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Coming soon to a Bookstore near You

by Shannon Sullivan

A murderous nanny and an Iranian immigrant at a fertility clinic: the subjects of two works penned by some of France’s best contemporary authors, each touring in the United States in the coming weeks. The Cultural Services of the French Embassy presents Leïla Slimani and Négar Djavadi on tour this spring, highlighting their recent releases. The works of both authors play into three themes: a piece of the author’s personal life, giving a voice to the voiceless, and France as a home. Slimani’s The Perfect Nannywinner of the 2016 Prix Goncourt, tells of a Parisian couple who seek the titular nanny for their two children when lawyer Myriam decides to return to work. Djavadi’s debut novel, Disoriental, follows immigrant Kimiâ fifteen years after she comes to France, as she revisits her past and the stories of her ancestors at a Parisian fertility clinic, confronting the divide between her family’s traditions and her own “disorientalization.” 

The personal touch

Slimani and Djavadihave each woven pieces of their personal lives into their books: like main character Myriam, Slimani refuses to define herself only by her Moroccan roots, maintaining that she is so much more than her nationality; Djavadi, as well as her protagonist Kimiâ, fled Iran to France at a young age due to her family’s political dissidence.

Voices to the voiceless

In their own way, the works of each tour highlight a topic seldom acknowledged. Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny examines the conflict of motherhood versus career, taking readers through Myriam’s decision to leave her beloved children to return to a treasured law career. Kimiâ’s sexual orientation in Djavadi’s Disoriental, while certainly more widely accepted in France than Iran, marginalizes her further.

A new kind of home

Both authors have found a new home in France, whether physical or philosophical. Djavadi and her family sought political refuge once Iran was no longer safe, crossing the mountains of Kurdistan on horseback to find a new haven in France. Moroccan-born Slimani moved to Paris at age 17 to study and, finding that people “seemed so free,” made it her new home. 

Leïla Slimani will be at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles on April 14 before participating in the Pen World Voices Festival on April 16 in New York City and appearing at Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore April 17, at Princeton’s Rocky-Mathey Theater on April 19, and at Albertine Books on April 21. Négar Djavadi will appear at the Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts on April 17, at the Pen World Voices Festival from April 19-21, and at Albertine Books on April 22.

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