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(Les Arènes, 464 pages, 2018)
Granny Luger definitely has some skeletons hidden in her closet. At 7:00 in the morning, in the Auvergne region of France, Berthe’s neighbor has been shot, the police have her cottage surrounded, someone has seemingly stolen her old Renault 4L, and her chamomile tea has gone cold. Brandishing her .22 rifle, the 102-year-old-woman launches verbal assaults at the cops until they break down her door, and take her in for questioning.
By 8:00, Berthe is in custody, her shotgun confiscated, and her car still missing. This morning proves the most mind-boggling experience of Inspector Ventura’s career. Never has he had to interrogate a smart-mouthed, squirrely, witty grandmother. Through a lot of miscommunication (mainly because of Berthe’s failing hearing aids) and jokes at his expense, Ventura finally gets Bertha to confess to hiding two fugitives, Roy and Guillemette, but what she tells him isn’t quite what he expects.
When the police find Berthe’s Luger, a forbidden Nazi artifact, she must explain why it’s in her possession. Bluntly she asserts that she killed a Nazi, and he’s buried in her basement. Sent to retrieve the body, the police find several other bodies buried throughout Berthe’s basement. And so, with nothing else to lose, Berthe explains the bodies, and, in turn, relates to Inspector Ventura her life story.
The Luger-strapped grandma’s account of her life is nothing short of explosive. If the law isn’t on her side, morality and circumstance would almost make her innocent, for her story intersects that of the twentieth century, and the struggles women endured to own their bodies and their rights. Benoît Philippon gives us, in Granny Luger, a formidable exchange exploring feminism, racism, and morality. Above all, he gives us a violently funny, charming, and strong old woman. She makes you laugh, but makes you cry as well, of emotion and admiration, for the incredibly free granny speaks volumes to our own contemporary history.
Born in 1976, Benoît Philippon grew up in the Antilles, then moved between France and Canada. He became a screenwriter and film director. After Cabossé, published as part of the Série Noire (Gallimard), Granny Luger is his second noir novel.
(Éditions Zulma, 160 pages, 2018)
*** WINNER OF LE PRIX ORANGE 2018 ***
“I wonder where Sarah would be right now. Without a doubt tiptoeing around the room, trying to get ready without waking me. Her feet would brush against the floorboards, caressing the floor flawlessly. I wonder, but I know that Sarah is everywhere. Sarah. I love murmuring her name, wrapping it in my thoughts so I don’t forget its roundness.”
During Passover (Pesach), the Jewish people celebrate their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Tonight, Salomon will lead his family in Passover Seder. Tonight, he will sit with his daughters, Michelle and Denise, their husbands, Patrick and Pinhas, and Michelle’s children, Samuel and Tania. This evening, he will recount the history of the Jewish people in an ordered fifteen-step feast with set rituals as written in the Haggadah. Tonight, he will once again assume his role as patriarch of the family. But for the first time in fifty years, Salomon must do so without his loving wife, Sarah, recently deceased, at his side.
"Heartbreaking. Oscillating between laughs and tears."
As he braces himself for the celebration, waiting for Michelle to come prepare the Seder meal, Salomon chronicles his memories of previous Passovers. Through his dreamlike consciousness, Salomon invites us into the intimate history of his home and family: his release from Auschwitz, his first Passover with Sarah, the birth of their daughters, and family feuds incited by Michelle’s temper, his son-in-law’s offhanded insults, or his apathetic grandchildren’s questions. But the memories of his internment in Auschwitz haunt Salomon, invoked by his black Holocaust humor, much to his family and Sarah’s dismay. Tonight, as he has always done, Salomon will try to keep the peace between his family without Sarah’s love and guidance.
In Tonight, Joachim Schnerf re-creates a beautiful and comedic story about family, tradition, loss, and unconditional love. Tender, moving, funny, and magnificently uplifting, Schnerf brings us on a sensitive journey to the intimate heart of family, through the memories of a man approaching the end of his life. “I wanted to write a comedy about Passover and also talk about love,” he says. “I ended up writing a novel about mourning. I wanted to laugh but there I was, ultimately confronting the Holocaust. I was overwhelmed by my characters and their humor. And it’s probably in this paradox that the essence of Jewish humor resides.”
Joachim Schnerf was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1987. After studying literature and publishing in Paris and New York, he launched his career at Éditions Gallimard, before joining Éditions Grasset in 2016 as an editor of foreign literature. He published his first novel, Mon sang à l’étude (Éditions de l’Olivier, 2014). He has also written Publier la littérature française et étrangère (Éditions du Cercle de la Librarie, 2016). Tonight is his second novel.
TALES OF THE ALARM CLOCK
Michel Bussi, illustrations by Éric Puybaret
(Delcourt, 320 pages, 2018)
Corentin is different from other people. While others can speak several languages, or maybe even speak to animals, Corentin cannot. He is an awkward little boy who does not always know how to communicate with the people around him, and he has a secret: He can speak to objects. With this skill, Corentin’s world expands to places others only dream of, and makes the ordinary extraordinary.
Throughout his adventures, Corentin encounters objects of all different shapes, sizes, personalities, and opinions. When his uncle asks him to paint a ladder, Corentin tries to appease six differently colored ladder rungs who do not appreciate the order in which he arranges them, concerned that their arrangement proves one colored rung superior to the other. When he writes letters to a girl he loves, he confides his feelings in his loquacious and gossipy mailbox. He encounters an atlas who has knowledge of every place in the world yet does not have the ability to travel to any of those places. He reigns over The Valley of Tears as king, meets a small family of flowers, and listens to their familial disputes, fears, and hopes. Corentin’s adventures are a source of inexhaustible imagination, and the objects he meets are more inventive than you might expect.
