French Books USA: Week in Review
Modiano and Nothomb in Publishers Weekly
Patrick Modiano's Nobel win catapulted the French writer onto the interntional stage, and as such, much of what is appearing in translation comes bearing a perfect introduction to Modiano! tag. Rather than interpret this as a book club endorsement, it makes more sense to understand the introductory tags as markers for Modiano's hallmark themes: memory, loss, unexpected discovery. At just about 160 pages, Paris Nocturne expands on these concepts via a mysterious accident involving a teenager and the dormant memories of a missing woman before the beginning of the narrative. Finding clues in the everyday, Modiano shows us how "the fog of the past lingers on all the artifacts of daily life." As for Nothomb, her novel Pétronille "drip[s] with champagne and mischief." A hard-drinking writer finds her perfect companion in an erratic woman who, under financial pressure, decides to become a pharmaceutical lab rat. The relationship between the two women grows equal parts volatile and dependant in Nothomb's "energetic" novel.
Andreï Makine Review in Wall Street Journal
In his latest novel-in-stories, Andreï Makine pursues the most radical of subversions to the Soviet system: love. Makine's writing is its own Siberian winter in its sections of beauty and brutality, and the stories in Brief Loves That Live Forever center around the idea that "fleeting happiness of love in the present will always have more resonance than either rage at the past or the promise of the future." A teenage orphan boy's chance encounter with a visiting girl ignites a juxtaposition between the totality of the state and the unexpected force of love.
Finding New Ways
Times are tough for the ol' physical book. This comes as no surprise. What's exciting, however, are the clever ways vendors (and writers) are working with (or circumventing) the ditigal world in hopes of putting paper in the hands of readers. In Scotland, AirBnB users can rent out a room above a bookshop for a week and also run the store itself. In Japan, a bookstore purchased 90% of the print run of Murakami's newest book to combat online retailers like Amazon. Among French dissenters, Frédéric Beigbeder's voice is probably louder than most. The outspoken writer refused to digitally publish The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of JD Salinger, and even included a warning against piracy at the end of the book. His newest book, Conversations d'un enfant du siècle will be available for digital download in what seems to be a sort of truce between Beigbeder and the Internet, but as the figures show, book pirating is a bit more nebulous than other entertainment mediums.
Books and the Public Discourse
The noise surrounding immigration in France is a crescendo of decades of political and social upheaval that ensnares two very different images: one of violence and another of inclusion. This week, we observe two instances of how books and education can make impacts in immigrant and underserved communities. In Calais, where a refugee camp has become its own city, a library serving displaced migrants opened and continues to seek donations. In the Parisian banlieues, where years of separation has given rise to "the unloved children of the republic," George Packer of The New Yorker examines (with references to Jean-Pierre Filiu, Gilles Kepel and Farhad Khosrokhavar) the early causes of shattered French and identities stemming from, among other factors, an institutional failure to create a national story and curriculum that includes all French citizens.
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