlisted for the Prix Goncourt***

Eugène has been sent from France to Detroit, in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, to work on a high-profile engineering project called the Integral. But as the Motor City inches nearer to bankruptcy, the Integral faces obstacles that no one could have predicted. When funding for basic services are slashed for the city—heating, police, electricity, even plumbing—how can the company he works for survive? The fate of Eugène’s career now depends on the fate of the city.

Eager for an escape from his soul-sucking job and wishing to make friends in his new home, Eugène becomes a regular at the Dive-In bar next to his apartment. There he finds Candice, a waitress with warm laughter. But beneath the laughter is a dark past that she has so far managed to escape. When a police officer comes to the bar to ask her about her ex-boyfriend, a drug dealer, she realizes she may not have run far enough.

Eugène and Candice are not the only people with troubles in a city of increasing problems and decreasing resources. Hundreds of children have gone missing. Among them is Charlie, whose heartbroken grandmother searches for him just as she did for her daughter, Charlie’s mother, years ago. Where is he? What will happen to him and his friends, Bill and Strothers? And what about all the others?

Detective Brown, one of the police officers who is sticking around despite the city’s decline, is determined to find out why these children are missing. Who is the pied piper whisking them away? Can Brown piece together the clues before it is too late?

The missing children, Candice’s complicated history, and Eugène’s increasing understanding of his new environment power Once Upon a City. The novel is a heartfelt, sensitive portrait of a quintessential American city on the brink of catastrophe.

Once Upon a City is Thomas B. Reverdy’s sixth novel. His most recent novel, Les Evaporés (Flammarion, 2013), won the prix Kessel and the Grand prix de la Société des Gens De Lettres (SGDL).
 

The Consul

Salim Bachi

(Éditions Gallimard, 192 pages, 2015)

The story is true: Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux at the start of World War II, directly disobeyed the orders and laws of his government by issuing visas and passports to Jews, Russians, stateless refugees, and others endangered by the Nazi regime. Among them were artists Salvador Dali and Hélène de Beauvoir, actor Marcel Dalio, Austro-Hungarian crown prince Otto von Habsburg, and perhaps thirty thousand unnamed “undesirables” fleeing from invading German forces. In response, Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar stripped him of his title, the majority of his salary, and his social status. Sousa Mendes died alone in poverty and debt, politically and socially disgraced. The Consul is the story of and behind his courageous acts of decency, imagined by author Salim Bachi.

“I disobeyed in front of God and in front of men and I don’t know which of these sins was harder to bear, even if both of them were committed for love,” begins Sousa Mendes in The Consul, a pained examination of his past written in the form of a confessional letter to his mysterious lover Andrée. At the time of writing, Sousa Mendes was alone, impoverished, and dying in a Franciscan hospital, fourteen years after his acts of political rebellion.

While married to his first wife—his steadfast childhood sweetheart Angelina, who had given him fourteen children and stayed by his side throughout his political disgrace and ruin—Sousa Mendes fell in love with and impregnated French pianist and singer Andrée Cibial. It was at this time that Salazar passed Dispatch 14, a law forbidding Portuguese consuls from granting visas to foreign refugees without express permission from the Foreign Ministry in Lisbon. In direct defiance of this law, Sousa Mendes signed thousands of visas for the weary and terrified refugees who came to his consulate. Many he did not know, and some he had personal contact with: Charles, a professor of medieval literature whose midnight piano playing moved Sousa Mendes to tears; the Minys, a couple from Luxembourg to whom Sousa Mendes provided false passports in order to keep them together; Rabbi Chaim Kruger, who refused to accept the visa offered to him until all the Jewish refugees on the streets of Bordeaux had also received one. The demand sent Sousa Mendes into a three-day panicked seclusion before he agreed.

Sousa Mendes, weaving between past and present, reflects with conflicted emotions upon his actions as a man and as a figure of political authority. He struggles to reconcile his personal failings and weaknesses with the godlike status bestowed upon him by the grateful refugees. Part confessional novel, part historical fiction, part love letter, The Consul is reflective, lyrical, and haunting, exposing the vulnerabilities and doubts of a flawed and tormented but courageous man.

Salim Bachi is one of the most remarkable new voices of North Africa writing in French. He was born in Algeria and studied literature in Paris and now lives in France. His first book, Le Chien d’Ulysse (2001), was awarded the Goncourt du Premier Roman; his fourth book, Le Silence de Mahomet (2008), a fictionalized biography of the prophet Mohammed, was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot.

