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Dilara's year in reading

Club Read 2018

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Edited: Sep 10, 10:20am Top

I've been on Librarything for a few years, but this my first Club Read thread and my first year of recording my reading on a public forum. We'll see where 2018 takes me. Not that I'm completely rudderless: I have a TBR pile and a Christmas haul to go through, and I'll be doing Reading Globally's quarterly reads...

List of countries/places visited so far this year:

  1. France, all regions, including former colonies x8
  2. Borderland and other fictional places
  3. Normandy, France
  4. China, all regions
  5. Madrid, Spain
  6. Bornholm, Denmark
  7. Quebec, Canada
  8. London, UK (with forays into other places such as New York and West Africa)
  9. Portugal
  10. Martinique x2
  11. Guadeloupe
  12. Iceland
  13. Copenhaguen, Denmark
  14. Northern? France
  15. A port in the USSR
  16. Naples, Italy
  17. Florence, Italy
  18. A working-class neighbourhood outside Paris, France
  19. Tarbat Ness Lighthouse, North-East Scotland
  20. Lisbon, Portugal
  21. Makeshiweg, a small, fictional town in Canada
  22. Iran x2
  23. Algiers, Algeria
  24. The Netherlands (including Leuven and Den Bosch) x2
  25. Spain (including Valencia)
  26. Gorges du Tarn, France
  27. Livry-Gargan, near Paris, France
  28. Palais de l'Elysée (the French president's residence), Paris, France
  29. Algeria and other former French colonies
  30. Paris, France x4
  31. Carcassonne, France
  32. North Korea
  33. South Korea
  34. Ancient Palestine
  35. Shanghai, China
  36. California, USA
  37. Mosul, Iraq
  38. Aurès, Algeria
  39. Ravensbrück, Germany
  40. Argentina (including Villa Elisa, San José)
  41. An unnamed town in Argentina x2
  42. The fictional empire of Kalpa
  43. Gyeongju, Korea
  44. The UK (all regions, including former colonies)
  45. France (all regions of the mainland) x2
  46. Japan (including a nuclear power plant)
  47. A village in Korea
  48. A hamlet in the Shima peninsula, Japan
  49. Yokohama, Japan
  50. A town in Russia
  51. A suburb of Frankfurt
  52. Beirut, Lebanon
  53. French Caribean islands
  54. Reunion island
  55. Mauritius
  56. French Guyana
  57. Assemblée nationale, Paris, France
  58. Barcelona, Spain x2
  59. Brazil
  60. The arse-end of France
  61. Lvov, in Poland, the USSR and Ukraine
  62. A small mountain village in Japan
  63. Pigui, a Dogon village in Mali
  64. The Caucasus
  65. Tirana, Albania
  66. Belgium
  67. Brussels, Belgium x2
  68. An island in Sweden
  69. Alternate Oxford, England and Uppsala
  70. The World (but mostly Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Europe, the West Indies, Africa and the Americas)
  71. India
  72. Various places in Japan
  73. Frankfurt, Germany
  74. Reims, France
  75. Nadezhda, on the shores of the Aral sea, Kazakhstan (possibly fictional)
  76. Gilas, a fictional town in Uzbekistan
  77. The Caucasus (Russian North Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan)
  78. Havav, Turkey
  79. Êgypt
  80. Sudan
  81. Italy
  82. Uganda
  83. Kenya
  84. South Africa
  85. Russia
  86. Uzbekistan
  87. Kazakhsan
  88. Kyrgyztan
  89. Turkmenistan
  90. Tajikistan
  91. the Kongo Kingdom, West Equatorial Africa
  92. Iberian peninsula
  93. Rome, Italy (including the Vatican)
  94. Nice, France
  95. China
  96. Mongolia

Edited: Jul 3, 3:58am Top

Winter: January to March

Carry-overs from 2017

  1. Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
  2. Alchemy : the secret art by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola
  3. Histoire mondiale de la France, edited by Patrick Boucheron with contributions from dozens of historians
  4. Human Nutrition by Catherine Geissler and numerous scientists

The last two are doorstops. It may be some time before I finish them.

January reads

  1. Mémoire de fille by Annie Ernaux
  2. China : the cookbook by Kei Lum Chan
  3. Instructions pour sauver le monde (Instrucciones para salvar el mundo) by Rosa Montero
  4. Pelle the Conqueror: Childhood by Martin Andersen Nexø
  5. Petit guide de la science-fiction au Québec by Jean-Louis Trudel
  6. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
  7. L'Installation de la peur by Rui Zink

February reads

  1. L'Isolé soleil by Daniel Maximin
  2. La saga de Gunnlöd by Svava Jakobsdóttir
  3. L'ardoise magique by Valérie Tong Cuong
  4. L'Organisation (touchstone fairy on strike) by Maria Galina

