French Fiction Fridays #13
Our French Fiction Fridays ventures this week into affairs of the heart and explores the obstacles for peaceful coexistence admist political and personal turmoil. In Fariba Hachtroudi’s Le Colonel et l’appât 455, an interpreter comes face-to-face with her former captor and torturer, while the part-love story, part-epic novel by Gérard De Cortanze Next Year in Granada, goes back to a dreadful night of December 1066.
Le Colonel et l’appât 455
(The Colonel and Number 455)
Publisher: Albin Michel
Grand-daughter of Sheikh Esmaïl Hachtroudi, the highly respected Iranian religious leader and Parliamentarian, who took part in drafting the 1906 Constitution and defended secularism and religious tolerance, Fariba Hachtroudi is also the daughter of the celebrated mathematician and philosopher Mohsen Hachtroudi, who advocated for equality between men and women.
Born in Iran, she has lived in France since her adolescence. After earning her doctorate degree in archaeology, she worked as a journalist, covering the Iran-Iraq wars and writing extensively on Iran and women’s rights. Her first novel, Iran, les rives du sang [Iran, Shores of Blood], published by Seuil, won the Grand Prize for Human Rights in 2001. Since then, she has written many other books including novels, and several non-fiction works such as: Les femmes iraniennes, 25 ans d’inquisition islamist (2004) [Iranian Women: 25 Years of Islamist Inquisition]; A mon retour d’Iran (2008) [On My Return From Iran]; Khomeiny Express (2009), and Ali Khamenei ou les larmes de Dieu (Gallimard, 2012) [Ali Khamenei or the Tears of God].
In an unnamed northern country, a former colonel of the Theological Republic has been living in a hostel for asylum-seekers for the last five years, waiting for his case to finally be settled. One morning while waiting in the bureau for processing asylum requests, he sees walking towards him not his usual translator, who is unable to work that day, but a woman, who he immediately recognizes as Number 455 from Devine Prison, the infamous bastion of torture where they imprisoned the “bait"—that is, the loved ones of prisoners, refusing to confess.
The ex-torturer and his ex-victim will forge a conflicted relationship of mutual dependence, and their face-to-face confrontation will give way to a nightmarish return to the past and to the passion that they both still feel for their respective spouses.
Read excerpt (English) translated from the French by Jane Kuntz
Gérard De Cortanze
L'an prochain à Grenade
(Next Year in Granada)
Publisher: Albin Michel
The author of more than 70 books translated into 20 languages, Gérard de Cortanze received the Prix Renaudot in 200 for Assam. Other books include Frida Kahlo, la beauté terrible [Frida Kahlo: Terrible Beauty] and the biography Pierre Benoit, le romancier paradoxal [Pierre Benoit: The Paradoxical Novelist], which won three literary prizes. This is his first novel since 2010.
Granada, December 31, 1066: 5000 Jews are massacred in a single night by a furious mob of Muslims. Among the casualties are Samuel Ibn Kaprun, leader of the vizier’s armies, prime minister, tax collector, slave trader, a great poet… and a Jew. His young daughter Gâlâh and her Muslim lover Halim manage to escape the slaughter, but Halim is soon murdered by fundamentalist brigades. Embodying the living memory of her people, Gâlâh lives on through the centuries, turning up in Seville, Lisbon, Oran, Constantinople, Venice, Treblinka, Sarajevo, New York, and Granada once again, hundreds of years later. Finally, one September morning in 2012, we encounter her in Paris, in front of a Jewish school where a killer named Iblis is waiting for her—Iblis, whose name in the Koran means the Devil.
Next Year in Granada is: a love story about the affair between a young Jewish woman and a Muslim poet; an epic thundering with wars, pogroms, and popular uprisings; a literary novel whose spirit and inspiration place it firmly in the tradition of André Schwarz-Bart’s Le Dernier des justes [The Last of the Just] and Marek Halter’s Mémoire d’Abraham [The Book of Abraham]; and a political novel, for that dark night in 1066 has a strangely contemporary resonance. And finally, it is a philosophical fiction that leaves us with a few fundamental questions: why anti-Semitism? Why intolerance? Why hatred?
This powerful book is an unforgettable meditation on the extreme difficulty—or impossibility—of making different religions coexist peacefully, and on the disillusion of a world where words like brotherhood and tolerance have lost all meaning. What better tale than the sufferings of young Gâlâh—the living embodiment of the memory of the Jews—to capture the darkness of humanity in our day and age?
New York, NY