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Archive for the ‘French Literature’ Category

I discovered ‘All About Sarah’ by Pauline Delabroy-Allard recently and was finally able to read it today.

The narrator of the story is a single mom who has a young daughter. She and her husband divorced sometime back. One day she goes to a party and bumps into a woman called Sarah. Sarah is loud, talkative, unconventional, doesn’t care what people think. Our narrator is drawn towards Sarah and is deeply attracted towards her. And Sarah responds to that. And as they say, it is the end of life as they know it. I won’t tell you anything else about the story here. I’ll let you read the book and discover its pleasures.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes the love story between the narrator and Sarah. It has short chapters and it is mostly a happy story. The second part is a bit sad, is a bit dark. It has chapters which are a little longer. I liked both the parts, but I loved the first part more. The attraction, the seduction, the love, the fights, the making up were so beautifully described there. Though I loved the first part more, one of my favourite scenes came in the second part in which a minor character appeared and said some beautiful things. My favourite passage from that scene goes like this –

“Isabella insists on taking me to see the castle. When we stop briefly at a café, we talk about love and the agonies you have to experience in order to appreciate the joys. She doesn’t ask any questions when I start to cry silently. She just says – gently, in her irresistible accent – you have to get through the nights and be fulfilled during the day.”

Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s prose is a pleasure to read and there are many beautiful passages in the book. I’ve shared some of my favourites below. As Sarah is a violinist who performs in classical music concerts, the whole book has a musical backdrop and Beethoven and Schubert and Vivaldi and others make guest appearances in the book which adds to the charm of the book.

I loved ‘All About Sarah‘. It is one of my favourite lesbian love stories. Pauline Delabroy-Allard is a beautiful, new find for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by her.

I’m sharing below a couple of my favourite passages. The second one has three parts from three different places in the book, which I’ve stitched together, because I felt that they read beautifully together.

“Passion. From the Latin patior, to experience, endure, suffer. Feminine noun. With the notion of protracted or successive suffering: the action of suffering. With the notion of excess, exaggeration, intensity: love as an irresistible and violent inclination towards a single object, sometimes descending into obsession, entailing a loss of moral compass and of critical faculties, and liable to compromise mental stability. In Scholasticism, what is experienced by an individual, the thing with which he or she is associated or to which he or she is subjugated.”

“It’s January but yet again the miracle happens. Yet again winter admits defeat, drags its heels a little longer and tries one final flourish, but it’s too late, it’s over, the spring has won…It’s a spring like any other, a spring to depress the best of us…It’s a spring like any other, with impromptu showers, the smell of wet tarmac, a sort of lightness in the air, a breath of happiness that sings softly about the fragility of it all.”

Have you read ‘All About Sarah‘? What do you think about it?

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I’m a huge fan of Franco-Belgian comics which are called Bande Dessinées. I’ve wanted to read this Bande Dessinée called ‘The Old Geezers‘ (‘Les Vieux Fourneaux‘) for a while. I read the first part of this series today.

Three old friends meet. The occasion is sad because the wife of one of them has just passed.  They catch up and reminisce about old times and the grown-up pregnant granddaughter of the grieving husband also joins in the conversation. The departed wife has left behind a letter which contains a secret. The husband is livid with anger after he reads it and takes a gun and rushes away somewhere. The other two friends and the granddaughter follow to prevent him from doing something bad. What follows is an amazing story of friendship, a commentary on today’s world, some cool banter, many hilarious scenes. I laughed through most of the book. The three old geezers have a devil-may-care attitude and are hilarious and adorable. The granddaughter is a kick-ass person, and one scene in which she offers her thoughts on the current situation in the world is amazing and inspiring to read. It was one of my favourite scenes in the book.

I loved this first part of ‘The Old Geezers’ (‘Les Vieux Fourneaux’). It is definitely one of my favourite comics discoveries this year. Can’t wait to read the next part. Am sharing the first few pages  so that you can get a feel for the story and the artwork.