Mary

Emily Barnett

(Éditions Payot & Rivages, 180 pages, 2015)

A doll. An unwanted child. An ax. They haunt the two Marys, a pair of trapped and troubled women living in France fifty years apart. Mary, a dark, mysterious, and gripping debut novel, touches on abortion, McCarthyism, spies, murder, sex, and adultery, but focuses on the tumultuous world of schizophrenia.

The younger Mary lives in a beautiful, mysterious castle with her lavender-eyed mother; she lovingly describes the garden with its colorful hydrangea bushes seen though wooden windows with a view of the sea. A paradise? A perverted paradise, since the windows are barred with iron. It’s through her journal entries that we learn that her mother is mentally ill, and that the castle is actually a psychiatric hospital where she takes care of her mother, just as her beloved grandparents had done before her. As Mary describes life in the hospital, punctuated by long bouts of insomnia, sexual experimentation, and midnight escapades, we realize that she herself is haunted by the same imaginary beasts that torment her mother—and that her narration is not always trustworthy.

The older Mary, an American woman of the 1950s, has just moved to Paris with her husband, Jim. At a party, Jim boasts proudly to their friends that Mary is four months pregnant, and she plays along with a weak smile. What Jim doesn’t know is that his beautiful, beloved wife is harboring secrets: an affair with a man hunted by the FBI during the height of the Red Scare, and her desire to abort her unborn child.

As the voices of the two Marys evolve, parallel, and overlap, as their cores begin to emerge, the stories merge into one story. We see a single fight against different constraints: McCarthyism and a marriage gone sour for the Mary of the fifties; mental illness and barred windows for the teenage Mary of the twenty-first century. The narrations of the two women wind through a labyrinth built of conversations, revelations, and intrigue, one with false turns around every corner. Reality is confounded by imagination. It is up to the reader to sharpen the blurred lines between the real and the imaginary, and to discover how the jagged edges of each story fit together.

Emily Barnett is a film director, screenwriter, journalist, and literary critic who has worked for Les Inrockuptibles, Grazia, France Culture and Le Cercle sur Canal+. Mary is her first novel.

BEDOUIN BOY

MOHED ALTRAD

(ACTES SUD, 256 PAGES, 2002)

Mohed Altrad, a Syrian businessman, head of a fast-growing empire, and a novelist, lives in France where, in 2014, he was named entrepreneur of the year. As becomes clear in his novel, drawn from his own life, the way to his present position was not easy. Maïouf is born in deep poverty at the painful bottom of his Bedouin society’s ladder. We know the traditional ways to the top in the West, but what are the paths, the pitfalls, and the possibilities for a boy from a rural village in Syria?

Maïouf is an orphan at the age of five. His mother, repudiated by her husband and thus by the rural village in which he lives, has died. Maïouf lives with his grandmother, who narrows his life with constraints and forbids him to go to school. Thirsty for knowledge, Maïouf defies his family and society and manages to attend the closest school, an hour from his village. He can learn there, but he is not accepted by his classmates. His tattered clothes and obvious poor origins bring constant taunts. When he proves to be a better student than his classmates, their insults become physical. A nearly fatal incident only strengthens his determination to learn, to achieve, to be the best student. After advancing to high school in Raqqah, where he lives thanks to the kindness of strangers, he wins a scholarship to finish his studies in France. He becomes an engineer at the oil wells in the United Arab Emirates, where he understands and becomes enamored with the power that emanates from industry.

His love of power and adoption of Western ways separates Maïouf from his past. He has no desire to return to the village where he was mistreated and despised, or even to keep alive the love he felt as an adolescent for the girl from Raqqah who promised to wait for him. Even memories of the desert, the landscape of his life, fade away. In trying to live the new life he has made for himself, he realizes his alienation, and is unable to recognize the person he has become. He returns to the desert to see if he can find something of what he once held dear.

Mohed Altrad was born in a Bedouin tribe in Syria. He has lived in France for many years, where he founded the Groupe Altrad, which is the world leader in the concrete industry and number one scaffolding company in France. He has published two other books, both with Actes Sud, L’Hypothèse de Dieu, 2006 and La Promesse d’Annah, 2012.

ravel's forests

Michel Bernard

(Table Ronde, 176 pages, 2015)

 

There are moments of haunting grace in this story written with a genuine love for all things of the earth. Michel Bernard plays as beautifully with words as Ravel did with a piano . . . The extremely rare and musical writing creates a link between Maurice Ravel and the reader. It’s magical. —Télérama

Michel Bernard makes us breathe the fresh air of the country we could have believed destroyed by the violence of men. This is achieved by the means of a magnificent, rich and generous writing . . . He is the only living author who talks about places . . . as an oenologist speaks of wines: unambiguously and with precise and right images. —Le Figaro littéraire

Maurice Ravel, the famous French composer, was small in stature and light in weight. He thought these characteristics would be to his advantage in the First World War when he wanted to enlist as an aviator. But he was not allowed to be a pilot because of his age and weak health. Instead, he volunteered to become a truck driver at the Verdun front. Michel Bernard, in his novel Ravel’s Forests, reconstructs Maurice Ravel’s life and history, from his enlistment to his death.

