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Award-winning French Novels

We recently compiled an extensive list, from a large number of expert contributors, of the latest French fiction and non-fiction books in translation. After completing this titanic task, a new question arose: which outstanding French titles published last year are still waiting for an American publisher to take on the English translation? Of course, with only 1% of the world's translated fiction published in the U.S., quite a few books (not only French) remain unknown to American audiences.

However, in order to choose from among the hundreds of fiction titles published in 2013, which still await a translation, we needed to come up with some “objective” criteria. And what better way than to prepare a list of the literary prizes awarded every year in France? Well, at first it seemed like a good idea, until we realized that there are around 2,000 literary prizes awarded in France every year. So we decided to narrow the scope and focus on the best-selling awards. Who are they?

In a recent study, the GfK institute listed the following awards as having the largest influence on sales:

  1. 1. Prix Goncourt (380,000 average sales)
    2. Prix Renaudot (220,000)
    3. Prix Femina (155,000)
    4. Prix Goncourt des lycéens (125,000)
    5. Grand prix des lectrices de Elle (120,000)
    6. Prix des maisons de la presse (100,000)
    7. Prix Interallié (95,000)
    8. Prix du livre Inter (60,000)
    9. Prix des libraires (55,000)
    10. Prix du roman Fnac (50,000)
    11. Prix Médicis (42,000)

In addition to these eleven choices, our selection includes five others, creating a list of sixteen awards: Goncourt du premier roman, Goncourt, Prix de Flore, Grand prix du roman de l'Académie Française, Renaudot, Décembre, Interallié, Médicis,  Goncourt des lycéens, Prix des libraires, Prix du roman FNAC, Grand prix des lectrices de ELLE, Prix des Maisons de la Presse, Prix du livre Inter, Prix RTL-LIRE, Prix du quai des Orfèvres. These were chosen because of their uncontested professional prestige as well as their appeal to wide readerships, from the most respected and illustrious award committees, trade members and institutions, to the very honorable and widely recognized readers’ juries with established legacies.

These prizes are awarded by very different kinds of juries: media outlets (France Inter, Lire, RTL and Elle), book-sellers (Prix des libraires and FNAC), women (Femina), book professionals and literary figures (Goncourt, Renaudot, Décembre, Prix de Flore), French academics (Académie française), young readers (Prix Goncourt des lycéens) and distributors (Prix des maisons de la presse).

This diversity, in our opinion a guarantee of quality, is represented by each award’s history in addition to the unique backgrounds of the juries, themselves. Here are two interesting examples:

The prix du Quai des Orfèvres was created in 1946 and its recipients are chosen by a jury of 22 individuals under the authority of the Head of the Judiciary Police.  These include high-ranking magistrates and a number of highly qualified public officials: police officers, lawyers, renowned journalists, as well as former heads of the regional judiciary police administration at 36 quai des Orfèvres. The selection is made at “36”, in tribute to Georges Simenon’s famous fictional detective, l’Inspecteur Maigret. This distinctive panel is intended to verify the judicial, legal, and scientific importance of the text while offering a fresh non-literary and subjective look at works of fiction.

The Goncourt and Goncourt du premier roman are given to authors by a jury of French-speaking writers. Elected by relative majority, each member at Drouant (a historical Parisian restaurant) has the cutlery of the member he/she replaces. The fork and the knife are made of silver-gilt metal engraved with their names. Being a member of this jury is a benevolent commitment which honors literature through collaboration. The winner of the Goncourt receives a symbolic 10€ check, the winner of the Goncourt du premier roman a 3,800€ check.

Titles to be Translated

We began with a list of 112 books that had been nominated for or won these different awards in 2013 and in the beginning of 2014. Among the 112 nominated and/or awarded titles by the renowned French Awards we selected for 2013 and the end of 2014, the following are the novels for which a future translation has already been promised by book professionals:

  1. 1. L’Echange des princesses by Chantal Thomas (Seuil), nominated for the prix Goncourt et Goncourt des lycéens (The Other Press);

  2. 2. Au revoir là-haut by Pierre Lemaître (Albin Michel), nominated for Goncourt des lycéens, Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française, Renaudot, Interallié, Fémina, Prix des libraires and awarded the Goncourt  (Quercus/ MacLehose) ;

