The Long Walk: From the Mediterranean to China on the Silk Road

Bernard Ollivier

(Éditions Phébus, 2001, 2001, and 2003)


***Translation sample available***

*** Winner of the Joseph Kessel Prize 2001***

***First modern traveler to hike the entire Silk Road***

***Winner of a National Endowment for the Arts translation grant 2016 for all three books***

In 1999, depressed and still grieving after the death of his wife, Bernard Ollivier decided to walk the complete Silk Road, from Istanbul, Turkey, to Xi’an, China. He completed the journey over three summers. The Long Walk is the three-volume record of his travels and encounters.

Ollivier’s story is an important contribution to contemporary travel literature, focusing on lesser-known areas of the world, including Turkey, Iran, and China—countries increasingly in the news. He describes in journalistic detail the places through which he passes and includes his reflections on the region’s history and contemporary culture. Most important, he portrays the widely varied people he meets along the way. It is a humanistic work, penned for the broadest possible audience.

Translator Dan Golembeski, a French professor and sociolinguist, has been working in French for over twenty-five years. An established business translator, he has chosen to now focus on literary works, both prose and poetry. Golembeski first came across Longue marche while traveling in France after having taught a course on French-language travel literature at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He found Ollivier’s Silk Road journey to be one of the best travel writing he has come across. Ollivier’s style, reminiscent of that of English-language travel writer Paul Theroux (Dark Star Safari, The Mosquito Coast), reflects Ollivier’s thirty years of experience as a journalist. It has elements of Ella Maillart’s The Cruel Way and St.-Exupéry’s Terre des hommes. The Long Walk is also noteworthy in that it prioritizes walking over travel powered by fossil fuels.

On April 5, 2002, The New York Times published Kyle Jarrard’s review of Longue marche. This review—remarkable in that it concerns a work only available in French—captures the thrill of the journey expressed by Ollivier, with moments of humor and, on occasion, fear.

There are many reviews of Longue marche on travel narrative websites. These highlight the value of Ollivier’s work in portraying the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of not being afraid to encounter “the Other.” The website Globe-Trotteur has this to say: “This story is also and above all a great human adventure. Bernard Ollivier encountered an incredible number of people along the way, from very kind villagers who welcomed him into their homes, to soldiers, customs agents, and police officers who sternly checked his papers as they watched this “madcap” cross their country. [ . . . ] Each day this great hiker spent on the road is so carefully described that I would go so far as to say that in reading his story, I myself, at times, walked right along with him, given such detail and many marvelous anecdotes.”

Scholars have also taken note of this work. According to a recent analysis of “the encounter” in travel writing: “Perhaps the best antidote to the commercialization and mediatization of travel destinations and experiences is spontaneous contact with an individual. Encounter goes to the heart of ethical questions about how one should travel, because how we interact with others is central to ethics and because travel is a highly valued cultural pursuit. Bernard Olivier’s long walk across Asia exemplifies the significance of encounter to contemporary travel. He travels the much-traversed Silk Road, a road overlaid with repetitious journeys and narratives, but by walking, he experiences it differently [from] the tourists who pass him in their jeeps (Marche I, 305). At the same time, he acknowledges that the lives and concerns of the people whom he meets ultimately interest him more than the old stones and monuments he passes (Marche II, 298). The three volumes of his narrative resound with evocative place names: Istanbul, Teheran, Samarkand, Kashgar, Xi’an, but they are also packed with the less familiar names of the dozens of travelees who populate and shape Ollivier’s story.” (Catherine Mee. Interpersonal Encounters in Contemporary Travel Writing: French and Italian Perspectives. London and New York: Anthem Press, 2015).

The three volumes currently being translated are:

Longue Marche: À pied de la Méditerranée jusqu’en Chine par la route de la Soie (2001). Paris: Les Éditions Phébus. 351 p.

Longue Marche, tome 2: Vers Samarcande (2001). Paris: Les Éditions Phébus. 331 p.

Longue Marche, tome 3: Le Vent des Steppes (2003). Paris: Les Éditions Phébus. 367 p.

Total pages: 1049

Projected completion dates for the translation are as follows: Volume 1—March 2017, Volume 2—July 2017, and Volume 3—December 2017.

A 268-page fourth volume, covering the author’s final leg of the journey between Lyon, France—once a thriving silk-weaving center—and Istanbul, was published in 2016 and is a logical future project.

Longue Marche, tome 4: suite et fin (2016). Paris: Les Éditions Phébus. 268 p.

Bernard Ollivier dropped out of high school to work odd jobs until finally graduating just before he turned 30. He went on to attend university, getting a degree in journalism. He landed a job as a political journalist, writing fifteen years for Agence Centrale de Presse, Paris Match, and Combat. He later covered economics and society for various newspapers including Le Figaro. Longue marche and several of Ollivier’s other works have been translated into other languages including Spanish, Italian, and Japanese.


Letter to Zohra D.

Danielle Michel-Chich

(Éditions Flammarion, 112 pages, 2012)


Translation sample available



Danielle Michel-Chich, a French author and journalist who experienced firsthand the arbitrary terror of the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), exposes the reality behind “collateral damage” and asks us to consider the meaning of blame, reconciliation, and, possibly, forgiveness after a war. Letter to Zohra D. offers a powerful personal portrait of the lifelong impact of tragedy on a family. Her story is perhaps even more pertinent today than it was in 1956.

