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Leila Slimani's New Novel, Civilizations by Laurent Binet, Literary Prizes, and The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman

by Emma Barbarette

Reconciling Cultures: Leila Slimani's New Book Explores Questions of Love and Power

On August 10, In the Country of Others by French Moroccan author and journalist Leila Slimani was published by Penguin Books in a translation by Sam Taylor. Based on Slimani’s grandparents’ story, In the Country of Others depicts two conflicting cultures brought together by love and the search for identity. Exploring issues of motherhood, hierarchy and power, it is Slimani’s third novel, following Adèle and the 2016 winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, The Perfect Nanny. In a recent interview  with NPR, Slimani spoke about her desire to “draw a parallel between a country’s fight for independence and the destiny of women” and pointed out the multi-layered hypocrisy at the core of the issue. While criticizing France for its veneration of liberty and independence until it came to the Arab world, she argues that Morocco acted similarly towards women, denying them the freedoms that Moroccan men received. Slimani further presents a nuanced picture of the “cost” of freedom. “For many women,” Slimani says, “it was very difficult to choose to be free, because to be free was also to be marginalized, to be an outcast, to be a pariah.” In The New York Times Book Review, Meena Kandasamy also touches on these ideas, noting the fine line between “assimilation” and “submission” that the novel explores. 

High Praise for Laurent Binet's Latest Work of Historical Counterfiction 

Wall Street Journal Fiction Chronicle Writer Sam Sacks lauded Laurent Binet’s Civilizations as the “best novel I've read so far this year,” and NPR book critic Lily Meyer praised it as “profoundly thoughtful” and “playful.” Civilizations is Binet’s third work of historical counterfiction published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It follows his first two successful works HHhH and The Seventh Function of Language. At the heart of Civilizations lies the conquest of 16th-century Spain by Incan emperor Atahualpa. Indeed, the novel constitutes a work of fiction, but its reimagination of the colonization and territorial acquisition of past centuries raises questions about the nature of brutality, religion, and tolerance. "Civilizations is the rare novel that manages to wear its ethical investigation lightly without minimizing its own questions,” Meyer writes. The book has already received extensive attention. In 2019, it won the Grand Prix du Roman, and currently, Anonymous Content and Païva Studio are co-producing a television series based on Civilizations to be released in multiple languages. Its translator, Sam Taylor, commended Binet’s “unpredictability” and “desire to push the envelope of possibilities offered by fiction.”  

And the Award Goes to...: French Books and Translated Works Contend for Literary Prizes

Earlier this month, the 2021 National Book Awards (NBA) Longlist for Translated Literature was announced. It includes two French translated works, Waiting for the Waters to Rise by Maryse Condé from World Editions and Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin from Daunt Books. These two novels, along with eight others published in six different languages, were selected out of 164 books submitted by publishers. Finalists will be announced on October 5 and the winners will be awarded live on November 17 at the NBA Ceremony. Additionally, on September 2, the American Literary Translators Association announced its longlists for the 2021 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose . Among them is Humus by Fabienne Kanor translated from the French by Lynn E. Palermo. The novel recounts the stories of fourteen African women who escaped the slave ship Le Soleil in 1774, risking, and even giving, their lives to avoid enslavement. By weaving the voices of each woman together, Kanor highlights the universally brutal and dehumanizing elements of slavery. The award ceremony will take place on Saturday October 16 in a joint online-in person event. To attend, register here.

The Book of Mother: A "thoughtful exploration of familial trauma"

The English translation by Leslie Camhi of Violaine Huisman’s The Book of Mother will be released on October 19 from Scribner. Exploring the issues of motherhood, family instability, and mental health struggles, Huisman’s debut novel (originally published by Gallimard) received several literary prizes, including the Prix Françoise Sagan and the Prix Marie Claire. The novel has earned praise from across the world of literature: Publishers Weekly lauded Huisman’s “storytelling ability” as “immense” and described the book itself as a “thoughtful exploration of familial trauma and love [that] will have readers  riveted.” Moreover, Kirkus commended Camhi’s work for its ability to “convey Violaine’s steady compulsion to understand and explain interspersed with gorgeous details.”  Violaine Huisman will celebrate the publication at Albertine Books on November 7. For more info about the online event and to register please click here