  3. 3. Heureux les heureux by Yasmina Reza (Flammarion), nominated for the prix du Livre Inter and prix RTL-LIRE (Seven Stories Press) ;

  4. 4. Nue by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (Minuit) nominated for the Goncourt, Goncourt des lycéens, et Fémina (Dalkey Archive Press) ;

  5. 5. Le Cercle by Bernard Minier (XO) nominated for the Grand Prix des lectrices de ELLE (Saint Martin’s Press) ;

  6. 6. L’Invention de nos vies by Karine Tuil (Grasset) nominated for Goncourt, Goncourt des lycéens, Interallié, Fémina and Prix des libraires (Atria / Simon and Schuster) ;

  7. 7. Moment d’un couple by Nelly Alard (Gallimard) Interallié Prize laureate, nominated for the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française, and Décembre (The Other Press) ;

  8. 8. La Déesse des petites victoires by Yannick Grannec (Anne Carrière), winner of the Prix des libraires (The Other Press) ;

  9. 9. Réparer les vivants by Maylis de Kérangal (Gallimard), winner of the Prix RTL-Lire (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Already Translated Authors

We are very happy to announce that over a quarter of the selected titles’ authors already have books that have previously been translated into English, and therefore have a good chance to see their titles continue to flourish in the American market.

Here is a list of the authors who have not yet signed a contract with an American publisher for their latest book, including a mention of their previous translated titles:

  1. 1. Emmanuèle Bernheim, Tout s’est bien passé, Gallimard, 2014

  2. 2. Alain Blottière, Rêveurs, Gallimard, 2013

  3. 3. Alain Jaubert, Au bord de la mer violette, Gallimard, 2013

  4. 4. Alice Zeniter, Sombre dimanche, Albin Michel, 2013

  5. 5. Catherine Mavrikakis, Les Derniers Jours de Smokey Nelson, Sabine Wespieser, 2013

  6. 6. Christian Oster, En ville, L’Olivier, 2013

  7. 7. David Foenkinos, Je vais mieux, Gallimard, 2013

  8. 8. Didier Van Cauwelaert, La Femme de nos vies, Albin Michel, 2013

  9. 9. Dominique Le Brun, Quai de la douane, Editions du Télégramme, 2013

  10. 10. Fabrice Humbert, Avant la chute, Le Passage, 2013

  11. 11. Jean Rolin, Ormuz, P.O.L, 2013

  12. 12. Jérôme Ferrari, Sermon sur la chute de Rome, Actes Sud, 2013

  13. 13. Judith Perrignon, Les Faibles et les forts, Stock, 2013

  14. 14. Laurent Seksik, Le Cas Edouard Einstein, Flammarion, 2013

  15. 15. Leonora Miano, La Saison de l’ombre, Grasset, 2013

  16. 16. Marc Weitzmann, Une matière inflammable, Stock, 2013

  17. 17. Marie Darrieussecq, Il faut beaucoup aimer les homes, P.O.L, 2013

  18. 18. Marie Ndiaye, La Divine, Gallimard, 2013

  19. 19. Olivier Adam, Les Lisières, Flammarion, 2013

  20. 20. Olivier Bleys, Concerto pour la main morte, Albin Michel, 2013

  21. 21. Philippe Jaenada, Sulak, Julliard, 2013

  22. 22. Serge Joncour, L’Amour sans le faire, Flammarion, 2013

  23. 23. Sorj Chalandon, Le Quatrième mur, Grasset, 2013

  24. 24. Sylvie Germain, Petites scènes capitales, Albin Michel, 2013

  25. 25. Tanguy Viel, La Disparition de Jim Sullivan, Minuit, 2013

  26. 26. Tristan Garcia, Faber, Gallimard, 2013

  27. 27. Véronique Ovaldé, La Grâce des brigands, L’Olivier, 2013

Authors Not Yet Translated

No less than 12—or 11%—of the titles by nominated or award-winning authors featured in our study have never been translated into English.  Below is a list of those 12 noteworthy titles:

Le Bleu des abeilles by Laure Alcoba (Gallimard), nominated for Fémina, Médicis, and Prix des libraires. (Fiction, August 2013, 128 pages)

The narrator is about ten when she leaves Argentina to join her mother who, opposed to the dictatorship, has taken refuge in France whilst the little girl’s father remains in prison at La Plata. She can’t wait to discover Paris, the Eiffel Tower, but the reality of Blanc-Mesnil, the suburb where she ends up, scarcely resembles the image of the host country she had in mind. Learning French will present a great challenge to the little girl.