 When Ravel was declared unfit for military service, he was unwilling to not contribute, unwilling to feel helpless in those dreadful years, so sought another way to serve. As a truck driver, he had to transport soldiers to the front and injured people to hospital as the din of the battle of Verdun surrounded him. He witnessed the horrors of war, both physical and psychological. When he was posted to a hospital based in a converted castle, he found a piano and began to play for the first time since entering the war. Michel Bernard depicts the composer’s thrill as he first touches the piano keys. Music, which was almost absent in the first part of the novel, now rises in importance, juxtaposed with the noisy nightmare of war.

Michel Bernard captures Ravel at a turning point in his life. The author describes the composer’s hard return to civilian life, his comeback as a musician, and his budding passion for forests. When he was serving the war effort, he often found refuge in nature, even in the forests of Verdun; after the war, he moved to his late-uncle’s house in Montfort, near the forest of Rambouillet. Increasingly, Ravel’s music became inspired by his love of forests and their creatures. 

The war experience also changed the composer in other, perhaps more important, ways. Bernard shows how, after the war, Ravel fought against those who wanted to ban music composed by Germans. A few years after the war, he even composed a left-handed concerto for a German pianist who had lost his right arm during the war. Maurice Ravel was haunted for the rest of his life by the gory barbarism of World War I and found expression for his memories and thoughts through much of his music. 

Michel Bernard works for the Ministry of the Interior in France. He is the author of, among other novels, Mes tours de France (Vermillon, 1999), La maison du docteur Laheurte (La Table Ronde, 2008), Le Corps de la France (La Table Ronde, 2010), and Pour Genevoix (La Table Ronde, 2011).

A Catholic Education

Catherine Cusset

(Éditions Gallimard, 144 pages, 2014)

Catherine Cusset’s coming-of-age novel manages, as does real life, to be both heart-wrenching and humorous. Sex and love—of course—but also the importance of friends and enemies, of truth and lies, faith and failure are explored by a devout little Catholic Goody Two-Shoes as she evolves into an atheistic, two-timing adult.

Marie is a ten-year-old who just wants to please. She relishes the drama of the biblical stories her father reads to her at night. She is a star student, the teacher’s pet. And she truly believes that the more devout she is, the better the chances that her mismatched parents will stay together. None of which stops her from shoplifting with her best friend and accomplice Nathalie. Nor does it stop her from faking piety, telling the priest at her first confession not about her long string of thefts but only about once stealing a pencil. She is absolved, and the wrath of God does not, she realizes, descend on her.

By age fourteen, Marie, perhaps influenced by her atheist Jewish mother, has lost her faith in God and Catholicism. But she is also influenced by the vagaries of friendship and the confusion of emerging sexuality. Nathalie confronts her with accusations of vanity and hypocrisy and turns against her. A group of girls, led by Nathalie, insults her and gangs up against her in the schoolyard. Ximena, an unpopular girl, defends her and drives away the bullies. Their ensuing friendship quickly transforms into Marie’s first love, both physical and emotional. Ximena is brilliant and doesn’t care what others think of her. Marie worships her, finding in her the faith that she lost in God. During the summer Marie declares her love to Ximena in a long letter but the response, months later, is a short, mocking postcard. Marie tries to kill herself with an overdose of aspirin, but the attempt fails. She resigns herself to living, and comes to terms with not being able to count on the person she thought to be her friend.

After a series of unrequited obsessions with both men and women, Marie goes to Vienna, falls in love with a married man, and finally loses her virginity. Then she meets Samuel. He restores her faith in life and ignites a passion she never thought possible. She and Samuel become inseparable, developing a friendship and becoming lovers. Despite her love for Samuel, she cannot remain true to him. She betrays him again and again, never quite understanding that it is betrayal. Always trying to separate physical and spiritual love…never knowing which to choose. One of the men she met while dating Samuel is Al, a tall and handsome American. After a series of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, Marie discovers love with Al, not as crucifixion, but as redemption.