March reads

  1. L'amie prodigieuse - Celle qui fuit et celle qui reste by Elena Ferrante
  2. Chroniques de l'asphalte (1/5) by Samuel Benchetrit
  3. The growing season by Helen Sedgwick
  4. La Nuit des femmes qui chantent by Lídia Jorge - unfinished
  5. Hag-seed : William Shakespeare's the Tempest retold by Margaret Atwood
  6. Je sais cuisiner en vacances : Camping Caravaning Yachting by Ginette Mathiot
  7. Goûts et saveurs d'Europe : Les recettes médaillées de la première coupe d'Europe des saveurs régionales by several chefs
  8. Islam politique, sexe et genre : A la lumière de l'expérience iranienne by Chahla Chafiq
  9. Les nourritures chinoises by Liu Junru

Original languages of the books I've read this quarter:

  • French: 8
  • English: 7
  • Spanish: 1
  • Danish: 1
  • Chinese: 1-1/2
  • Portuguese: 2
  • Russian: 1
  • Icelandic: 1

  • Number of female authors this quarter: 14
  • Number of male authors this quarter: 5
  • Mixed male/female collaborations: 4 (1 female-headed, 2 male-headed, 1 husband/wife collaboration)

Edited: Jul 24, 11:39am Top

Spring: April to June

April reads

  1. Le sommeil de la raison by Juan Miguel Aguilera (unfinished)
  2. Nos richesses by Kaouther Adimi (unfinished)
  3. Kiffe kiffe demain by Faïza Guène
  4. La Ve République aux fourneaux by Joël Normand
  5. Le corps d'exception : Les artifices du pouvoir colonial et la destruction de la vie by Sidi-Mohammed Barkat
  6. La vie et l'œuvre de Prosper Montagné : maître cuisinier et écrivain gastronomique 1865-1948 by Roger Lamoise
  7. Les deux épouses by So-Sung Chung (touchstone fairy on strike)
  8. Le Successeur de pierre by Jean-Michel Truong (on hold)
  9. La traversée du mal by Germaine Tillion
  10. La Fabrique des garçons, l'éducation des garçons de 1820 à aujourd'hui (touchstone fairy on strike) by Anne-Marie Sohn
  11. Les jeunes mortes by Selva Almada
  12. La pièce du fond by Eugenia Almeida

May reads

  1. Kalpa impérial by Angélica Gorodischer
  2. Tableau de Sabbat/The Shaman Sorceress by Kim Dong-Ni
  3. Why I'm No Longer talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  4. La France végétalienne by Léna Korobova and Frédéric Zégierman
  5. Poissons en eaux troubles by Susumu Katsumata
  6. Histoire couleur terre Vol.1 by Kim Dong-Hwa
  7. La péninsule aux 24 saisons by Inaba Mayumi
  8. Kimchi by Ook Chung
  9. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky
  10. El Guanaco by Francisco Coloane
  11. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
  12. Codes noirs, de l'esclavage aux abolitions by André Castaldo, Christiane Taubira and various civil servants and politicians
  13. Confiteor by Jaume Cabré
  14. Femmes et esclaves (touchstone fairy on strike) by Sonia Maria Giacomini
  15. L'étourdissement by Joël Egloff
  16. Une ville à coeur ouvert by Żanna Słoniowska

June reads

  1. Le convoi de l'eau by Akira Yoshimura
  2. L'empreinte du renard by Moussa Konaté
  3. Kaukasis by Olia Hercules
  4. Le boléro dans la villa des vieux by Fatos Kongoli (unfinished)
  5. Mon ombre by Christine Falkenland
  6. Les féministes et le garçon arabe by Nacira Guénif-Souilamas and Eric Macé
  7. La belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
  8. Une histoire de l'esclavage by Christian Delacampagne
  9. Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chughtai
  10. Les Mémoires d'un chat by Hiro Arikawa (unfinished)
  11. Atlas des nouvelles fractures sociales : Les classes moyennes oubliées et précarisées by Christophe Guilluy and Christophe Noyé

Original languages of the books I've read so far this quarter:

  • French: 16
  • Korean: 3
  • Spanish: 5
  • English: 4
  • Japanese: 4
  • German: 1
  • Portuguese: 1
  • Catalan: 1
  • Polish: 1
  • Albanian: 1
  • Swedish: 1
  • Urdu:1

  • Number of female authors this quarter: 16
  • Number of male authors this quarter: 19
  • Mixed male/female collaborations: 3