As in her first book, Manèges (published in English under the title The Rabbit House) Laura Alcoba describes a harsh reality with the voice and the perception of a dazzled child. The life of a schoolgirl, her correspondence with her imprisoned father, daily life in the suburbs, the wonder-filled experience of learning a new language, all combine to form an occasionally acid chronicle that is also joyous and profoundly touching.

The author, novelist and translator Laura Alcoba, lived in Argentina until the age of ten. Today she lives in Paris and teaches Spanish literature. Gallimard has already published her Manèges (2007) translated in 5 languages, Jardin Blanc (2009) and Les passagers de l’Anna C. (2012).

8,500 copies of Le Bleu des abeilles were sold in the first 9 months. Please contact Anne-Solange Noble for Gallimard’s foreign rights at anne-solange.noble@gallimard.fr

Le Divan de Staline de Jean-Daniel Baltassat (Seuil), nominé pour le Goncourt, le Goncourt des lycéens, et le Prix des libraires. (Fiction, August 2013, 312 pages)

With three years yet to live, Stalin spends several days in his native Georgia. The Vodieva, who has been his mistress for a long time, joins him in the decadent palace where he is staying. She is accompanied by a young painter whom she protects:  Danilov, a prodigy of socialist realism, has created an incredible work to celebrate the glorious eternity of the Little Father of the Peoples.

Insomnia, infinite questioning, infinite waiting. Stretched on his couch that is strangely similar to Freud’s, Stalin plays with the ghosts that haunt his dreams:  his mother, his wife who committed suicide, his years in Siberia, and Lenin, the greatest of the lying fathers.  Around the man who never trembles, there is only terror, submission, ruthless cruelty:  his true monument of eternity.

Jean-Daniel Baltassat approaches Stalin as writer, with a remarkable evocative power where imagination takes over from historical truth.

4,500 copies of Le Divan de Staline were sold. Please contact Jennie Dorny for Seuil’s foreign rights at jenniedorny@seuil.com

  • La Claire Fontaine de David Bosc (Verdier), nominated for the Goncourt, Goncourt des lycéens, and the prix Décembre. (Fiction, August 2013, 128 pages)

The man who had just crossed the frontier without the police knowing, on that 23rd of July, 1873, was a dead man. Dead to threats, blackmail, little schemes. A dead man who will make love before 8 days would come to a close.

While exiled in Switzerland, Gustave Courbet gave himself to the great pleasures of life: he painted, he partied, and he bathed in rivers and lakes. One is bewitched by the freedom of this body, whose wake untangles the lanes of the borough, of this big belly which slowly parts waters, valleys and woods.

When he was painting, Courbet would plunge his face in nature, his eyes, his lips, his nose, both his hands, at the risk of going astray, but most of all of being dazzled, uplifted, freed from himself.

What secrets are held in the four years spent at La Tour-de-Peilz, on the shores of Lac Léman?  This period is usually summed up in two facts –Courbet stops painting and he kills himself with drinking – but there is a much longer story to tell. 

This secret, tested in the fire of la Commune de Paris, is the contagious joy of a man who is the master of himself.

David Bosc was born in 1973 in Carcassonne, south of France. He lives and works in Switzerland where he works as an editor.