On September 30, 1956, the author, age five, was seated with her grandmother in the Milk Bar Café in Algiers, enjoying a final ice cream of the season. A bomb was exploded in the café by the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in an attack against the French Algerian government. The explosion left three people dead, including Michel-Chich’s grandmother, and sixty wounded, including the author, who needed to have a leg amputated. The Milk Bar bombing, famously featured in the 1966 film, The Battle of Algiers, is considered a seminal event of the Algerian War.

In Letter to Zohra D., Michel-Chich addresses Zohra Drif, the twenty-two-year-old FLN militant who placed the bomb in the Milk Bar Café. Drif was sentenced to prison for terrorism in 1958, but was pardoned by French President Charles de Gaulle four years later. At the time the book was written, Drif had become a successful lawyer and politician and was considered a heroine of the Algerian War.

Michel-Chich’s Sephardic Jewish family had settled in Algeria long before France colonized the country, and by the 1950s they were largely considered to be French. The author and her family fled Algeria in 1962, along with an estimated one million French Algerians, many of whom tried not to address the problems with the country they had left or that resettling in France created for them.

In Michel-Chich’s powerful and thought-provoking book, written more than fifty years after the bombing, she mines her memories to identify the issues involved and attempt to understand Drif. She chronicles the emotional strain of preserving her family’s decades-long silence on the bombing and her struggles to adapt to a prosthetic leg. Letter to Zohra D. is not a personal indictment of Drif. As someone who abhors the label “victim,” Michel-Chich advises her readers that she is more concerned with resolution than revenge. But she offers no tidy conclusions. Rather, the book is a reminder of the enduring enmity of war. Shortly after the book was published in 2012, Michel-Chich faced Drif at a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria’s declaration of independence and asked, “Was this the right thing to do to innocent people?” Drif responded, “You are talking to the wrong person. Ask the authorities of your country.”

Danielle Michel-Chich’s work, other than Letter to Zohra D and her journalism, includes Déracinés: Les Pieds-Noirs aujourd’hui (Calmann-Lévy, 1990), Viens chez moi, j’habite chez mes enfants (Bayard Éditions, 1996), and Thérèse Clerc, Antigone aux cheveux blancs (Éditions des Femmes, 2007).


Agathe’s Summer

Didier Pourquery

(Éditions Grasset, 192 pages, 2016)

A declaration of love, like an eternal sun in the sky of memory. —Madame Figaro

A little gem of humanity. —Elle

 ***A January “best book” selection of Le Monde des Livres***

One morning in August 2007, Didier Pourquery’s daughter, Agathe, who would have turned twenty-three a few days later, stopped breathing. Although she knew her cystic fibrosis would not allow her to live long, this young woman spent her short life battling the disease. Seven years after her death, her father tells her story, based on his notes taken during the last three weeks of her life. He shares not only his sadness and loss, but also the joy that so characterized his daughter.

At her birth, Agathe’s doctors said the average life expectancy for a child born with cystic fibrosis was twenty-five years. After he learned his daughter only had a few weeks left to live, Didier Pouquery began writing daily about her last weeks. The notes he took then became the source of this book: a homage that is full of hope and light, even as it does not conceal deep human frailty and pain.

Pourquery alternates between the account of Agathe’s physical condition and its treatment and a letter addressed to her. We get to know her—and her father—through this lyrical and poignant portrait and ode. Who was this joyful and straight-talking girl? How did she grow up in the shadow of this death foretold? How was it that she was able to help those around her, even as she faced a certain and early death? Although Agathe’s Summer is one father’s testimony to the short life of a child grown into a young woman, it is also the story of the love, hope, fear, and joy that all parents experience.

Managing editor of the website The Conversation in France, Didier Pourquery was editor-in-chief of Sciences & Vie Economie, La Tribune, InfoMatin, VSD, and L’Expansion. He launched and headed the daily newspaper Metro in France before becoming Executive Director of Libération then Deputy Director for Le Monde from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of six works dealing with the world of business and media, as well as Mots de l’époque (2014).


We Had a Chance

Michel Camdessus

(Les Arènes, 448 pages, 2014)


A one-of-a-kind testimony. —Kofi Annan

Michel Camdessus, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund from 1987 to 2000, was a major witness to the last thirteen years of the twentieth century. In We had a Chance, he provides an unprecedented glimpse into his responsibilities as one of the most powerful men in the world.

Here is the history of the latter part of the last century from Camdessus’ unique vantage point. As the head of this international organization, he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the USSR, the transition of Eastern Europe from communism to democracy, and the financial fall and indebtedness of most countries of the world. Camdessus did not just witness history; he made history, while dealing each day with the consequences of such cataclysms. In describing his work at that time, he fully discloses the mechanisms of such an important, although little understood, organization: its goals, its inner workings, its tasks, and its tools. At the core of the book, however, is Camdessus’ discussion of how he tackled the most challenging projects, sharing his personal fears and hopes.

Camdessus writes with ease and clarity about great historical figures: Nelson Mandela, Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Mobutu, and Pope John Paul II. His rigorous reporting gives us a chance to understand the tenor of crucial tête-à-têtes and gives us a glimpse of the men and women hidden behind these powerful boldface names. His book gives us a greater understanding of such a leader, a man who is first and foremost a person with doubts and fears, hopes and desires.

Michel Camdessus is a French economist and administrator who was Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund from 1987 to 2000. To date, he is the longest-serving Managing Director of that organization. Previously he was Deputy Governor and Governor of the Bank of France.