Edited: Sep 10, 10:25am Top

Summer: July to September

July reads

  1. Vernon Subutex 3 by Virginie Despentes
  2. Retour à Reims by Didier Eribon
  3. Aral by Cécile Ladjali (unfinished)
  4. Le monde dans nos tasses - Trois siècles de petit déjeuner by Christian Grataloup
  5. Le mythe national : L'histoire de France revisitée by Suzanne Citron
  6. The Railway by Hamid Ismailov
  7. Atlas géopolitique du Caucase : Russie, Géorgie, Arménie, Azerbaïdjan : un avenir commun possible ? by Jean Radvanyi et al
  8. Le livre de ma grand-mère : Suivi de Les fontaines de Havav by Fethiye Çetin
  9. La douleur by Marguerite Duras
  10. Par les monts et les plaines d'Asie centrale by Anne Nivat
  11. Hôtel Métropole - Bruxelles - Souvenir by Gustave Lagye
  12. Villes sans palmiers by Tarek Eltayeb
  13. Jambula Tree by Monica Arac de Nyeko
  14. Fanta Blackcurrant by Makena Onjerika
  15. Of Memories We Lost by Lidudumalingani
  16. Le Gouverneur by Léonid Andreïev
  17. Le Libraire de Kaboul by Åsne Seierstad

August reads

  1. Un océan, deux mers, trois continents by Wilfried N'Sondé
  2. Le Turkménistan by André Kamev
  3. L'Autobus by Eugenia Almeida
  4. Désorientale by Négar Djavadi
  5. Le cahier de romances by Raphaël Confiant
  6. Comment tu parles de ton père by Joann Sfar
  7. Une canne à pêche pour mon grand-père by Xingjian Gao
  8. Le Meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre by Joël Robuchon

September reads

  1. La fin du chant by Galsan Tschinag
  2. Bienvenue à Bruxelles : recettes authentiques d'une ville éclectique by Sylvie da Silva
  3. 150 Dutch & Belgian Recipes: Discover the Authentic Tastes of Two Classic Cuisines by Janny de Moor and Suzanne Vandyck
  4. Une histoire mondiale de la table : Stratégies de bouche by Anthony Rowley (unfinished because crap)
  5. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
  6. by
  7. by

Original languages of the books I've read this quarter:

  • French: 17
  • English: 4
  • Spanish: 1
  • Russian: 2
  • Turkish:1
  • Arabic: 1
  • Norwegian: 1
  • Chinese: 1
  • German: 1
  • Kannada: 1

Edited: Jan 1, 4:04pm Top

Autumn: October to December

Jan 2, 2:34pm Top

Hi Dilara. Welcome to CR. I’m intrigued by your first three titles.

Jan 3, 9:23am Top

Happy New Year, Dilara. Welcome to Club Read.

Is that a new Nalo Hopkinson? I read a fair bit of her work early on, guess I stopped around New Moon's Arms.

Jan 3, 1:41pm Top

>6 dchaikin: >7 avaland: Thank you Dan and Lois :-)

>7 avaland: It's fairly new: 2015, and according to Wikipedia, it's her most recent published work.

Here comes the first review of the year!

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids is a SF/F short story collection by Jamaican/Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson. I downloaded this ebook last month, as part of a Humble Book Bundle, the appeal of which was largely due to Hopkinson’s inclusion. I’ve been meaning to read more of her for years (I enjoyed The New Moon’s Arms back in 2012 and Brown Girl in the Ring has been in my wishlist for ages).
You might wonder why the book is called Falling in Love with Hominids (or “Homonids”, as it is spelled on one occasion ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). I’ll quote from the author’s foreword:
The title of this collection comes from my love of Cordwainer Smith’s writing, especially his “Instrumentality of Mankind” stories. (…) One of the progressions I’ve made is from being a depressed teenager who saw how powerless she was to change all the ills around her to being a mostly cheerful fifty-something who realizes there are all kinds of ways of working towards positive change. (…) So part of the work of these past few decades of my life has been the process of falling in love with hominids.

So, it’s more about the author’s life arc, than about the short stories themselves.
I’m only just starting to see the point of short stories, and certainly, this collection is helping. It contains stories of varying length and quality (none of them awful), written between 2000 and 2015. Each story is introduced by the author, which I liked. One of them – Ours is the Prettiest – is part of Terri Windling’s Bordertown world and therefore doesn’t make complete sense out of context. Although it was hard to get into – it felt like starting a book in the middle – and the sprinkling of badly-spelled French/(créole?) words was slightly annoying, it was so evocative and poetic, it ended up being one of my favourites. More generally, I liked the wide ranges of voices, accents and characters, the fact that different walks of life and origins were represented, and the shifts between science-fiction, fantasy and magical realism.

Jan 3, 1:56pm Top

A Definition of Hominid:
anthropology : any of a family (Hominidae) of erect bipedal primate mammals that includes recent humans together with extinct ancestral and related forms and in some recent classifications the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan

As you say the authors life arc sums it up well. Enjoyed your review.

Jan 3, 2:50pm Top

Your review struck some notes with me, maybe because I’m trying to envision St. Lucia and and got caught on her Jamaican ancestry and the creole French (which probably doesn’t exist in historically British Jamaica??). Your comments about seeing the point of short stories also caught my attention. Of course, this is wrong, there isn’t a singular point of them, and yet the idea makes meaningful sense.

Jan 4, 1:39pm Top

>9 baswood: Thank you! I'm feeling very welcome here.

>10 dchaikin: I saw you're reading Derek Walcott at the moment? I've been meaning to read him for ages... You're right, Creole French probably doesn't exist in Jamaica, which might explain the spelling mistakes...

