Traveling Companions: Books to Take You There and Back Again
Whether you spend your summer months trekking across continents, taking day trips to the beach, or just commuting across town, there is no better companion for your journey than a good book. Join us for a trip around the world with authors and narrative styles as varied as the countries they visit. Rediscover your own destinations through the eyes of other travelers or take a trip from the comfort of your own couch.
1. The Epic Traveler - Brazil
Where Tigers are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, Translated by Mike Mitchell (Other Press, 2013)
Retired French journalist Eléazard von Wogau lives in a dilapidated mansion in the Brazilian Amazon where he is translating the biography of 17th century Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. In this sprawling, 800+ page novel that crosses continents and eras, we follow von Wogau, his estranged wife, his daughter, and a number of historical characters on their individual journeys, as all the story’s disparate threads are slowly tied together. Winner of the Prix Médicis, this critically acclaimed novel is packed with adventure, sexual exploration, mystery and history.
This September, join Blas de Roblès and a stunning roster of international literary stars at the Brooklyn Book Festival. More information about his US tour here.
2. The Voyager of Memory - Haiti
The Enigma of the Return by Dany Laferrière, Translated by David Homel (Quercus Books, 2013)
The Enigma of the Return follows Windsor Laferrière, an exiled Haitian writer and political dissident, from the freezing Montreal winter to the wet heat of Haiti. When Windsor’s father, who has himself lived in exile for the past fifty years, dies in New York, the son embarks on a journey that takes him from the stateside funeral to his home island. In a journey back to his roots, the author rediscovers his identity as a Haitian and as an author.
If you enjoy this book, check out An Aroma of Coffee (Coach House Press, 1993), a lyrical novel about Laferrière’s childhood in a Haitian seaside village, composed of brief, evocative scenes.
3. The Self-Identified Nomad - Algeria
Writings from the Sand: Collected Works of Isabelle Eberhardt Vol 1 Edited by Odile Delacour and Jean-René Huleu, Translated by Melissa Marcus (University of Nebraska Press, 2012)
Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1877 to a Russian mother and father whose identity was never revealed, Isabelle Eberhardt is a figure shrouded in mystery and myth. As a young woman, she moved to Algeria, where she lived most of her life dressing as a man and living under the pseudonym Mahmoud Essadi. In this collection of meditations, travel notes, short stories and essays, Eberhardt describes the country she has chosen as her home, and the one in which she will eventually die at the age of 27 during a freak flood in the middle of the desert. Her descriptions can be at times enchanting and jarring, as Eberhardt attempts to define her identity through her travels and writing.
Look out for the second volume of this collection, forthcoming in 2014 from University of Nebraska Press.
4. The Cryptic Cartographer - France
Hotel Crystal by Olivier Rolin, Translated by Jane Kuntz (Dalkey Archive Press, 2008)
In a lost-and-found in Paris, a missing author's briefcase, containing a few books and numerous travel notes, is discovered by his friend. The notes, scribbled on sheets of notebook paper, hotel stationary, postcards, maps, etc, all begin with meticulous descriptions of hotel rooms, which eventually give way to bits of narrative about the events and characters encountered in the author's travels. As they are collected and transcribed by an "editor", what emerges is a highly inventive novel of suspense and a spoof of European literary and cultural conventions.
Olivier Rolin will be in the United States this November as part of the Authors on Tour program. More information here.
5. The Romantic Expat - Japan
Tokyo Fiancée by Amélie Nothomb, Translated by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions, 2009)
Single Belgian twentysomething Amélie is not looking for commitment. When she moves to Tokyo and begins teaching Rinri, a young Japanese businessman, their relationship quickly becomes more than strictly professional. But while he is interested in romantic love, she wants nothing more than koi, the Japanese term for a casual sexual relationship based on camaraderie. Through her relationship with Rinri, however, Amélie rediscovers and romanticizes the Japan of her childhood.
Other novels by Nothomb, including her most recent, Life Form, are available from Europa Editions.
6. The Road Tripper - USA/Canada
Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin, Translated by Sheila Fischman (Cormorant Books, 2002)
Novelist Jack Waterman is experiencing a bout of writer’s block when he decides to hit the road in search of his long lost, nomadic brother, Théo. Starting in Gaspé, he and a hitchhiking Métis woman take off on a trip to San Francisco in his Volkswagen minibus. The geographical journey traces and becomes a metaphor for the history of the French in North America. Originally published in 1984, this novel by French-Canadian author Jacques Poulin has become a Canadian classic both in its original language and in translation.
Three other fantastic books by Poulin, Mister Blue (2012), Translation is a Love Affair (2009) and Spring Tides (2007), are available from Archipelago Books.
La Maison Francaise, New York University
16 Washington Mews
New York, 10003 NY