Have you read ‘The Old Geezers’ (‘Les Vieux Fourneaux’)? What do you think about it?

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I wanted to read some comics and so picked this SODA series. There are 13 books in this series. The first came out in 1986 and the most recent one came out in 2015. It is a Belgian comics series and it was originally published in French.

Solomon David (SODA of the title) is a detective with the NYPD (New York Police Department). He lives with his old mother who has a weak heart. So David makes his mother believe that he is actually a priest 😊 So everyday morning, he leaves home in priest’s attire and comes back home in the same way. In between he is a police officer who catches criminals and sometimes has to shoot them down. His mom doesn’t know anything about this though 😊

I read three volumes of SODA’s adventures. They were Tuez en paix (Kill in Peace / You are at Peace) (Volume 8), Et Deliveré-Nous Du Mal (And Deliver Us From Evil) (Volume 9), and Lève-toi et meurs (Stand Up and Die) (Volume 7). I enjoyed reading them all. The artwork was charming in comic style, and the relationship between SODA and his mother makes us smile. The bad guys all make us laugh. Though the stories are all serious, there is an underlying humour throughout, which makes us smile. Every story starts with a spectacular scene, and typically there is a surprise in the end. My favourite opening scene was from Tuez en paix – it is cool and stylish and spectacular. My favourite story was Et Deliveré-Nous Du Mal. In this story SODA goes with his mom to his hometown in Arizona for a short visit and the consequences of that are hilarious. The ending of the story was complex and not black-and-white and that made me like the story even more.

I loved these three volumes of SODA’s adventures. Hoping to read more.

Sharing the first three pages of Tuez en paix, which has that spectacular opening scene. It is in English. Hope you like it.

Have you read the SODA series? Do you like it?

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I decided to read the second and third parts of Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy, ‘The Proof‘ and ‘The Third Lie‘, and write about them together. Just finished reading the third and final part. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translations of these two books are published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The second part ‘The Proof‘, continues the story from the first part. But Ágota Kristóf dispenses with Rule #2 : ‘No Names’, and gives names to all the characters. The places are still not named though. We see the events unfold from the point of view of one of the twins. New characters make an appearance in the story, as we follow the events of what happens in this small town after Hungary’s occupation by the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The story takes us to the 1956 rebellion in Hungary against Soviet occupation and goes beyond that too. Many of the new characters are interesting, and many of them show kindness, the pure kind of kindness towards unrelated people that human beings are capable of, during times of great difficulty. The weird stuff continues but it does not reach the heights of the first part, though some of them fill in the gaps which are there in the first part. The story ends in an unexpected surprise.

In the third part, ‘The Third Lie‘, Ágota Kristóf decides that she has had enough, and turns everything upside down. This part is filled with stunning revelations which makes us see the whole story in a new light, makes us question everything, makes us contemplate the nature of truth, and ask ourselves whether such a thing called truth exists. It is like reading a murder mystery which is narrated by the detective and looking at all the suspects and following false leads and reaching dead ends and discovering in the last page that the narrator is the murderer. Or it is like reading a book in which the main character has many amazing adventures and undergoes a lot of hardship and overcomes them in the end, and suddenly we discover that the whole story was a dream. This is the kind of stuff which happens in the third part. I’m still not sure about one or two details and I need to go back and review all the three parts together and see whether my understanding is correct.

I enjoyed reading Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy. My favourite was the first part, because of the narrative voice, the sometimes dark humour. I think the second part was a great sequel. The third part was a literary experiment, in my opinion. I don’t know whether Ágota Kristóf planned all the three novels together before she started writing them, or whether she wrote the first one initially and when it became successful beyond all expectations, she decided to write the sequels and wing it on the way and improvised the story. I somehow feel that she did the second thing, because there is a huge difference between the first novel and the next two. We can even read the first novel as a standalone book. But interestingly, the three books also read well together, and look like three parts of one book, though there is a big dividing line between the first part and the next two.