Edited: Jan 5, 12:12pm Top

Food Interlude:

Revuelto de Chuños

I had heard of chuños (Andean freeze-dried potatoes - you can find videos that show how they're made on YouTube), but I'd never seen or tasted them. So when this summer, I found some in a corner shop in Barcelona, I bought a packet, and only got round to trying them now.

Here's what they look like dried (foreground), and cooked (background):

Straight out of the packet, they have a slight but lingering vomit smell. I wasn't impressed. When I changed the water after some overnight soaking, the smell was overpowering, and I nearly chucked them out. However, after another 3-4 changes of water, the smell was gone, to my immense relief. I then boiled them in salted water until soft, cut them into cubes, and fried them briefly. You're supposed to cook them with onions, peppers, and scrambled eggs so they're all mixed together in one pan, but because I wasn't sure the chuños would be to our taste, I kept them separate from the other ingredients, so we would have something to eat if it came to the worst. I do realise that I ended up with an inauthentic dish, one that would probably annoy Peruvians and Bolivians, because I lacked courage.

Well, chuños are an acquired taste. Their flavour and consistency reminded me of very old chestnuts - the ones that have gone brown and funny. Some pieces were fine as they were, some had quite a strong taste, and needed a good helping of eggs and onion to go down. My daughter liked them, her boyfriend was more reserved, my partner had one tiny piece, and refused to have any more. In the end, though, I think they were OK, and definitely not as challenging as I feared.

Here's the final dish:

Edited: Jan 9, 11:13am Top

Mémoire de fille by Annie Ernaux

Writer’s gender: female
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Takes place in: Normandy, France

This is my first borrowed e-book. My library has started lending a small number of them, including this one. I couldn’t resist.

Annie Ernaux is one of my favourite authors. I like her sparse, sensitive writing. Coming from an uneducated, working-class background, she deliberately writes in uncomplicated sentences, with clear syntax and relatively simple words. That doesn’t make her writing and ideas simplistic, though. I think she explained somewhere that she wanted people like her parents to be able to read her books. It’s also a way of making sure she doesn’t become a “class traitor”.* There’s a purity to her writing and a lack of affect and hyperbole that make her words ring true, which is just as well because as a writer of fictional autobiographies (“autofictions” in French) – her books are usually about a particular event in her life or a certain period of her life – sincerity (or its appearance – it’s fiction, after all) is paramount. Her descriptions are clinical, but emotions bubble up beneath the surface, all the more stronger because she avoids stylistic flourishes.

Mémoire de fille describes the author’s coming of age. The first part focuses on the summer of 1958 – she calls herself “la fille de 1958” (literally, “the girl of 1958”) - the summer where she turns 18, leaves her parents for the first time, works at her first job (as a camp counselor), and discovers men. Using the third person (today’s Annie is not the person she was then), she presents events and feelings in a clinical and meticulous way, and it is excruciating for the reader. The girl of 1958 is out of her depth – socially and psychologically -, very naïve (although she doesn’t realize this), vain, proud, and needy. That’s a terrible combination. The obvious happens: she gets taken advantage of. Men use her with no concern for her wants and needs, let alone her pleasure. She’s basically a doll in their hands, compliant because she doesn’t know how to express her will, or make them respect her boundaries. She becomes the camp’s slut, mocked and bullied by everyone, but puts a brave face on it. She’s a modern woman: Juliette Gréco or Brigitte Bardo. She brags that she’s become a woman. She’s lost her virginity, or maybe she hasn’t: her vagina tightens up and won’t allow for full penetration. To make up for it, she gives blow jobs. The second part feels like an epilogue to the summer’s events. She describes briefly her last year of high school, another summer camp job, five months of teacher training (she fails), her time as an au-pair in London, her enrollment at university. All this time, she alternates between bulimia and anorexia, and she’s never able to have a period.

As usual with Ernaux, a good many lines made me cringe, because she is so candid and doesn’t keep much back, and also because so much of what she writes is terribly relatable. I felt Annie Ernaux’s sadness, empathy and embarrassment towards the girl she was. The fact that many girls today go through the same challenges is slightly discouraging. Clearly, things haven’t moved on a great deal since the fifties.


One of my favourite Ernaux.
Mémoire de fille is probably a good bet for non-francophone adult learners (and older teenagers) who feel ready for a proper book in French.

* From http://www.detambel.com/f/index.php?sp=liv&livre_id=266 The whole page is worth reading (if you know French):
ECRITURE PLATE : Celle-là même qu’Annie Ernaux utilisait en écrivant autrefois à ses parents pour leur dire les nouvelles essentielles. Lettres concises, à la limite du dépouillement, sans effet de style, sans humour, choses qui auraient été perçues par eux comme des « manières », des « embarras ». « Par et dans le choix de cette écriture, je crois que j’assume et dépasse la déchirure culturelle : celle d’être une ‘immigrée de l’intérieur’ de la société française. » Comme enfant vivant dans un milieu dominé, elle a eu une expérience précoce et continue de la réalité des luttes de classes. Bourdieu évoque « l’excès de mémoire du stigmatisé », une mémoire indélébile : "Je l’ai pour toujours. C’est elle qui est à l’œuvre dans mon regard sur les gens, dans Journal du dehors et La Vie extérieure. Ecrire c’est aussi donner à des expressions du français populaire leur pleine signification sociale."

