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Week in Review: April 30, 2021

April Showers Bring…Literary Prizes?

French authors and translators reaped an abundant harvest of awards this month, with writer and academic David Diop leading the charge as he took home the L.A. Times Book Prize for fiction in a ceremony on April 16 for his debut novel, At Night All Blood Is Black, translated by Anna Moschovakis. Diop and Prix Goncourt-winner Eric Vuillard made further headlines when both advanced to the shortlist for the International Booker Prize, Diop for the aforementioned novel and Vuillard for his nonfiction work The War of the Poor (tr. Mark Polizzotti), with The New York Times April 22 headline: “French Authors Lead International Booker Prize Shortlist” remarking on the writers’ success. Earlier this month, PEN America announced its 2021 Literary Awards winners, among them translator Emma Ramadan, for her translation of Abdellah Taïa’s A Country for Dying: A Novel. Finally, in other awards news, the French-American Foundation announced the ten finalists for their 34th Annual Translation Prize, who will be recognized in a virtual ceremony on June 3. Congratulations to all winners!

Léger’s ‘Mirrors’ Trap Light

Nathalie Léger’s triptych of confessional pseudo-biographies of women: Exposition, Suite for Barbara Loden, and The White Dress, the latest two volumes of which were translated and published by Dorothy Project in September 2020, caught new attention in The New Yorker this month, where National Book Critics Circle Award-winning writer Eula Biss wrote about the series’ layers of reflection, as Léger attempts to articulate her sense of identification with three vastly different figures, ranging from the historical to the contemporary. Biss pinpoints the connecting question in these works: “What is it that a woman recognizes when she recognizes herself in another woman?” Recognition is namely what Léger aims to give to her subjects—the Countess of Castiglione, American actress Barbara Loden, and Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca, respectively—in return for the inspiration they provide her writing, which various critics have struggled to categorize as biography, memoir, or fiction. Léger undoubtedly achieves this, as the Chicago Review of Books professed that through her literary trilogy’s triumph she has “resurrected” the women who are her muses and mirrors.

Celebrating Earth Day

On April 22, French and American politicians, publishers, and celebrities alike recognized Earth Day with calls to save our planet from ourselves, and to keep climate change and the upcoming global crisis it promises in mind, particularly as certain countries start to recover from the current one. The Books & Ideas office celebrated, as often, with reading recommendations, as an educated populace is bound to be better prepared. This planet supports a vast variety of life and genre preferences, so we have tried to recommend something for everyone: nonfiction enthusiasts should check out The Climate Coup by Mark Alizart (tr. Robin Mackay), The Great Adaptation by Romain Felli (tr. David Broder), Affluence and Freedom: An Environmental History of Political Ideas by Pierre Charbonnier (tr. Andrew Brown), and the graphic memoir Crude: A Memoir, by Pablo Fajardo, Sophie Tardy-Joubert, and Damien Roudeau (tr. Hannah Chute). Those of you who like to wax poetic can find satisfaction in Alain Mabanckou’s poems describing “bleak landscapes, places steeped in mystery where ‘the wind also speaks’”, according to the Harvard Review Online, whose collection As Long As Trees Take Root in the Earth and Other Poems, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, will be published in Fall 2021. Finally, for elementary school environmentalists, Alain Serres’s I Have the Right to Save My Planet (illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, tr. Shelley Tanaka) presents a beautifully illustrated compendium of ideas for very young people to take steps toward sustainability and environmental protection.

Tess Lewis on The Quarantine Tapes

In a recent episode of the pandemic-situated interview podcast The Quarantine Tapes, created by Paul Holdengräber, guest host Naveen Kishore spoke with Tess Lewis about the politics and ethics of translation. Kishore is the founder and managing editor of India-based international publishing house Seagull Books; Lewis is a prolific writer and translator of German and French, notably for the late poet Philippe Jaccottet. The discussion touched on recent conversations about who can and should translate works of authors of different backgrounds and identities, and how translation itself can be an act of resistance or transgression. Interested readers can listen in here.

What if Jesus Were a Proust Fan?

Thirst, Amélie Nothomb’s latest, translated by Alison Anderson, follows Jesus’s life and deeds from the perspective of the prophet himself. Nothomb’s retelling brings her characteristic wit to the Holy Writ, as we see the messiah deal with the mundane with his characteristic high-spiritedness. Not one to shy away from provocation, Nothomb covers the theme of the savior’s “thirst” and what he thirsts for from many angles. The novel also delves into the relationships between the King of Kings and the women in his life: his mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene, whom she christens Madeleine. Nothomb has written a readable, sympathetic while not sycophantic reimagining of the life and times of Christ in the vein of Philip Pullman and Sue Monk Kidd.