Around 10,000 copies of La Claire fontaine were sold in France and francophone territories thus far. Please contact Colette Olive for Verdier’s foreign rights at colette.olive@editions-verdier.fr

  • Le Dernier Seigneur de Marsad de Charif Majdalani (Seuil), nominated for the Renaudot, Fémina, Médicis and the Prix des libraires. (Fiction, August 2013, 256 pages)

Beirut, Marsad neighborhood, 1964. Simone, Chakib Khattar’s youngest daughter, is kidnapped by Hamid Chahine, her father’s right-hand-man in the factory. Khattar is a Christian notable whose family is in the marble industry. This elopement is bad news for him since he is obsessed with the transmission of his patrimony. Confronted with his heirs’ indifference or incapacity, he turned Hamid into more than a man of trust, a kind of spiritual son. The kidnapping comes to a sudden end after the two lovers try to marry secretly. Forced to turn out Hamid, Khattar watches the world around him slowly change: Lebanon sinks deep into war, between 1975 and the end of the 1980s. Isolated, abandoned by his family, the last lord of Marsad is at the heart of the convulsions of a country given over to militia and chaos.

The wind of History blows through this romanesque fresco which is also a fable on the vanity of strength and power.

4,700 copies of Le Dernier seigneur de Marsad were sold. Please contact Jennie Dorny for Seuil’s foreign rights at jenniedorny@seuil.com

  • Faillir être flingué, by Céline Minard (Rivages), nominated for Fémina, Médicis, and Prix des libraires and winner of Prix du Livre Inter 2014. (Fiction,  August  2013, 356  pages)

A Western with roots, a veritable founding saga that ranges from lyrical to dramatic to burlesque, Faillir être flingué is first and foremost a vibrant celebration of the shifting limits of the imagination.

On the outskirts of a burgeoning town that all trails lead to, a fresh breath is blowing over the inhospitable prairies of the Far West. That breath belongs to Water-Running-Over-the-Plains, a young Indian woman whose clan was decimated and who has been using her skills as a healer for the good of both Whites and Indians ever since.

She will meet plenty of people: Brad and Jeff, brothers who are crossing the great open spaces along with their dying old mother in a rickety cart drawn by two stubborn old oxen; Gifford, who would have died of smallpox if Water-Running hadn’t saved him in the nick of time; Elie, who’s on the run from Bird Boisverd, whose horse he stole; Arcadia, a wandering musician whose bow was stolen by the Quibble Gang. And plenty of other characters whose singular fates, like the entwined strands of a colorful skein of wool, are woven into a boldly revisited Western tale in which that mythically untamed American landscape becomes a shared, still-permeable space open to all sorts of trafficking, transits and wanderings.

Céline MINARD has written several novels, including Le Dernier Monde (2007), Bastard Battle (2008, Prix Wepler Special Mention), Olimpia (2010) and So long Luise (2011). All of her books have been critically acclaimed for their demanding style and their narrative virtuosity. She is seen as one of the most unusual voices in contemporary literature.

50,000 copies of Faillir être flingué have been sold thus far. Please contact Marie Martine Serrano for Payot-Rivages’ foreign rights at mmserrano@payotrivages.com

  • La Route du salut by Etienne de Montéty (Gallimard), nominated for the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie Française, Renaudot et Interallié. (Fiction, August 2013, 320 pages)

Bosnia, 1992. The novel describes the paths of two young men who have come from France to fight the Serbs. The first is named Joss Moskowski, known as Mosko. The son of Polish communist immigrants, he meets at University a Muslim fellow student who will set him on the path of Islam. When the conflict breaks out in Yugoslavia, he joins the mujahidin who are firmly determined to save their Bosniac brothers.     

The other character’s name is Fahrudin Hamzic. The son of Yugoslav immigrants, he arrived in a housing project of the suburbs of Rouen (Normandy) as a teenager. With no hope for a professional future, he joins the Foreign Legion where he meets other ex-Yugoslavs and becomes a disciplined and effective soldier. When the war begins, he decides to go to Bosnia to fight the Serbs. And so he encounters Mosko…

The Road of Salvation casts an in-depth and sincere light upon political commitment and faith, on military virtues and their limits, and on the rise of nationalism in recent European history.

Étienne de Montety heads the Figaro Littéraire. He is the author of several biographies and of a novel published by Gallimard, L’Article de la mort (2009).

Please contact Anne-Solange Noble for Gallimard’s foreign rights at anne-solange.noble@gallimard.fr

  • Plonger by Christophe Ono-dit-Bio (Gallimard), 2013 Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie Française winner, and nominated for the Renaudot award. (Fiction, August 2013, 448 pages)

A man is investigating what has happened to a woman, the mother of his young child, whom he once loved passionately.  As the novel begins, he has just received a phone-call informing him that she has been found dead, naked, on a beach, presumably drowned, in a faraway country somewhere in the gulf.

