French Books USA: Week in Review

June 4, 2015 | By Kyra Sturgill
Dany Laferrière was inducted into the Académie Française last week. The Canadian writer from Haiti is the first non-French citizen to join the Adadémie.

Dany Laferrière Inducted into the Académie Française
Laferrière, a Canadian writer from Haiti, and the first non-French citizen to join the Académie Française, was inducted into the prestigious French society of letters last week before a crowd that included French President François Hollande as well as political leaders from Quebec and Haiti. A journalist in Haiti, Laferrière fled the country for Montreal in 1976 after the murder of one of his colleagues. After taking a number of odd jobs, he resumed his writing and has since authored over 20 novels. Laferrière’s induction is an example of language trumping nationality, said Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, the permanent secretary of the academy.  “Homeland is the language” she declared. Reflecting on his origins, Laferrière said, “I don’t just come from Haiti or Quebec; I also come from the books in my library.”

Michel Houellebecq Awarded Prize of the BnF
The French novelist Michel Houellebecq was chosen this week to receive the 7th annual prize designated by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Since 2009, the BnF has awarded annually its prize to an author writing in French for his or her body of work. Past recipients include Patrick Modiano in 2011 and Milan Kundera in 2012. Jean-Claude Meyer, President of "le cercle de la BnF," described Houellebecq as one of the most important French authors, as his writing “confronts contemporary issues with courage” and “forces the reader to ask questions.” Houellebecq’s most recent novel, Soumission, or Submission in English, was published in France this past year and will be published in English this fall. The Paris Review’s most recent issue features an excerpt from the coming English translation.

French Translations of June
Two highly anticipated translations from French are being published in English this month. The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated by John Cullen, and The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher, is or will be available to English readers in the coming weeks. The Meursault Investigation, which was published on June 2nd, is a recollection of the brother of "the Arab" murdered in Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Since Daoud was featured in The New York Times Magazine earlier this year, and after winning the French Goncourt First Novel Prize last month, anticipation for the English version has augmented. The book will surely prove to be a popular and thought-provoking read. And next, The Festival of Insignificance is Kundera’s long awaited 10th novel and his first in 14 years. The characters of the brief novel are five middle-aged men living in Paris, who wander the city and its environs as they contemplate art, politics, ageing and death, among other topics. The English translation will be published on June 23rd.


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