I’m sharing a couple of my favourite excerpts from the book.

Excerpt 1

Young Man : “I know what you’re talking about. I saw things like that with my own eyes, right here in this town.”

Old Man : “You must have been very young.”

Young Man : “I was no more than a child. But I forgot nothing.”

Old Man : “You will forget. Life is like that. Everything goes in time. Memories blur, pain diminishes. I remember my wife as one remembers a bird or a flower. She was the miracle of life in a world where everything seemed light, easy, and beautiful. At first I came here for her, now I come for Judith, the survivor. This night seem ridiculous to you, Lucas, but I’m in love with Judith. With her strength, her goodness, her kindness toward these children who aren’t hers.”

Young Man : “I don’t think it’s ridiculous.”

Old Man : “At my age?”

Young Man : “Age is irrelevant. The essential things matter. You love her and she loves you as well.”

Old Man : “She’s waiting for her husband to return.”

Young Man : “Many women are waiting for or mourning their husbands who are disappeared or dead. But you just said, “Pain diminishes memories blur.”

Old Man : “Diminish, blur, I said, not disappear.”

Excerpt 2

What we print in the newspaper completely contradicts reality. A hundred times a day we print the phrase “We are free,” but everywhere in the streets we see the soldiers of a foreign army, everyone knows that there are many political prisoners, trips abroad are forbidden, and even within the country we can’t go wherever we want. I know because I once tried to rejoin Sarah in the small town of K. I made it to the neighboring village, where I was arrested and sent back to the capital after a night of interrogation.

A hundred times a day we print “We live amidst abundance and happiness,” and at first I think this is true for other people, that Mother and I are miserable and unhappy only because of the “thing,” but Gaspar tells me we’re hardly an exception, that he himself as well as his wife and three children are living more miserably than ever before.

And when I go home from work early in the morning, when I cross paths with people who themselves are on their way to work, I see happiness nowhere, and even less abundance. When I ask why we print so many lies, Gaspar answers, “Whatever you do, don’t ask questions. Do your job and don’t think about anything else.”

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy? What do you think about it?

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I was inspired by a friend to get Ágota Kristóf’sThe Notebook‘ and read it. For a long time, I thought that Ágota Kristóf was the European / Hungarian version of Agatha Christie 😊 Ágota Kristóf is a totally different author, of course, and very different from Agatha Christie. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translation of ‘The Notebook’ that I read is published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The story told in ‘The Notebook’ happens during the time of the Second World War. A mother takes her two young twin sons and leaves them at their grandmother’s place. The grandmother is a tough customer but the twins manage to handle the situation. The story is narrated by the twins together as they describe their life at their grandmother’s place, the people they meet, the new things they learn, the friends they make, how the war years pass, and the challenges they and their grandmother face together. In such a short book, Ágota Kristóf manages to squeeze in Hungarian small-town life during the war, Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, the relationship between the German soldiers and the Hungarian citizens, how the life of a gay person was at that time, the meaninglessness of war, the Russian liberation of Hungary and its not-so-nice aftermath. It is fascinating.

All this assumes a powerful significance, because Ágota Kristóf does a fascinating thing – she follows Rule #2 religiously and meticulously till the end. Rule #2 is ‘No Names’. There are no names in the book! None of the characters have names, none of the places or countries have names, none of the events have names! Nothing! Nada! It is amazing! I don’t know how Ágota Kristóf manages to pull this off, but she does! I still can’t stop marvelling at her ingenuity! It just shows how little a talented writer needs to tell a powerful story.

The other interesting thing about the book is the twin narrators’ voice. I have never read a book before in which two narrators speak in one unified voice. It is fascinating. The voice of the two twins is beautiful and charming. It had a simplicity, innocence and directness to it, that it made me smile throughout the book. The narrative voice was one of my favourite things about the book. The way the twins navigate every tricky situation in simple, direct ways is wonderful to read.

