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French Books Usa: Week In Review

Who Killed Roland Barthes? 

Upcoming in August: Laurent Binet, author of the Prix Goncourt winning HHhH, publishes his new meta-fictional novel The Seventh Function of Language (FSG). When French Philosopher Roland Barthes dies, struck by a van in the street as he had just had lunch with former President François Mitterrand, conspiracy theories soon flourish and detective Bayard starts investigating various suspects, among which philosophy icons Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault. According to the Guardian, “Binet’s research is as immaculate as ever, and it is the care he takes to interweave the factual and the fictional that stops the novel spinning off into mere farce.” The upcoming novel was signaled by Time as one of the most notable cultural events in the magazine’s agenda, between Idris Elba, emojis and Tommy Lee Jones.  


Bill Gates Praises de Kerangal’s The Heart  

A quite unlikely book critic seems to be reading French books: business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates recommended Maylis de Kerangal’s, the Heart (FSG), explaining that it connected him to past experiences within his foundation, meeting families who have suffered losses of their own. “This book forced me to feel the depth of that grief, and it was an experience I appreciated. De Kerangal does a remarkable job connecting the reader to the characters through extensive description in accounting the tragic death of a young surfer, Simon, and his parents challenging decision of whether or not to donate his heart”. We hope other billionaires will join Gates in recommending books in translation! The New York Times also lauded the book as an “intricate lacework of precise detail.” 


Winners Announced for The French American Foundation Translation Prize

The French American Foundation recently announced its 30th annual Translation Prize winners, recognizing this year one fiction title and two nonfiction: Maylis de Kerangal’s very successful The Heart, translated by Sam Taylor (FSG), Olivier Wierviorka’s The French Resistance, translated by Jane Marie Todd (Harvard University Press), as well as Claude Arnaud’s Jean Cocteau: A Life, translated by Lauren Elkin and Charlotte Mandell (Yale University Press). Also shortlisted for the Albertine Prize, The Heart ”pulses with life” according to Publishers Weekly. The French Resistance is a comprehensive history of the French Resistance during the Second World War. Jean Cocteau: A Life is the first-ever continuous narrative of writer, artist, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s life. In a series of interviews featured on the foundation website, all four translators explain what drew them to translate these texts and reflect on the art of translation.


The Provocative Best-Seller, Elle, reviewed by Bookforum and Publishers Weekly

A controversial novel in France, Philippe Djian’s, Elle, published in the US by Other Press,opens with Michèle, the main character, lying on her living room floor after being raped by a stranger. She continues to lead her life managing a demanding job while coping with her experience using both wit and brutal honesty. Michèle “stages various scenes, real and imagined, reflexive and premeditated, that play out more or less as… games.” The book lacks chapter breaks allowing events, moods, and happenings to flow fluidly into each other without pause. The film adaptation by Paul Verhoeven, starring Isabelle Huppert, was selected for an Oscar last year. 


Summer Reading selected by the Juries of le Prix Goncourt and Prix Renaudot 

The juries for both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot, composed of seasoned experts in contemporary French literature, recently published their summer reading list. The rich selection features  Cécile Guilbert, Les Républicains (Grasset), Parisa Reza, Le Parfum de l’innocence (Gallimard), Raphaël Haroche, Retourner à la mer (Gallimard), and Maryam Madjidi, Marx et la poupée (Nouvel Attila). Writers published in the US also appear in it, such as Abdellah Taïa with Celui qui est digne d’être aimé (Seuil). Taïa has had books such as Infidels (Seven Stories Press) and Another Morocco (Semiotext(e)) published in English. Adrien Goetz Villa Kérylos (Grasset) also published A Day with Claude Monet in Giverny (Flammarion) in English; Salim Bachi Dieu, Allah, moi et les autres (Gallimard) had is book The Silence of Mohammed released by Pushkin Press. And Tin House published two works by Mahi Binebine, author of Le fou du roi (Stock): Horses of God and Welcome to Paradise.

 


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