Catherine Cusset is the renowned author of, among others, Un brillant avenir (Gallimard, 2008), Le problème avec Jane (Gallimard, 1999; The Problem with Jane, Simon & Schuster, 2007), and The Ethics of Pleasure (University of Virginia Press, 1999).

Dance the Shadows

Laurent Gaudé

(Actes Sud, 256 pages, 2014)

***L’Express best-seller***
***Winner of the Prix Goncourt for The Scortas’ Sun***

Laurent Gaudé’s latest novel tells the story of a range of Haitians, in all the simplicity and complexity of everyday life, their hopes and fears, trials and tribulations. And then comes the Goudougoudou, the devastating earthquake in 2010 . . . From that moment, the dead come back among the living and everything changes.

The first part of Dance the Shadows is an unusual journey deep inside Port-au-Prince, the bubbling capital of Haiti, with its outdoor markets, its noisy traffic, and its voodoo rituals. From this background a host of colorful, interwoven characters emerge. There is Lucine, who had put her life on hold to look after her late sister’s children, then comes to Port-au-Prince to turn her life around; Firmin, a former Tonton Macoute turned taxi driver, who enjoys cockfighting; Saul, a doctor without a diploma, the illegitimate child of a Port-au-Prince celebrity; Lily, a young girl with an incurable disease who hopes to get more out of life in the big city; and Old Tess, who has retired from running a brothel. All of them struggle, with some success, against the harsh reality of the city—until the disaster. The earthquake cracks open their lives as much as it does the surface of the land.

After a harrowing yet beautiful passage on the earthquake, remarkable in its lyricism, Laurent Gaudé sets his characters on the thin boundaries of life and death. Nobody knows who is dead and who is alive. The author writes, in the midst of the rubble, a haunting ode to brotherhood, the only force that can save the living from despair and the dead from oblivion. He has perfectly portrayed this population which is teeming with life, always getting back on their feet. This novel comes as a message of compassion and hope for a better tomorrow.

Novelist, playwright, and short-fiction author, Laurent Gaudé has written many dramatic works, all published by Actes Sud in France (Onysos le furieux, 2000; Cendres sur les mains, 2002; Médée Kali, 2003; Le Tigre bleu de l’Euphrate, 2002). Some of them have been translated into English, including Battle of Will (Oberon, 2002), The Death of King Tsongor (Toby Press, 2003), The Scortas’ Sun (Hesperus, 2006; winner of the Goncourt Prize), and Eldorado (MacAdam Cage, 2008).

Baptism by Darkness

Ghislain Gilberti

(Éditions Anne-Carrière, 410 pages, 2014)

Cécile Sanchez, a French police captain who specializes in criminology, applied behavioral analysis, and body language, must track down a sadistic murderer in this fast-moving, hard-striking French procedural. Sanchez is in charge of a specialized department of the French national police responsible for investigating serious deviant crimes in Paris. In order to track down this killer, she must drill deeply into a serial killer’s atypical psyche.

Cécile Sanchez is as bright as she is resourceful. She is intuitively able to analyze a person’s every movement to deduce what they’re trying to conceal. She brilliantly succeeds in entering other people’s heads, but when it comes to the mad mind of a serial killer, Sanchez has to be careful not to fall into the darkness. Thankfully she is well grounded by her team: a competent but eccentric medical examiner, meticulous forensic experts, and an aggressive SWAT team. While they all struggle to work quickly under cover to delay the inevitable media frenzy, the murderer strikes ever faster and, modifying his MO, reaches an unbearable level of barbarity.

Ghislain Gilberti delivers a well-researched and complex thriller set in Paris, both above and under the ground, introducing the reader to the mysteries of the famous Catacombs of Paris. The closer Sanchez gets to her target, the crazier the chase becomes. The psychopath even seems to possess superhuman abilities, yet this detective novel succeeds most in its incredible realism.

Ghislain Gilberti achieved great success with his self-published debut novel, Dynamiques du chaos. Since then, he has published Le Festin du Serpent, also featuring detective Cécile Sanchez, with Anne-Carrière in 2013, which won two prizes and was a finalist for the Prix du Meilleur Polar for the best French detective novel.

Absent the Original Father

Kaoutar Harchi

(Actes Sud, 164 pages, 2014)

In a Muslim country, there is a “women’s house,” a structure with high stone walls where fathers, husbands, and brothers send wives, daughters, and sisters suspected of having dishonored the family name. The adolescent narrator of this elegiac novel is in such a prison not because of anything she has done, but because of what her mother is accused of.

