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Week in Review: January 27, 2021

by Erin Bronner

Global Promotion of the Night of Ideas

In anticipation of the Night of Ideas: Closing the Distance, publications from around the world have promoted the 24-hour virtual marathon coordinated by the Institut Français, Paris and co-produced by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the US. France Today highlighted the San Francisco Night of Ideas, which will feature an interview with San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed. From Ireland, the Limerick Post published an article about French embassy in Ireland and its participation in the Night of Ideas. This year, teachers and students from over half a dozen schools from the Midwest region of Ireland will participate. The Times of India promoted the Indian segment of the Night of Ideas, which is set to take place in New Delhi and include French minister of ecological transition Barbara Pompili, spaceship designer Susmita Mohanty, historian William Dalrymple, political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, and economist Sanjeev Sanyal. Judith Roze, Director for French Language, Ideas and Knowledge at the Institut Français Paris, noted “We chose the theme, Closer (In Space and Time), this year to question our idea of space and physical closeness, especially in the wake of Covid-19.”


The Impact of Le Consentement

The New Yorker just released an article reflecting on both the social impact and literary achievement of Le Consentement by Vanessa Springora (Grasset) in anticipation of its English publication. Now at the head of the publishing house Julliard, Springora courageously recounts the history of sexual abuse she endured at age 14 from the famous French writer Gabriel Matzneff. The memoir sold out within a day of its release a year ago in France, and prompted prosecutors in Paris to open an investigation into the case and look for other victims. In addition to praising Springora’s merit as a writer—“Her sentences gleam like metal; each chapter snaps shut with the clean brutality of a latch. The better she writes, the freer she is”—the New Yorker also comments on how its success marked a victory for survivors of childhood sexual assault. The book sold over 200,000 copies and it is slated to be translated into 23 languages. The book’s reception indicated “a major turning point” in the perception of pedophilia according to sociologist Pierre Verdrager. Harper Collins will publish the English translation, Consent: A Memoir, on February, 16th.


Highlights from the Rentrée Littéraire d’Hiver

493 novels will be published in France between January and February 2021, and here are the novels attracting the most attention from the press. Vanity Fair starts off its list with La Vengeance m’appartient (Gallimard) by Marie NDiaye, winner of the Prix Goncourt 2009 for Trois Femmes Puissantes. In this gripping story, a lawyer in her forties defends a woman accused of a triple infanticide and along the way is shaken by the reappearance of a key figure from her childhood. The magazine also lists Les Vilaines by Camila Sosa Villada (A.m. Metailie), Dernières nouvelles - Et autres nouvelles by William T. Vollmann (Actes sud), Ce matin-là by Gaëlle Josse (Noir Sur Blanc), L’enfant de la prochaine aurore by Louise Erdrich (Albin Michel), and Illégitime by Nesrine Slaoui (Fayard) as standouts. Le Monde Afrique had also provided its list of most anticipated novels from African authors. The article names Dans le ventre du Congo by Blaise Ndala (Seuil), GrandMèreDixNeuf et le secret du Soviétique by Ondjaki (Métailié), Brûlant était le regard de Picasso by Eugène Ebodé (Gallimard), Les Divinités by Parker Bilal (Gallimard), Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Albin Michel), and Perdre le corps by Théo Ananissoh (Gallimard).


Remembering Vassilis Alexakis

The Franco-Greek writer and journalist Vassilis Alexakis passed away on January 11 at the age of 77. Le Monde, for whom he wrote, paid tribute, as did the French Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, in a press release. Alexakis was born in Athens and moved to France at the age of 17 to study at the Ecole supérieure de journalisme (ESJ) in Lille. From there, he wrote for Le Monde, La Croix and France Culture (Alexakis himself reflects on his time at Le Monde in a 2019 article). Later he authored twenty novels for which he won several awards. His novel La Langue maternelle, in which the protagonist seeks the meaning of the letter E once suspended from the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, won the Prix Médicis in 1995. In 2007, his novel Ap. J.-C. won the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française. In her statement, Bachelot-Narquin praised Alexakis as a “wonderful ferryman between two languages and two cultures” and remarks “He thus bequeaths us a deeply original, sensitive and joyful work, bearing the mark of the inexhaustible curiosity with which he observed the world he has just left.” Autumn Hill Books published two of his works in English, Foreign Words translated by Alyson Waters and Mother Tongue translated by Harlan R. Patton.

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