Jan 5, 7:46pm Top

Mémoire de fille is probably a good bet for non-francophone adult learners (and older teenagers) who feel ready for a proper book in French.

That sounds perfect for me. Thank you for the review.

Jan 5, 8:43pm Top

>12 Dilara86: Loved this! Thank you for tracking down and trying these so that the rest of us don't have to...

Edited: Jan 9, 3:16pm Top

>15 wandering_star: Thank you. At first, I thought you meant my books rather than the dried potato dish! They were OK-ish, really. I'd choose them over overripe cheese any day...

>14 baswood: Any Annie Ernaux would be good, I think. Her syntax is always simple, and all her books are short (Mémoire de fille was 93 pages long).

Alchemy : the secret art by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola

Writer’s gender: male
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: N/A

This was a Christmas gift from my daughter. She bought it in a museum shop, and it is a good example of what's wrong with museum shop books. It has pretty pictures, disjointed texts that don't make a lot of sense, and plenty of badly-introduced quotes. In the end, I looked at the pictures, read some of the stream-of-consciousness output when something caught my eye, and skimmed over the rest.



Jan 6, 7:05pm Top

>8 Dilara86: The Hopkinson does sounds tempting. Great review.

I also see you have reviewed an Annie Ernaux; I've read her Cleaned Out some years ago, but have read nothing of hers since.

Jan 7, 5:42pm Top

>11 Dilara86: I took a break on Omeros because I was having trouble switching between it and my other reading. But yes I'm reading it and yes, the first 24 pages are fantastic. I'm going to start over again, probably tonight.

Ernaux's memoir sounds like terrific... but I can't read French, or anything other than English. And I agree about Museum shop books - a lot of pretty books without much content.

Jan 7, 7:08pm Top

>16 Dilara86: Just placed an order for La Place by Annie Ernaux

Jan 9, 9:29am Top

>17 avaland: Cleaned Out is probably my favourite!

>18 dchaikin: It's a shame Mémoire de fille hasn't been translated. I don't know why: half of her books are available in English.

>19 baswood: I hope you like it :-)

Edited: Jan 14, 2:58pm Top

Instructions pour sauver le monde (Instructions for Saving the World) by Rosa Montero, translated by Myriam Chirousse

Writer’s gender: female
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: Madrid, Spain

Every year, I go to a science fiction convention in Nantes called Les Utopiales. I found this book – and many others - at the big specialised bookshop set up in the conference centre. Arguably, it is not science fiction: it’s middle-brow fiction with a slight magical realism flavour if you squint hard enough.

This novel mostly takes place in the slummy, grimy outskirts of Madrid. Bit by bit, we discover how the paths of four protagonists cross (or have crossed in the past). At first, they don’t seem to have much in common: Matias is a taxi driver who’s just lost his wife to cancer, Daniel is a washed-up A & E doctor addicted to drink and Second Life (the online computer game), Fatma is a prostitute working in Madrid’s biggest S & M brothel, and Cerveau (ie, The Brain) is an old alcoholic lady who used to be a university lecturer. And yet… thanks to a series of coincidences, they are thrown together.

Things I didn’t like:
1- There are four point-of-view characters – five if you count Daniel’s wife Marina – but really, only two of them – the men – get decent “airplay”. The women seem to be used mostly as foils for the men: one is a dispenser of wisdom and knowledge (Cerveau – The Brain), the other is there to be saved and to put the others’ suffering into perspective (Fatma the Sierra Leone war survivor and trafficked prostitute).
2- I found the science “infodumps” a bit trite and silly. I felt they were there to add a bit of gravitas to a pretty lightweight premise.
3- The ending felt rushed and unlikely.
4- It was all a bit too “Amélie Poulain” for my liking.

Things I liked:
1- The empathy displayed in the writing;
2- The humour;
3- The general optimism in the goodness of men despite a great deal of terrible behaviour;
4- Even though I didn’t like the specifics of the ending, I liked the fact that it avoided a perfect “they lived happily ever after” for all the characters.


Would I read it again? No. Do I regret reading it? No. It was a quick, pleasant and lightweight read.

Jan 13, 10:04am Top

So, I guess no instructions?

Jan 13, 2:12pm Top

The science fiction convention in Nantes is interesting - what time of the year is it? - tell us more?.

Jan 14, 3:33pm Top

>22 dchaikin: No direct instructions, at least. Indirectly, possibly Be kind to one another and Help others?