I’ve shared a couple of chapters from the book below, to give you a feel for the beautiful narrative voice. Hope you like them.

I loved the depiction of the relationship between the grandmother and the twins – how it starts and how it grows, and how the grandmother and the twins love each other, and how the grandmother’s love is old-fashioned, tough and gruff. It was my most favourite part of the book.

My review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention this. There are some weird things which happen in the middle of the book. But like a nice, well-behaved kid, I’m going to sweep that below the carpet and not talk about it  But if you are planning to read the book, I thought I should warn you – there is some weird stuff out there.

The story ends in a kind of cliff-hanger. I can’t wait to read the second part, ‘The Proof‘, and find out what happened next. The second part was originally published two years after the first part. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for the original readers to wait for so long, to find out what happened next.

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’sThe Notebook‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Emmelie Prophète’sBlue‘ recently and read it today. This is my first book by a Haitian author 😊 So happy!

A woman is sitting in an airport. She is travelling from one country to another. It might as well be from one world to another. She thinks about her mother and her mother’s two sisters, and how their lives panned out very differently. The rest of the book moves between the past and the present and across geographies as we get to know the stories of the narrator’s mother and her sisters.

The above story is just a simple outline. The actual book is more complex, more fascinating than that. Emmelie Prophète’s writing is very poetic. I am not saying this in a general way, but in a literal way. The book could be read just for that alone. I can’t resist thinking how it would be, if the book, instead of being organized in paragraphs of prose, had been structured in poetry stanzas like a novel-in-verse. I feel that this would have made the book even more beautiful, because we tend to read prose in a faster flow, but we tend to linger on poetry lines to take in their beauty, and this book deserves this lingering, and this pausing and this experiencing of its beauty. The second thing I want to say about this book is that, probably because of this reason, this book cannot be read like a straightforward prose work. If we expect an initial setting up scene, an introduction to the characters, the story moving with the progression of events, some dialogue, and a climax with a revelation, it is not going to be there. Atleast, in the form we expect. A better way to read the book is to go in with no expectations and start reading from the first page, from the first word, and just go with the flow and continue reading, and let the book come to us. In test cricket, there is an advice given to batsmen, who go out to bat on the first day of a test match, when the ball is new and it is swinging. Veteran opening batsmen say that the best way to play under these conditions is to let the ball come to you, and not to go after the ball. We can translate that advice to this book, and go with the flow, and don’t think too much, and just read, and let the book come to us. When we do that, at some point, the book opens its heart and speaks to us and reveals its secrets to us, and it is beautiful.

I loved the original French title of the book even more – ‘Le Testament des Solitudes‘. So beautiful!

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“We remained tethered to our sorrows, like horses of despair. We ran, heads bent low, wounded and silent. We shared nothing. Words lived only in our heads, or on scraps of paper. We surprised ourselves sometimes by suffering. Expressions were complaints, and we looked outside ourselves for ways to exist, to live. I hid myself away in books, lost my head over heroes of fortune late into the night, and woke in the morning with other solitudes. Terrifying and unspeakable.”

“I watch the rain fall, a thousand fairylike drops on the tarmac. Life is beautiful when you’re watching it from a distance, watching it through the window of an airport somewhere else. I imagine that it’s even better when your head isn’t filled with several deaths and more farewells than you know what to do with. The rain is lovely here, soft and steady. Like it was once, on the corrugated metal roof of the house on hot July evenings. Those rains, which were also sometimes storms of fury that came straight from the graves of the dead in the cemeteries, carried away children and objects and even our memories.”

“That was what always happened in this family after someone died. You had to die to earn the right to be loved.”