Famous for his wildly successful thrillers, Michel Bussi’s love for childhood’s dreamlike wonders and vivid imagery occupies a significant place in his novels, and Tales of the Alarm Clock is no exception. Through Corentin’s adventures, Bussi dives directly into the mind of a little boy whose imagination and fantasy have captivated him for years, displaying Bussi’s characteristic fantasy, humor, and irony: “Corentin is a childhood dream. He has been with me for a very long time. Corentin is melancholic and joyful in a cruel and fantastical world. He is a dream for children, even children who have since become parents.”
Michel Bussi is a celebrated French crime author whose work has been translated in thirty-five countries. He is a professor of geography at the University of Rouen, as well as a French political commentator. Tales of the Alarm Clock is his first book for children.
Éric Puybaret is the 1999 Bologna Ragazzi laureate, awarded to him at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. He is known for Cache-Lune (Gautier-Languereau, 2002), written and illustrated by himself, and Graines de cabanes. His American audience knows him for his work on Puff, the Magic Dragon (Sterling Publishing, 2007).
(Belfond, 400 pages, 2018)
Lydia’s father, Mohsin, dies on December 9, 2011, in a retirement home in Saint-Ouen, France. To Lydia, Mohsin was a quiet and isolated old man who loved plants and quoting poetry, particularly the Persian love poem “Layla and Majnun.” But when Mohsin dies, he leaves a letter for Lydia in which he confesses to murdering an innocent young woman thirty years before—along with a mysterious box of photos of himself and a young girl that predate her birth, exposing a life Lydia didn’t know Mohsin had lived.
Having immigrated to Créteil, France, in the late 1970s from Algeria, Mohsin lived in Le Château, a decrepit mansion turned communal home, with three other families. Lydia seeks out the members of Mohsin’s former “family,” both living and dead, to discover the truth of her father’s past life. With the help of Mohammed, a florist; Ali, a financial analyst; Luna, a neurosurgeon from Seattle; Sakina, Mohsin’s old friend; and the old diary of a man named Marqus, Lydia meets Hind, Mohsin’s first “daughter.” As their stories unfold, each “family member” testifying to Mohsin’s past—and their own lives as immigrants conforming to French culture—Lydia uncovers more and more of Mohsin and Hind’s relationship, and the reasons for Hind’s notable absence.
Brilliant and shocking, Hind’s Fool is a force to be reckoned with. Through the voices of several characters, whose memories are shrouded by their emotions and prejudices, Bertille Dutheil elegantly paints the story of an absent and voiceless heroine, exploring the questions of immigration, diaspora, and assimilation into an adopted culture while preserving your own.
Bertille Dutheil lives in Paris. Currently a graduate student of history at Université Paris 1, she has also lived in Beirut to conduct her research. Hind’s Fool is her first novel.
Beekeeping According to Samuel Beckett
(Éditions de l’Olivier, 87 pages, 2012)
*** Winner of a French Voices translation grant ***
Martin Page . . . restores to Beckett his author’s rebelliousness and his political revolt.
Beckett's work offers an outlook on human existence that is bleak and tragic, often coupled with dark humor. Absurd, minimalist work. We know Beckett and his writing. Or do we? In this ingenious short novel, Martin Page combines humor and fantasy to reflect on the relationship between life and art and on the ways the canonization of great artists can obscure the key thrust of their work.
One summer in Paris, an impoverished doctoral student of anthropology is offered an unusual job: to assist the Irish poet and playwright Samuel Beckett in sorting through his archives, and mailing them to eager beneficiaries around the world. Aware of his luck, knowing that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the young man decides to keep a journal. The Beckett he discovers is a mischievous, hot-chocolate-loving beekeeper with a colorful wardrobe—very different from the austere and pessimistic man known to posterity.
"A witty and delightful novel that made one want to rediscover Beckett."
The first day on the job, the assistant is charged to find four large cardboard boxes, and, not least, to pick up an octopus sandwich at the Greek café. The job is completed well before the end of the initially agreed upon ten-day contract. A scrupulous Beckett, in search of a fair solution, comes up with a plan—why not fabricate some additional archival material since “archives is what they want.”
The two accomplices step out in the city in search of improbable objects and documents to confound and disorient future researchers. Beckett, facetiously but also mindfully, selects plastic handcuffs, language textbooks in Quechua, an X-rated movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and train tickets for strange destinations. At the same time, Beckett finds himself advising from afar the idealistic director of a Swedish prison production of Waiting for Godot. The project is a resounding success but Beckett, ever realistic, has no intention of becoming a hero of good intentions. And, when a journalist compares his celebrity to a prison, he is particularly outraged on behalf those who find themselves behind actual rather than mental walls.
In Beekeeping According to Samuel Beckett, Martin Page slips deftly between fiction—the handcuffs—and reality—the Swedish prison production. He purposefully defies the views that have come to define the personality and work of Beckett. With this delightful and clever novel, he stirs the reader to rediscover Beckett’s writings beyond the iconic Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s personality beyond the clichés.
Martin Page grew up in the Paris suburbs. His first novel, How I Became Stupid (Penguin Books, 2004) was a commercial success and won the Euroregional schools’ Literature Prize, an award given by Belgian, Dutch, and German students. He has written half a dozen other novels, eight books for children and young adults, as well as essays and short stories. In 2010, Penguin Books published The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection: A Novel. Martin Page’s books have been translated into over twenty languages.