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Books to Pack in Your Suitcase This Summer

What better time than summer to take a literary voyage through the pages of a good book? Read on below for some of our favorite contemporary and classic reads in French and English. Whether you're into fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, or children's books, we're sure you'll find something to dive into below. Bonne lecture!


Gaël Faye, Small Country, Hogarth-Penguin Random House, 2018, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Gaël Faye’s first novel, released in 2016 in France to great critical and popular acclaim, tells the story of ten-year-old Gabriel, who enjoys life in his little paradise, an expatriate neighborhood in Burundi in 1992. Little does he know that his peaceful existence will be transformed when Burundi and Rwanda are hit by civil war and genocide. The book remains a fiction best-seller in France and its author, who is also a singer-songwriter, is a rising star in the French literary milieu.

François-René de Chateaubriand, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, 1768–1800, New York Review of Books, 2018, translated by Alex Andriesse
In his world-famous work that acts as both a memoir and an autobiography, François-René de Chateaubriand recounts 32 years of his life, from his experiences as a young Breton traveler, to those as aristocratic soldier. A wittyy and sincere meditation, it also reflects on history, morality, exile, and the nineteenth century, and builds a colossal bildungsroman. The Memoirs are a timeless cornerstone of French literature, the masterpiece of an author who is considered by many as the forerunner of romanticism. 

Annie Ernaux, The Years, Seven Stories Press, 2017, translated by Jonathan Kaplansky
Widely considered to be the major work of one of the most celebrated contemporary Francophone authors, The Years offers a singular perspective on the turmoil experienced by French society for almost seventy years, seen through the author’s eyes—as a woman, an activist, and a teacher. It stands at the confluence of autobiography and sociology as it shows the links between intimate and collective history.

Agnès Desarthe, Hunting Party, Unnamed Press, 2018, translated by Christiana Hills
In this enigmatic book released this July, Desarthe explores existential issues, such as desire, the dynamic between men and women, and the meaning of masculinity in today’s society. Newcomer Tristan is urged by his wife to get to know the hunters of the village ; on his first trip, though not intending to kill, Tristan happens to shoot a rabbit. While carrying the half-dead animal in his game bag, the rabbit strikes up a conversation with him; he thus becomes a character on his own and, in this sylvan setting, the only possible interlocutor of a man lost between the human and the animal worlds.

Michel Leiris, Rules of the Game (Vol.1-3) (Scratches, Scraps, Fibrils), Yale University Press, 2017, translated by Lydia Davis
Michel Leiris’ seminal autobiographical work is built on his childhood memories which fueled his reflection on writing and the construction of his character. Having conscientiously recorded each remembrance on index cards, his language studies serve as the basis of this almost 40-year undertaking, resulting in a witty, unclassifiable and unequalled self-portrait. 



Patrick Chamoiseau, Migrant Brothers, Yale University Press, 2018, translated by Matthew Amos & Fredrik Ronnback
Referencing Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau’s powerful Migrant Brothers is a cry against the injustices, crimes and violence perpetrated against the migrants who arrive, hopeful for a better future, at the European borders. This text is effectively a call for humanity as a global community, and an invitation to see the world as such, without any consideration of one’s origins.

Evelyne Bloch-Dano, Paper Gardens: A Stroll through French Literature, University of Virginia Press, 2018, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Evelyne Bloch-Dano invites us to stroll through the gardens that populate many of French literature’s major works, from Rousseau to Modiano, Proust and Duras. Paper Gardens allows readers to stroll and wander among authors, their works and trees alike. 

Philippe Costamagna, The Eye, New Vessel Press, 2018, translated by Franck Wynne
Art historian Philippe Costamagna focuses on an equally fascinating and unfamiliar profession called “the Eye.” Behind its ominous name is a craft that requires a unique blend of deep knowledge and innate sensibility. Both a memoir and a journey through art, this singular book challenges the beautiful, and notions of talent, creation, and art value.

Antoine de Baecque & Noël Herpe, Éric Rohmer: A Biography, Columbia University Press, 2018, translated by Steven Rendall & Lisa Neal
Summer is a time for movies, and this superb biography explores the life of celebrated filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who embodies a very French approach to the art form. The director of such classics as My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s knee, Pauline at the Beach and The Green Ray, Rohmer was known for discovering actors and actresses such as Fabrice Luchini, Melvil Poupaud and Pascale Ogiers and making the most of their talent. This exhaustive account explores the rivate man and his complex personality as well as his incredible oeuvre. 

Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault, Disorderly Families: Infamous Letters from the Bastille Archives, University of Minnesota Press, 2017, translated by Thomas Scott-Railton
Disorderly Families looks at a lesser-known function of lettres de cachet after the French Revolution. Following the storming of the Bastille, these lettres—letters addressed to the king in order to arrest or commit someone to an institution without any procedure or lawsuit—were brandished by the people as the worst expression of the arbitrary power of the monarch who could, with the utmost secrecy, eradicate enemies of the throne. The authors, on the other hand, propose another reading of these letters: as a testimony of the people’s passions and anger, and a key to the intimacy of families including their disorders and arguments.


Graphic Novels and Children's Books

Barroux and Bessora, Alpha Abidjan to Paris, Bellevue Literary Press, 2018, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
This beautifully illustrated and award-winning graphic novel highlights the ongoing refugee crisis by introducing readers to Alpha, whose visa-less journey is fraught with challenges. When his wife and son leave Abidjan to reach Paris, he stays behind, but is anxious to rejoin them; while trying to reach them, he soon encounters unscrupulous human traffickers and is shunted around between refugee camps and overcrowded lifeboats full of people aching to reach Paris. 

Maria Dek, When I Am Big, Princeton Architectural Press, 2018
What did you want to be when you grew up? A rollercoaster builder or a giraffe-walker? Illustrated by fantastic drawings, this adventurous book follows a little boy as he dreams about his future life, wondering what he will become when he grows up. His poetic projections fuel imagination and representations, urging children to be confident and to express their utmost will and desires.

Timothée De Fombelle, The Book of Pearl, Penguin Random House, 2018, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Winner of the 2015 Prix 12/14 of la Foire de Brive, this book depicts intertwined fates with magic and subtlety. Ilian, a young prince bullied by his tyrannical brother, falls in love with a fairy named Olia, whom he will seek for the rest of his life. His brother’s jealousy urges Ilian to escape to a parallel world and time—ours—before the beginning of the Second World War. The Book of Pearl is at the crossroads of tale, history, and character’s memories.

Malika Ferdjoukh and Cati Baur, Four Sisters, Vol. 1: Enid, Penguin Random House, 2017, translated by Edward Gauvin
Nominated for the Children’s Graphic Novel award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival upon its release, this first volume of Malika Ferdjoukh’s well-known series, illustrated by Cati Baur, is a moving testament to the power of innocence and the importance of family during times both good and bad. It focuses on nine-year-old Enid, who has trouble overcoming her grief after the death of her parents; she finds solace in the animals she meets during walks as well as with her beloved sisters. 

Jeremy Royer and Fabien Grolleau, Audubon, On the Wings of the World, Nobrow Press, 2017, translated by Etienne Gilfillan
This breathtaking and vibrant graphic novel recounts the real story of John James Audubon, the first American ornithologist, who embarked on the Mississippi for his first exploration at the beginning of the 19th century. Once upon American soil, he began to study and paint all the bird species he could find, thus creating an acclaimed natural history work of art. This impetuous adventurer and gifted painter’s life is wonderfully depicted by Royer and Grolleau, owed in part to Audubon’s own retellings and artwork.