“My mother’s heart makes the same sound as her sewing machine, which I have known my whole life. It’s older than my brothers and me. Its brand is a woman’s first name: Linda. It has always looked like a museum piece. All of my little-girl dresses came from beneath her magical needles that broke sometimes. I’ve seen many women from this family sitting behind that machine, which makes an ancient mechanical noise like Maman’s heart, like the heart of all women who have been poorly loved…I’ve seen sewing machines that looked like the ones belonging to other women in the quarter, but none ever looked like Linda or had a woman’s name like hers. She wasn’t the most beautiful, but she was unique. She had been built to withstand time, like her owner, to watch others pass through and go away, even the youngest ones. She outlived Maman’s two sisters.”

“I used to be afraid of the dark. I was afraid that the flame of the lamp would flicker so hard it would fall. The crickets accompanied the night with their long traumatizing songs. But since then, the night has won me over to its cause of solitude, unobtrusive and infinite. I am overly reliant on its calm, making up for the years of unwarranted fear, of eyes shut tight. My only beautiful times have been in complete darkness and heavy rain. Every word of love, of fate, has taken the path of the night. Daytime is the cruel bearer of “I”: it is all that light on the beaten earth of my childhood quarter, and on the marshes of Gros-Marin, and the Church of Saint Paul, and the runway of this airport—reality and its incomprehensible detours, its aches, its way of not making concessions.”

“My stories have always come to me when they’re already in progress, almost over, even my love stories. I have hidden myself too often beneath words and their images; I’ve only ever just brushed the surface of anything, I am nothing but a memory trying to exist, and no one would notice, possibly, if I disappeared. I tell myself that no one sees me in this airport; my fate is to be a fleeting memory. I would like to learn the business of everyday life, real life, quivering and ever changing.”

“Each morning is the start of a new war against nature, against misery, against oneself or one’s neighbor. Survival has many meanings and almost no purpose.”

Have you read ‘Blue‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Nina Bouraoui recently and I got this book of hers, ‘All Men Want to Know‘.

All Men Want to Know‘ is classified as fiction and autofiction, but it looked like a memoir and so I read it like a memoir. Nina’s parents are from different countries – her mom is French, her dad is Algerian. So her life is complicated. Both her parents love her and her sister, but because their grandparents are from totally different cultures, her relationship to her grandparents from the two sides is very different – it is beautiful, affectionate, but also very different. Nina lives the first fourteen years of her life in Algeria, but after that her family moves to France as the political situation in Algeria becomes unstable. With all this going on, to add to the complexity, Nina discovers that she is gay. The parts of the book in which she talks about this – how she hides her sexual orientation from her family and other people in her life, how she feels guilty about it, how she tries to accept her true natural self, how she tries to find gay friends with whom she could hang out, how she goes on a quest to find love – these are some of the most beautiful and moving parts of the book. Nina Bouraoui’s prose is beautiful, lyrical but also deceptively simple, which makes it powerful and moving.

All Men Want to Know‘ is a beautiful, moving book about being part of a multi-ethnic family and the challenges and the pleasures and joy which come out of that, about what it means to belong (or to not belong) to two countries which are at loggerheads with each other. It is also about embracing one’s true nature and celebrating it, and it is a beautiful love letter to being gay and falling in love. It is early days yet, but I think this is one of my favourite books of the year. I can’t wait to read more books by Nina Bouraoui.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“At the Kat, I experience a form of social unease, a class anxiety that fills me with shame. I’m mixing with women outside my social circle, factory workers, former prisoners, prostitutes. We are thrown together by fate, driven together by the one thing we share : our sexual orientation. I’m a victim of my own homophobia. I despise myself for sneering at the embracing couples on the benches, the girls locked in one another’s arms on the dance floor, the courageous couples in the street. I resent them for flaunting themselves in this way. I could be compromised if I were seen with them. I envy their freedom. I stay locked into my fear. When someone offers me a lift out of concern for my safety, I refuse; they might remember my address, come to my door the next day, I could be outed to my fellow students at the university who know nothing of my ‘tendencies’, my ‘invert’ nature; I use these outmoded expressions to taunt myself and because the Kat exists outside of time, cut off from the 1980s I’m living through. I’d rather walk home, be followed; it’s the price I pay for calling into existence what I call my ‘nature’. I’m not breaking any laws but I’m flirting with decadence; I must be, I spend so much time at the Kat.”