>23 baswood: Les Utopiales takes place at the begining of November each year in Nantes: https://www.utopiales.org/ Over the last few years, I've attended talks with Norman Spinrad, Jo Walton, China Miéville, Alejandro Jodorowski, Andreas Eschbach, Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, and many French and francophone writers. It's a science-fiction (loosely defined: there's room for fantasy and magical realism) and science convention. I warmly recommend it!
Alternatively, Lyon also hosts a SF convention: Les Intergalactiques http://www.intergalactiques.net/ I've never been so cannot vouch for it, but it seems pretty similar to Les Utopiales. The next one is in April (from the 13th to the 22nd). And if you're more into art and speculative fiction in general, there's Les imaginales https://www.imaginales.fr/ at the end of May, in Epinal, in the North-East.

Jan 14, 7:41pm Top

Thanks for the information.

Jan 14, 8:52pm Top

>21 Dilara86: In November 2005 Michael and I were in the airport in Paris (missed our connecting flight to Rome) and ran into the author John Crowley who was on his way to Utopiales. He assumed we were headed there also! (we know each other from our years volunteering at a literary SF *convention held in July in Massachusetts called "Readercon." It is also the place Michael and I met). Just thought I'd toss in a little Utopiales-connected story.

*It mainly about books: panel discussions, readings, a ballroom full of books for sale, author signings...etc. It's also somewhat less SF and more fantasy and interstitial stuff these days.

Jan 14, 9:29pm Top

>26 avaland: That's a lovely little story!

Jan 15, 8:55am Top

Les utopiales sounds really interesting! I'm not the kind of person who goes to this kind of conventions but you make me think I should.

I have a Montero book on my wishlist, but reading your review makes me a bit less eager to get to it. We'll see what happens! I don't expect to ever be able to read all that's on my wishlist anyway.

Jan 15, 11:08am Top

China: the Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan

Writers’ genders: male and female (husband and wife)
Original language: Because the authors are from Hong Kong and there’s no mention of a translator, I’m going to assume the original language is English. The name of each dish is written in English and in Chinese ideograms.
Translated into: N/A
Location: China

This is a 700+-page hardback cookbook with a gorgeous celadon and gold cover. There are colour photographs throughout. It is written in American English with the occasional British English term between brackets. Disappointingly, this was only done for the most common terms – eg, cilantro (coriander), skillet (frying pan), etc. – and not for those Chinese ingredients that have a different English name in the US and in Britain. The glossary at the end of the book answered some of the questions I had. I’ll have to google the rest.
It starts with an introduction about the 8 great traditional cuisines of China: Anhui, Shandong, Jiangsu, Fujian, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Sichuan and Hunan. We are then taken on a tour of all the big Chinese regions and their subdivisions: North-East, North, North-West, West – including Tibet (I couldn’t find any Tibetan recipes in the book, however)-, South-West, Central, and a miscellaneous last part that includes Buddhist vegetarian, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Shanghai and Taiwan.
The recipes are clear, and range from very simple to very involved. In line with the information given in the introduction, the region of origin is specified at the top of each recipe, along with prep and cooking times. Some of the ingredients are not easy to come by, and no substitutes or workarounds are given. I was expecting something more didactic and comprehensive, along the lines of the Culinaria series.

I liked the emphasis on regional food and the range of recipes. It’s probably not the definitive Chinese cookbook (in any case, the author’s father apparently wrote that one in 1953 and it’s in 10 volumes), but it’s very informative and inspiring all the same.

Jan 15, 11:20am Top

>26 avaland: I'd love to go to Readercon: it attracts so many big names!

>28 chlorine: I'm not gregarious by any stretch of the imagination, but I really enjoy the Utopiales. Of course, some of the talks are more interesting than others, and the art exhibitions are more to my liking on some years than others, but I never feel robbed by my 9 Euro entrance ticket. And the bookshop's range is unequalled.

Jan 15, 2:50pm Top

>30 Dilara86: 9 euros does feel like a very fair price for such a rich exhibit!

Jan 19, 9:37am Top

Pelle the Conqueror: Childhood by Martin Andersen Nexø, translated by Jesse Muir

Writer’s gender: Male
Original language: Danish
Translated into: English
Location: Bornholm, Denmark
Read for Reading Globally’s Nordic Countries quarter

This was a chance find: I was searching for Danish, Norwegian and Swedish books on Project Gutenberg for the Nordic Countries quarter, and there it was. I found other novels that I will get round to reading too, but this was the only one whose title rang a bell, because of the film, no doubt.
Written at the turn of the 20th century, Pelle the Conqueror: Chilhood (subtitled Boyhood in another translation) is the first book in the Pelle the Conqueror quadrilogy. This is the story of Pelle, a poor Swedish boy, and his father Lasse. After the death of Pelle’s mother destitution drives them to emigrate to Bornholm, an island off the coast of Sweden that belongs to Denmark, to work on a farm. Conditions are harsh, and the law of the jungle prevails for boys and for men (women might take pity on you, though), which makes it difficult for Lasse, who’s past his prime, and for little Pelle. There’s quite a lot of violence in the book – between boys, between men, and towards animals.
It’s all quite depressing: the poverty’s relentless and there’s a lot of drudgery, set off against the farm owner’s comfortable lifestyle. Our heros have next to no agency, they sleep in the stables with the cows, and the food is terrible (old herrings and porridge or potatoes for every meal). However, Pelle is a plucky, bright young boy, so I’m pretty sure (hope!) things will look up for him in the next book.