She was an artist, and her name was Paz. She was solar, incredibly gifted… and suffocating in old Europe. The narrator owes his young son, now an orphan, the truth about his mother, and so he returns in his mind to the time when they loved each other, and attempts to elucidate the reasons that precipitated Paz’s departure to a more adventurous life.

From the treasures of old Europe to the megalopolises of the new world, the marble of museums to the sand of sensuous banks where one is cleansed of all, Plonger explores the itinerary of a heroine of our times, in quest of liberty, meaning, and purity in an increasingly stifling world.

Journalist and writer, Christophe Ono-dit-Biot was born in 1975. He holds an agrégation in literature and is deputy editorial director of the weekly newsmagazine Le Point, in charge of the Culture section. He is already the author of four award-winning novels, Désagrégé(e) (2000), Interdit à toute femme et à Génération spontanéetoute femelle (2002), Génération spontanée (2004), and Birmane (2007).

102,000 copies of Plonger were sold in the first 9 months. Please contact Anne-Solange Noble for Gallimard’s foreign rights at anne-solange.noble@gallimard.fr

  • Un homme effacé by Alexandre Postel (Gallimard), winner of the Goncourt du premier roman in 2013. (Jan 2013, 256 pages)

An Unassuming Man: Stanley North teaches philosophy at a well-endowed university. As a widower, he leads a sad and solitary life. But one morning, he is picked up by the police, who accuse him of having downloaded images from a pedophile site on his computer. The affair creates quite a stir, especially since Stanley is the grandson of Axel North, one of the country’s major political figures. Stanley knows full well he is innocent, but it’s impossible to smother suspicion. Everyone remembers a word, a gesture, transformed into proof of the charges in light of the terrible accusation. Even the innocent photo of his niece taken at the beach, found in his library, leads to dreadful suppositions.  And the awful chain of events has only just been set in motion... 

This first novel is brilliantly written, the author knows how to perfectly plot successive developments that lead the hero to his fall. The cold style, filled with detached humor, sidesteps any compassion or sentimentalism, powerfully recreating the protagonist’s terrifying solitude. Alexandre Postel meticulously describes the farce of social conventions, the affable masks that hide power, jealousy, and the desire to harm.    

17,000 copies of An Unassuming Man were sold in the first 17 months. Please contact Anne-Solange Noble for Gallimard’s foreign rights at anne-solange.noble@gallimard.fr

  • Palladium by Boris Razon (Stock), nominated for the three Goncourt awards. (August 2013, 480 pages)

palladium /pә’leidiәm/ ► noun

1. Late Middle English word derived via Latin from the Greek palladion, denoting an image of the goddess Pallas (Athene), on which the safety of Troy was believed to depend.

2. (Archaic) a safeguard or source of protection.

Palladium is a factual novel, it’s my story. The story of a man who, in the space of a few days and for no obvious reason, ends up paralysed from head to toe, unable to move a single muscle, robbed of all his senses and any means of communication with the outside world.

Then began a journey through the furthest reaches of human existence, territories ruled over by fear, violence, death, pain and sex… because illness is like stepping through the looking glass, a gateway to other worlds, a place of prostitutes and demons, of men living like vegetables with bodies like birds, of nurses and firework makers thrown together in a whirlwind of hate and debauchery. A manic, terrifying world: my world.

Palladium is my account of this crossing, an expedition to the land of the dead and through the subconscious. Palladium delves into the very roots of pain and literature, to a place where our life force itself is huddled alongside the myriad different stories it has to tell.” -B. R.

Boris Razon is 37. He studied history before embarking on a career in journalism. He was editor of monde.fr for ten years. He now runs the new writings and mixed media services for France Télévision, and teaches at the School of Journalism at Sciences-Po, France’s top university for social sciences.

11,000 copies of Palladium were sold thus far. Please contact Marielle Kalamboussis for Stock’s foreign rights at mkalamboussis@editions-stock.fr

  • La Réforme de l’Opéra de Pékin by Maël Renouard (Rivages), winner of the Décembre award in 2013. (Fiction,  September 2013, 96 pages)

    A plea for posterity. The confrontation between politicians and writers has been a feature of Chinese civilization since time immemorial; above and beyond revolutions and regime changes, it grants depth and mystery to Chinese culture.