“There is such a thing as a gay childhood. My childhood. No excuses are needed. There’s no explanation. It simply is. There is a history to homosexuality, a story with roots and a territory of its own. Being gay isn’t a question of choice or preference, it simply is, just as blood has a type, skin has its colour, the body its dimensions, hair its texture. I see it as organic. The gay child is not lacking, she is different, outside of the norm, inside a normality of her own; not until later will she come to understand that her normality marks her out from others, condemns her to secrecy and shame.”

“‘We’ll never know what the ingredients of love are, how people are put together,’ my mother says when I ask her what happiness means to her. ‘The truth is that you can never really know another person, there are always surprises, both good and bad: reality sets in, stronger than the relationship itself, stronger than desire, the spell of being in love wears off. You have to be able to accept it: life isn’t a dream, we aren’t here on this earth for a life of constant pleasure; it’s the difficult times that matter, much more than the lighter moments.’”

“My grandmother loves my mother in her own way, like a child one no longer understands and keeps at arm’s length…My grandmother has never accepted my father…On the rare occasions she does come and visit she feels out of place, as a woman, a Frenchwoman…She fears for us, her two granddaughters, she’s sure our growth is affected by the heat, by our diet. I have difficulty drawing up a family tree, a ‘tree of love’ as some call it. The branches of my tree don’t flower, or if they do, the blossoms appear on the wrong branches, as if they’ve migrated, bloomed from the soil or on a branch not meant to bear flowers. This is how I feel about my French family, it doesn’t work, it never will; it makes me uncomfortable, as if I’m outside my real self, as if I’ve failed to love my whole self. I feel the same with my Algerian family. I hardly know them. They live four hundred kilometres from Algiers, you have to drive along the coast road towards Petite Kabylia, in the east. My Algerian grandmother doesn’t speak French, I don’t speak Arabic, our only link is her tenderness, her hands in mine, in my hair, on my shoulders, her kisses on my forehead, her smiles; but this gentleness is beyond me, I don’t know what it means, I don’t know if it’s an expression of love or a way of apologizing for being so unlike us, for not wanting to be like us. We are so very different.”

“Ely is of the opinion that men and women weren’t made to be together, they’re too different. She doesn’t go along with the idea of complementarity. When you’re with someone that different, you end up losing your essence, your sense of self, you waste all your energy trying to be more like the other person, but it’s futile, a battle you’ll never win. With another woman, there’s no threat of being overpowered, we’re evenly matched and it stays that way; we’re equals physically, and even if one of us is stronger mentally, there’s none of that business of one person taking control.”

“My mother says it’s impossible to say where you come from without getting something wrong. Searching for your origins is like following a winding path that branches off into more winding paths, even a family tree won’t reveal the truth: families bury their secrets, it’s the one thing they all have in common, they keep them hidden and if any of those secrets do come to light, they deny them. Families are forbidden chambers of forbidden memories, sealed units that leave a trail of destruction; when I ask my mother what kind of destruction, she answers without thinking and says, just as her mother does: ‘I can’t tell you.’ People’s lives appear to me as an unending series of unanswered questions, a web of doubts, shadows, fears and imaginings; I play out the story of our relatives the Aschpiels in my head: Central Europe, travelling, hiding, camps perhaps. Everything is hidden, kept in silence, held in check not by shame but by fear. Families are fertile territory for fear, and I’m scared. I know nothing about my past, my ancestors; I carry their sorrows, their misdeeds perhaps, within me, and because I search where others do not look, because I see in my mother what others have not seen, I will pass those sorrows and misdeeds on to others; I will write, I will piece together the story with my words, I will create scenes that are invented, reported, true, untrue, I will bring the tale to life and stop it from haunting me.”