A good example of a Victorian/Edwardian working-class novel.

Edited: Jan 19, 9:46am Top

Petit Guide de la science-fiction au Québec (Short Guide to Québec Science-fiction) by Jean-Louis Trudel

Writer’s gender: male
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Québec, Canada
Read for Reading Globally’s Non-majority language writers

Another good find from the big bookshop at the Utopiales SF convention. These last few years, Québécois publisher Alire has had a table dedicated to their output in the bookshop and a man hovering nearby, ready to offer advice. This is where I found this little gem.
Reading SF and speculative fiction in languages other than English is an ongoing project of mine (BTW, there are lists that you can add to, such as https://www.librarything.com/list/9915/all/SF-Fantasy-in-Translation and http://www.librarything.com/list/214/all/Best-Science-Fiction-Originally-Publish.... I also tag my books “SF in languages other than English”. I’d be overjoyed if other people used it.) SF written in French by non-French authors is particularly interesting to me. This is why I bit the bullet and bought this thin book despite its fairly steep price (15 Euros, $19,95). ). Some English-speaking authors are mentioned in passing, and there are some French-speaking authors who occasionally write in English, but by and large, the book is about French Québécois SF, or SFQ as it’s apparently known.
Author Jean-Louis Trudel talks us through Québécois SF in chronological order, from its beginnings in the 19th century with Napoléon Aubin. He gives just the right amount of historical context. Jules Verne looms large, as do alternative histories where Québec stays out of the British Empire, and texts featuring First Nations people. Female authors are well-represented, starting with precursor Marie-Ange de Roumier-Robert (Le Voyage de Milord Céton dans les sept planètes, ou le Nouveau Mentor (1765) – and because good old Milord Céton takes his sister along on his voyage, the novel actually contains a female character. Woot!)
Authors are the main focus, but magazines, publishers, films, TV series and games are also included. I found all the writers I knew about or read (Vonarburg, Bérard, Champetier…) and plenty of others too! If there are names missing, I’m not knowledgeable enough to notice it. From where I’m standing, it seemed comprehensive without being waffly. I found a number of titles I’d like to try (Le Char Volant, et relation d’un voyage dans la lune, Voyage à Vénus, Plan de la République canadienne, Mon Voyage de Québec à la Lune, L’impératrice de l’Ungava, Amblystome, 2054), which is exactly what I wanted from this book.

Informative and useful

Edited: Jan 19, 11:01am Top

I had no idea Pelle the Conqueror was based on a book! This is going straight to my wishlist. Although this is what I did for another book that inspired a Bille August film that I really liked: Miss Smilla's feeling for snow by Peter Hoeg, and that was a huge disappointment.

The book about Québec SF seems really interesting also!

Jan 19, 5:22pm Top

>33 Dilara86: Petit Guide to QC SF! That's quite a specialized little niche (at least, that's what I'd say if it was, say, a book about SF from New Jersey). I'd have had to pick it up as well.

Jan 20, 5:24am Top

>32 Dilara86: There is so much good stuff on Project Gutenberg and its all free, so much so that you really don't need to ever to buy another book. Its great to browse through their lists.

Jan 20, 2:02pm Top

>34 chlorine: You can download if for free on Project Gutenberg: all 4 volumes or volume 1.

>35 auntmarge64: That got me thinking. If we had to compile a list of New Jersey SF authors, who would be there? I thought of Junot Diaz, but his writing tends to be about SF, rather than SF. I'm stumped.

>36 baswood: Definitely! There are many hidden gems. It helps to have an idea of what you're looking for, though.

Edited: Jan 20, 3:40pm Top

French spelling: a medieval catastrophy?

This is not a book review, but it might still be of interest to some LTers.

Last week, I went to a talk by Bernard Cerquiglini about French spelling, and more precisely, about the increasingly complex spellings used from the end of the Middle Ages onwards, when scribes switched from a phonetic system, to one that made clear the latin roots of French words. Cerquiglini argues that the switch was due to the shift from sounding out words out loud, as was the practice in most of the Middle Ages, to reading silently. This revolution occurred in the 13th/14th century and had wide-reaching consequences, on spelling (as one could add silent letters to distinguish between homophones, for example), on calligraphy (from “squashy” uncials to gothic script), and on reading speed. Apparently, with their longer up- and downstrokes, gothic script letters make reading faster and easier (that’s not my experience, but then, I’m not a 14th century monk), whilst being able to distinguish homophones on the page speeds up parsing (I’m not sold on that argument: we still have plenty of homonyms whose meanings are perfectly clear from the context – we often know which word is coming in a sentence before we actually read it, and you could argue that all those silent letters might slow down reading speed too).