In the final years of Mao Zedong’s life, the decision was made to ban centuries-old operas from being performed, on the grounds that they portrayed feudal structures and created mental blocks to the emergence of a new humanity that would be conform to the principles of Communism. This was “The Reform of Peking Opera.”

1996. A young academic writer who is close to the powers-that-be, the narrator took part in this reform, and he tells his tale. By this time, he has been marginalized for 20 years: he had been too involved in the Cultural Revolution to be able to play any role during Deng Xiaoping’s presidency. He now lives a solitary life, besieged by his dream of being rediscovered and recognized as a secretive but extraordinary player in the Cultural Revolution, a period that even now, Chinese historiography tends to avoid.

Maël RENOUARD teaches philosophy at the Sorbonne and at the E.N.S., and was a member of former French Prime Minister François Fillon’s cabinet. He currently devotes his time to writing (fiction, philosophy, translation).

5,000 copies of La Réforme de l’Opéra de Pékin have been sold so far. Please contact Marie Martine Serrano for Payot-Rivages’ foreign rights at mmserrano@payotrivages.com

  • Les Evaporés by Thomas B.Reverdy (Flammarion), nominated for the Goncourt, Goncourt des lycéens, Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française, Décembre, Prix des libraires, and Prix du roman Fnac.

In San Francisco, Richard B. had been separated from Yukiko for a year when she contacted him again. Her father, Kaze, who lives in Japan, has left without a trace and she would like Richard B., a private detective and part-time poet, to help her find him. How can one disappear so easily? And for what reason? Upon arriving in Japan, Richard B discovers that here, “when someone disappears, it is simply said that he has vanished”; he is not looked for.

Out of love for Yukiko, Richard B. embarks on a search for Kaze. From the poor working-class neighbourhood of San'ya, Tokyo to the refugee and work camps around Sendai, we follow four parallel stories, that of Richard B. (a character based on the American writer Richard Brautigan), Yukiko, Kaze and the young Akaïnu, a street child whose family disappeared in the tsunami.

Les Évaporés can be read as a detective novel, an existential quest as well as a love story. It evokes modern Japan, Fukushima and the Yakuzas, but also the mystery that we may represent for one another, the experience of heartbreak and our wish, at times, to take flight.

Born in 1974, Thomas B Reverdy is the author of four novels: La Montée des eaux (Seuil, 2003), Le Ciel pour mémoire (Seuil, 2005), Les Derniers Feux (Seuil, 2008) and L'Envers du monde (Seuil, 2010).

22,853 copies of Les Evaporés were sold thus far. Please contact Sylvie Khaleche for Flammarion’s foreign rights at skhaleche@flammarion.fr

Arden by Frédéric Verger (Gallimard), winner of the Goncourt du premier roman in 2014, also nominated for the Goncourt, Goncourt des lycéens, Renaudot, Décembre and Médicis. (August 2013, 480 pages)

The story takes place during the 1940s in Marsovie, at the borders of Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. The novel tells the tale of two friends, Alexandre de Rocoule, proprietor of the luxurious Hotel Arden, and Salomon Lengyel, a serious and solitary Jewish tailor. They share a common passion: operetta.

Since 1917, they have co-authored a surprising number of three-act plays, none of which have been completed, because they never seem to agree on the final scene. While they work indefatigably, the Nazi beast is rumbling across Europe and lurks around Marsovie… The persecution of the Jews begins. The danger becomes immediate for Salomon and for his beautiful 17-year-old daughter Esther, whom Alexandre did not know and with whom he falls in love when she returns to her father’s home. The two friends will have the occasion to compose their last work of art…

In this amusing and sensual first novel, the scenes play out in a profusion of stunning images with comic or touching detail, while the bloody libretto of ongoing events in Central Europe of 1944 is scarcely lacking in tumultuous developments.    

20,000 copies of Arden were sold in the first 9 months. Please contact Anne-Solange Noble for Gallimard’s foreign rights at anne-solange.noble@gallimard.fr


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