The girl is not just a prisoner; she is also deprived of any demonstration of maternal love. The Mother, as her daughter calls her, is languishing and dying in the Women’s House, emotionally destroyed by her husband’s abandonment and condemnation. Other women stay alive by forming a tight community of mutual support, daily gossip sessions, and rituals, but The Mother doesn’t join them. Her daughter does everything she can to try to revive her, to catch her attention, and to find a drop of love, but nothing helps.

After her mother’s death, the young woman is allowed to leave the house. She goes in search of her father—and his love. When she arrives at his house in the nearby town of S., she is let in to wait for him. As she sits, alone, the family slowly trickles in, looking at her with barely concealed hatred, this unwanted offspring of shame.

She waits into the night, but in the dark she is assaulted by her half-brother, narrowly escaping his advances. In the morning the father returns home to find his son dead and to read the note the son left that accuses the girl of trying to lure him to commit incest—something he couldn’t stand. In stunned silenc the family sees the father, rather than shun her, embrace the girl. For one moment she knows the feeling of being loved. And then it is over. She must leave, though in the world she lives in, how will she survive outside the protection of family, clan, and tribe?

Absent the Original Father is beautifully and poetically narrated, telling the story of the precarious existence of too many women in the Muslim world. Their lives and reputations hang by a thread, ever threatened by rumors, jealousy, and lies that can be spread, condemning them to death or imprisonment, for any infidelity, real or imagined, to their husbands and clan.

Kaoutar Harchi has taught socio-anthropology at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle and the University of Poitiers. She is the author of one other novel, L’Ampleur du saccage (Actes Sud, 2011).

Dawa

JULIEN SUAUDEAU

(ROBERT LAFFONT, 491 PAGES, 2014)

Two men are pursuing a long-term vengeance, one behind the illusion of the Jihad, the other under the mask of law. They both operate in a France in the grip of an identity crisis and in the middle of political gamesmanship.

Paoli and Assan find themselves working against each other, both seeking revenge. Assan, whose father was a rebel leader in the Algerian War, plans a terrorist attack in Paris in order to bring down the French security services that killed his half-brother many years earlier. Paoli, whose parents were brutally murdered by Al Mansour, Assan’s father, works for the anti-terrorist unit of the French government. Their paths cross when Assan’s suicide commando squad broadcasts a video on the Internet announcing their intention to detonate five bombs in busy areas of the city on March 13th. In the run-up to crucial municipal elections, Paoli and his unit have two weeks to prevent this disaster.

The representative of the French council for Muslim worship, Ferhaoui, is a close friend of the outgoing mayor of Paris. When he gives Assan’s name to the police, Paoli recognizes his enemy. Frank, deputy head of the police and Paoli’s teammate, must juggle between this mission and the erosion of his family. His ex-wife, a journalist, is looking for an exciting story, to make out of this political turmoil. Each of Suaudeau’s characters leads a personal war, seeking revenge, glory, or power. 

Pure crime thriller, but also political novel and social narrative, Dawa depicts the chaos of our contemporary world. In reading it we can hear the voices of those who struggle, often blindly, to make a place for themselves.

Julien Suaudeau lives in Philadelphia. Dawa is his first novel.

 Transvestite

David Dumortier

(Le Dilettante, 253 pages, 2012)
 

***Sample translation available on request***
**Awarded French Voices translation grant**

By day, David is a poet. At night, be becomes Sophia, a prostitute. He discovers, through his double life, that his stolen childhood and the marginality he faces are nothing compared to the heavy secrets of his clients.

David has a regular routine: He showers, shaves, puts on makeup and a wig to ready himself for his clients. It is a ceremony that aims to hide his true identity: a poet and author of children’s books. David lives this dual life not to make ends meet, but rather by choice and with real enjoyment. He has enjoyed cross-dressing since his childhood, finding it one way to lessen the impact of his father—a pig breeder—who was violent, cruel, and physically abusive.

The story of David/Sophia, based on the life of the author, alternates three voices: the child who tells of his memories—good and bad—of life on the farm; the daytime writer narrating his visits to schools and his talks with children; and the prostitute who takes pleasure in stripping herself bare.

Because Sophia has a special attraction to North African men, she treats them with more respect than the others. Even with them, however, she puts a limit on the intimacy in order to protect herself from the human despair that enters her room. From crude words to appalling images, from abrupt cynicism to the worst nastiness, Dumortier doesn’t hold back from any truth or darkness, but a poetic depth is always part of the mix.

David Dumortier was born in 1967. He studied Arabic at the National Institute of Oriental Language and Civilizations and lived in the Middle East. He now lives in Paris and has published many poetry collections and children’s books.