Have you read ‘All Men Want to Know‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘The Godmother‘ by Hannelore Cayre recently and I just finished reading it.

The narrator of the story, Patience, is a 50-year old woman. She starts the story by telling us about her parents and her childhood, about the good things and the bad things that happened in her life, and how she reached the present stage she is in. She is working as an translator for the police department now, especially translating wiretaps of drug smugglers from Arabic to English. One day she uses what she hears in the wiretap to do something. Whether what she does is good or bad, I won’t tell you. Things snowball beyond that, the action explodes and what happens after that is told in the rest of the story.

The thing I loved the most about the story was the narrator’s voice. It is cool, charming, irreverent, doesn’t beat around the bush, calls a spade a spade. From the first passage –

“My parents were crooks, with a visceral love of money. For them it wasn’t an inert substance stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No. They loved it as a living, intelligent being that could create and destroy, possessing the gift of reproduction. Something mighty that forged destinies, that separated beauty from ugliness, winners from losers. Money was Everything; the distillation of all that could be bought in a world where everything was for sale. It was the answer to every question. It was the pre-Babel language that united mankind.”

– Patience’s voice grabs our attention and never lets go. Patience is such an awesome narrator.

The story is very gripping too. I read most of the book on one day. We can call this noir fiction and it is up there with the best. French crime fiction is soaring high these days and this is a shining example of that.

Another thing I loved about the book is that there are really no bad characters. Or rather the story depicts people as imperfect with flaws and so we see people as they really are – there are no simplistic black-and-white depictions here. I loved that aspect of the book. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially the nurse Khadija who takes care of Patience’s mom, Khadija’s son Afid, Philippe the police officer who is in love with Patience, Bouchta Patience’s nanny when she was a kid, Madame Lò Patience’s neighbour, and DNA, Patience’s dog. They are all fascinating characters.

I don’t know whether the story is pure imagination or is inspired by real events. The author is a practising criminal lawyer and she has thanked translators who work in the court. If the story is inspired by real events, then the book is a scathing commentary on some aspects of life in today’s France.

I loved ‘The Godmother‘. I discovered that it has been made into a movie with Isabelle Huppert in the lead role. I can’t wait to watch that. I want to read more books by Hannelore Cayre now.

You can find Emma’s (from ‘Book Around the Corner‘) review of the book here.

Have you read ‘The Godmother‘? What do you think about it?

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A Man’s Place‘ is Annie Ernaux’ ode to her father. In the book about her mother, Annie Ernaux compares her father and mother and says this :

“He took me to the funfair, to the circus, and to see Fernandel’s films. He taught me how to ride a bicycle and recognize the garden vegetables. With him I had fun, with her I had “conversations”.”

Ernaux expands on that in this book, by going back to the beginning, to her grandparents’ time, describes the environment her father grew up in, how her grandfather hated people who read because he himself couldn’t read or write, how her father did well in school but was still taken off school when he was around twelve years old and made to work in a farm and earn his keep. And how because of this Ernaux’ father always wanted her to do well academically and was proud of her achievements.

A Man’s Place‘ takes us back to a different era, to early twentieth century France and makes us see the world through the eyes of a twelve year old boy who becomes a farmworker, then a factory worker, who fights in the First World War and later gets into the grocery and cafe business with his wife. I liked it very much. Though I liked Ernaux’ book on her mother, ‘A Woman’s Story‘ even more, ‘A Man’s Place‘ complements that perfectly, as we get to know about Ernaux’ father.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“He had to walk two kilometres to get to school…The teacher was a harsh man, rapped the boys’ fingers with an iron ruler, he was respected. Some of his pupils ended up among the best in their canton to have passed their primary certificate; one or two even made it to teachers’ training college. My father missed class when he had to harvest the apples, tie the straw and hay into sheaves, and sow and reap whatever was in season. When he and his elder brother went back to school, the master would yell : “So your parents want you to remain as ignorant as they are!” He managed to learn how to read and write properly. He liked learning. He liked drawing too…At the age of twelve, he was due to take the primary certificate. My grandfather took him out of school and got him a job on the same farm as him. He could no longer be fed without paying his way. “We didn’t even think about it, it was the same for everyone.””

