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Life Sciences

Joy Sorman | Translated by Lara Vergnaud

Ninon Moise is cursed. So is her mother Esther, as was every eldest female member of her family going back to the Middle Ages. Each generation is marked by a uniquely obscure disease, illness, or ailment—one of her ancestors was patient zero in the sixteenth-century dancing plague of Strasbourg, while Esther has a degenerative eye disease. Ninon grows up comforted and fascinated by the recitation of these bizarre, inexplicable medical mysteries, forewarned that something will happen to her, yet entirely unprepared for how it will alter her life. Her own entry into this litany of maladies appears one morning in the form of an excruciating burning sensation on her skin, from her wrists to her shoulders.

Embarking on a dizzying and frustrating cycle of doctors, specialists, procedures, needles, scans, and therapists, seventeen-year-old Ninon becomes consumed by her need to receive a diagnosis and find a cure for her ailment. She seeks to break the curse and reclaim her body by any means necessary, through increasing isolation and failed treatment after failed treatment, even as her life falls apart. A provocative and empathic questioning of illness, remedy, transmission, and health, Life Sciences poignantly questions our reliance upon science, despite its limitations, to provide all the answers.

Joy Sorman is a novelist and documentarian who lives and works in Paris. Her first novel, Boys, boys, boys, was awarded the 2005 Prix de Flore. In 2013, she received the Prix François Mauriac from the Académie française for Comme une bêteLife Sciences  (2018 French Voices Grand Prize for fiction) is her first novel to be translated into English.


“The strong and tender prose combined with the stubborn dedication of a teenager battling a matrilineal curse transforms Sorman’s novel into a brave and superb saga of pain, wherein darkness turns to light, to life.”—Jacques Dubois, Diacritik

Life Sciences is a text containing countless possible interpretations—almost everything is already there, unfolded, aligned to the surface.”—Eric Loret, Le Monde

“[Sorman’s writing] is abrupt, direct, and industrial, made of assertions and questions that ceaselessly cross over each other and intersect with each other.”Buzz Litteraire

“The elegant simplicity of the sentences, the fluidity of the book as a whole, the acuity and the imagination of Sorman’s perspective brings a singular charm to this text, all the way to the end.”—Michel Abescat, Télérama

“A story of self-empowerment, this “medical carousel” is neither dramatic nor maudlin. It is rather a kafkaesque struggle against determinism, atavism, and unwanted family legacies.” —Laila Maalouf, La Presse

Life Sciences can also be read as a coming-of-age tale about the possibility of freeing oneself from hereditary afflictions, even from the constraints of womanhood. It is an allegory, but of what? We can’t be sure. All the better; it is up to the reader to choose the prognosis.”—Grégoire Leménager, L’Obs

“As Joy Sorman brings to life a young heroine struck by a hereditary curse, she creates a jubilant Bildungsroman, an ode to life itself. [...] It is her best novel to date.”—Sean James Rose, LivresHebdo

“There is something visceral in Joy Sorman’s writing. It reeks of sweat, effort, physical suffering, and bestiality.”—Flavie Gauthier, Le Soir

“Sorman’s subtle writing is in itself a paradox: it is both extremely precise, particularly in scientific contexts, and extremely sensual.”—Hubert Prolongeau, Marianne

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