French Books USA: Week in Review

January 28, 2016 | By Amy Martin

Angoulême Awards Announced

After a call for boycott and a change in voting procedure—due to the lack of women from the original list of 30 finalists—this year’s 43rd Angoul­ême Comics Festival Grand Prize for lifetime achievement in comics or graphic novels went to Belgian artist Hermann. The realist creator of Jeremiah and Comanche was already a finalist in 2015. This year’s controversy prompted Hermann to note that many readers have complimented him on the complexity of his heroines, and that “It would be unjust to call [him] sexist.” The festival also announced their winner for children’s comics, remarkably selected by a jury of kids age 8-12: Benjamin Renner’s Le grand méchant renard (The Big, Mean Fox).

New Member of the Académie Française

Alain Finkielkraut is now one of the Immortals of the Académie Française. Despite resistance to his membership—he received only 16 of 28 votes when he was up for election in 2014—he was inducted on Jan. 28. Upon joining, each member traditionally speaks about the author whom they replace; in this case, the Belgian-born Félicien Marceau. Finkielkraut first paid homage to his father, a survivor of Auschwitz, and then eulogized Marceau, who was accused of being a collaborator during the German occupation of France in World War II.

Transplanting Words

Maylis de Kerangal has received much attention in France for her writing style, in which she fashions something unique to each novel out of both slang and antiquated vocabulary. This winter, readers will have two ways to enjoy her story of an organ transplant: It is published as The Heart in the U.S. in a translation by Sam Taylor, and as Mend the Living in the UK and Canada in a translation by Jessica Moore. Recognizing the metaphor for her own writing style stitched into this novel, Kerangal notes that she “needed to graft pieces that came from elsewhere—medical jargon, mainly—onto phrases that were quite poetic, lyrical. So … What [she] was doing with the writing coincided completely with the central theme of the book.”

Maylis de Kerangal will be visiting the U.S. in February and March, including a discussion at Albertine Books on Feb. 23!

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me, by American journalist and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates, was released this week in France with the title Une colère noire, Lettre à mon fils. Coates wrote the essay for his son, who cried at the news that the police responsible for Michael Brown’s death were acquitted in Ferguson, Missouri. The French edition includes a preface by noted author Alain Mabanckou. Coates, francophile since learning French in school and admirer of Paris since his first visit in 2013, is spending one year in France with his wife and son.

Winter Book Season

It’s an exciting time of year for French publishing: la rentrée littéraire d’hiver, when new releases are announced, famous writers are touted, and up-and-coming novelists hope to be the “it” author of the season. Le Monde is betting on Édouard Louis’s autobiographical second novel, Histoire de la violence, along with Pour la peau by Emmanuelle Richard, praised for having a singular and intense authorial voice.  This year the 476 titles hitting the market in January and February are labeled unironically a small rentrée littéraire, following numbers reaching over 500 from 2013 to 2015. This reminds us just how much France loves books.

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