“…it took me years to ‘understand’ the kindliness with which well-mannered people greet each other. At first, I felt ashamed, I didn’t deserve such consideration. Sometimes I thought they had conceived a particular liking for me. Later I realized that their smiling faces and kind, earnest questions meant nothing more to them than eating with their mouth shut or blowing their noses discreetly.”

I read this for ‘Reading Independent Publishers Month‘ hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, an event which celebrates indie publishers for the whole of February. The edition of ‘A Man’s Place’ I read was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Have you read ‘A Man’s Place‘? What do you think about it?

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In ‘A Girl’s Story‘, Annie Ernaux takes us to the time when she was eighteen years old, when she had just graduated from high school and was joining a summer camp as one of the group leaders. It was the first time in her life she was staying away from her family, especially away from the constant gaze of her mother. How this sudden freedom impacts her life, how she is able to stay up late, go to movies, drink with friends, act on her feelings of desire for the first time, and how she lost her innocence and virginity – all these are told in the first part of the book. The second part of the book talks about her time after camp, when she tries to train to become a teacher and how it doesn’t work for her, and how she leaves that and goes to London with one of her friends to work as an au pair and how she comes back after that and enrolls in university to pursue the study of literature.

A Girl’s Story‘ is different from other Ernaux books in three ways. It is double the size of other slim Ernaux books. It has a new translator, Alison L. Strayer. (I miss Tanya Leslie). The most significant difference though is this. In this book Annie Ernaux has clearly amped up her prose. There are sentences like this :

“But she, no doubt, was forgotten more quickly, like an anomaly, a breach of common sense, a form of chaos or absurdity, something laughable it would be ridiculous to tax their memories with.”

And this :

“But what is the point of writing if not to unearth things, or even just one thing that cannot be reduced to any kind of psychological or sociological explanation and is not the result of a preconceived idea or demonstration but a narrative : something that emerges from the creases when a story is unfolded and can help us understand – endure – events that occur and the things that we do?”

I don’t know whether this is because Annie Ernaux changed her writing style, or whether the new translator rendered it this way. I am leaning more towards the first, though the second one could be the truth. I love the new style, the long sentences and the beautiful prose, but they feel very un-Ernaux. One part of me, the Ernaux fan in me, misses the prose of early Ernaux, the short sentences, and the deceptively simple prose which was powerful.

I enjoyed reading ‘A Girl’s Story‘. It is about a time when a girl becomes a young woman and the kind of changes she goes through as a person and how she navigates that transformation. I liked the way Ernaux looks back at her past and treats her past self as a different person and tries to look at that person from the distance of perspective that time gives. It is fascinating to read.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“The time that lies ahead of me grows shorter. There will inevitably be a last book, as there is always a last lover, a last spring, but no sign by which to know them. I am haunted by the idea that I could die without ever having written about ‘the girl of ’58’, as I very soon began to call her. Someday there will be no one left to remember. What that girl and no other experienced will remain unexplained, will have been lived for no reason.
No other writing project seems to me as – I wouldn’t say luminous, or new, and certainly not joyful, but vital : it allows me to rise above time. The very thought of ‘just enjoying life’ is unbearable. Every moment lived without a writing project resembles the last.”

I read this for ‘Reading Independent Publishers Month‘ hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, an event which celebrates indie publishers for the whole of February. The edition of ‘A Girl’s Story’ I read was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Have you read ‘A Girl’s Story‘? What do you think about it?

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