French Books USA: Week in Review

July 26, 2016 | By FRENCH CULTURE BOOKS

The fight to save James Baldwin’s French home

In an essay for LitHub, American writer Shannon Cain explains why she squatted in the former South-of-France home of James Baldwin and is now fighting to save it. Baldwin considered Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a medieval village that also once hosted artists like Picasso and Chagall, his home from 1970 until his death in 1987. Now a real estate developer plans to build luxury villas on the ten-acre property, and Cain and a group of American artists have launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of establishing an artists’ and writers’ retreat there, as Baldwin wished. In recent months, writer Thomas Chatterton Williams has drawn attention to the issue in The New Yorker and Le Monde, saying the home is a symbol of the novelist, essayist and civil rights icon himself, “a beacon of cosmopolitan love and fraternité coupled with principled social critique.” American novelist Toni Morrison has also voiced her support for the cause.

“The hand of Montaigne” now online

The National Library of France, in collaboration with the City of Bordeaux, has just made a 1588 manuscript for Michel de Montaigne’s seminal Essays available online for the first time. The printed text is annotated in Montaigne’s own hand with what the philosopher called allongeails, or elaborations, on his work’s existing arguments. The manuscript, the only surviving documentation of this practice, dwelled for centuries in a convent in Bordeaux—a city which Montaigne also served as mayor. This fall, Bordeaux will put the document on display for the first time since 1991, as part of an exhibit called Montaigne Superstars.

Literary names move up in the Légion d’honneur 

This Bastille Day, several of France’s major literary figures received promotions within the ranks of the Légion d’honneur, the French government’s highest distinction for accomplished citizens in business, politics, the arts, humanities and sciences. The Légion was created by Napoleon in 1802 and currently counts 93,000 living members. Among this month’s 654 promotions, Antoine Gallimard, the president and director of the venerated Gallimard publishing house, was named a “commander” after six years as a “chevalier,” while poet Hedi Kaddour and novelists Laurence Cossé and Maylis de Kerangal each obtained chevalier status. De Kerangal toured the U.S. this spring to discuss her hit novel, The Heart, in its new English translation, and will soon be returning stateside.

French comics at Comic Con's Eisner Awards

Comics artist Asaf Hanuka’s The Realist received a prestigious Eisner Award at the 2016 edition of San Diego Comic Con on July 22nd. Though it began as a web series and weekly newspaper comic strip in Israel, The Realist was first published in book form in France, under the title K.O. à Tel Aviv. (After a 2012 French release, the book appeared in the U.S. in 2015.) The Eisner Awards are the U.S. comics industry’s top honor for excellence in graphic narratives. In the category of Best U.S. Edition of International Material, two recently-translated French comics, Arthur de Pins’s The March of Crabs and Pierre Paquet’s A Glance Backward, joined The Realist among the category’s five nominees. Hanuka and de Pins will both be present at our Franco-Belgian Comics Festival in New York this October, so stay tuned for more information in the weeks to come.

The Stranger graphic novel in HuffPost

The Huffington Post features an interview with Jacques Ferrandez, creator of a graphic novel adaptation of Albert Camus’s classic, The Stranger. As a child, Ferrandez spent time in the neighborhood of Algiers in which Camus grew up. Though this first-hand knowledge of the novel’s setting helped him to capture some of The Stranger’s heated, menacing atmosphere, “there is something enigmatic to that book,” Ferrandez says. “Even if you… re-read it at different periods in your life, you never get a full grasp of its mystery.” Initially published in France in 2013, Ferrandez’s Stranger was released in the U.S. in June with a translation by Sandra Smith.

Virginie Despentes’s Bye Bye Blondie rocks the U.S.

Beloved punk feminist writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes’s 2006 French novel Bye Bye Blondie, released in the U.S. last month (with a translation by Sian Reynolds), has received positive notice from American critics. In the Shelf Awareness book newsletter, Linnie Green writes that the novel and its protagonist, Gloria, “possess raw emotion in spades,” while the New York Times’s Parul Sehgal highlights both Blondie and Despentes’s popular “manifesto” King Kong Theory to explore the author's unique brand of feminist writing. Sehgal concludes that Despentes’s work, like the character of Gloria herself, is “fractious, noisy, unafraid of embarrassment and impossible to contain.” Read Despentes’s own thoughts on Bye Bye Blondie, as well as an excerpt from the novel, in this preview from LitHub.

Ben Jelloun book excerpt

The Guardian recently included an excerpt from the Prix Goncourt-winning Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel-récit About My Mother, which received the 2016 PEN Promotes award for literature in English translation. Based on his personal experiences, the book is a lyrical account of life with Ben Jelloun’s aging mother, whose weakening mind leads her to reveal the long-hidden story of her youth in 1940s Fez. “Her memory’s been toppled,” observes the narrator in the Guardian excerpt, “lies scattered over the damp floor… She gets swept away by emotions that come surging back.” As noted in our recent report on the state of French translation in the U.S., the book is one of three by Ben Jelloun entering the American market this year. Translated by Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman, About My Mother will be released in the U.S. in August.

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