In any case, the etymological approach was endorsed and officialised by the Académie Française in the 17th century* not for altruistic reasons to do with clarity and reading speed, but because it distinguished the Scholars from the Great Unwashed and mere women +sigh+. The French quote as found in the Académie’s pamphlet is “distingue les gens de Lettres d’avec les Ignorants et les simples femmes”. In fact, hearing this quote on a radio programme with Philippe Blanchet last year is what sparked my interest in the subject. I bought his last book, Discriminations : combattre la glottophobie because I was led to believe that it would be about discrimination on the basis of writing skills (it wasn’t – it was mostly about the way regional languages have been marginalised and even banned by the French authorities (and the doxa). Anyway, the Académie walked (partially) back on this position a few years later. Since then, we have been trying to balance both approaches – etymological and phonetic – and both sides have been arguing and occasionally calling each other names. There have been a couple of spats recently, about the implementation of the 1991 simplified spelling reform by ONE school book publisher (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reforms_of_French_orthography#The_rectifications_of_1990), and about the use of “écriture inclusive”, or gender-inclusive writing, that is, the use of both the masculine form and the feminine form of words used to describle people - eg, “les étudiants et les étudiantes” = “male and female students” (Traditionally, only the masculine form would be used, the justification being that the feminine is included in the masculine plural. Practically, this erases female forms from the discourse.), or more creatively (and controversially), les étudiant.e.s, or “un.e assistant.e de vie” = “a male or female carer”.**

For the record, Cerquiglini is in favour of the feminisation of nouns previously only used in the masculine and has been for decades (eg, “le chancelier Kohl”, “la chancelière Merkel” rather than “le chancelier Merkel”, or worse, “Madame le chancelier Merkel” – that battle has been won, in part thanks to him) as well as the joint use of both masculine and feminine full forms (les étudiants et les étudiantes”), but only when the context demands it, which in my opinion, is a huge can of worms... He went on to explain that we could use “les électeurs” (masculine plural encompassing men and women voters) because it is clear from the context that both genders are represented, but we should use “les sénateurs et les sénatrices” (male senators and female senators), for some reason that was so self-evident to him he did not feel he had to elaborate. He is however, against a blanket use of écriture inclusive and against forms that plonk a feminine ending at the end of a masculine word (les étudiant(e)s / étudiant.e.s / étudiant-e-s) because he feels it is illegible, which is strange, coming from someone who argues that we shouldn’t get rid of silent letters in words because they’re useful for reading comprehension, and absolutely not confusing.

Whether I agreed or not with every one of Cerquiglini’s assertions is unimportant: I learnt a lot, and he was a very engaging and entertaining speaker.

* Here’s a good introduction to the historical background (in French): http://www.academie-francaise.fr/lorthographe-histoire-dune-longue-querelle
** https://www.actualitte.com/article/monde-edition/3-francais-sur-4-se-disent-favorables-a-l-ecriture-inclusive/85395

Jan 20, 5:50pm Top

>38 Dilara86: Thank you for your thoughts after the talk by Bernard Cerquiglini - I found it very interesting.

Jan 21, 8:36am Top

>38 Dilara86: Very interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing.

Thanks also for the link to the PG version of Pelle the Conqueror. However, I try to avoid to read books in English that are translated from another language. I feel I would combine to problems that would harm my enjoyment of the book: the fact that English is not my first language and the fact that something gets lost in translation.
I'll try to find a French copy at the time I get to it (my wishlist is huge!)

Jan 22, 11:09am Top

>40 chlorine: Fair enough!

Jan 22, 2:58pm Top

>38 Dilara86:

These latest recent attempts to introduce gender-neutral language fizzled out, right? (I was following it for a bit, but then between the perennial sexism of the French getting even worse around the MeToo campaign, and the obscenity of the debate about (re)publishing Céline's antisemitic drivel, French news became, not for the first time, too head-exploidy for me.)

Jan 24, 4:05pm Top

>42 LolaWalser:
Since, as you know, there is no neutral in French and every noun is either masculine or feminine, gender-neutral language, strictly speaking, wouldn’t be feasible without a complete overhaul of French grammar. I don’t think it has been seriously discussed.

Gender-inclusive language or “écriture inclusive”, however, is taking hold. Both genders must be stated in job advertisements since 1984, and the same habit has been taken voluntarily in many areas. What fizzled out is the attempt to popularise the “point médian” (adding it to French keyboards, making it compulsory in government publications, etc.), which if Wikipedia is right, is called the interpunct, middot or interpoint in English, and looks like this: “les garçons et les filles intelligent•e•s”. The traditional way of writing this would be “les garcons et les filles intelligents”, the long-form gender-inclusive way would be “les garçons intelligents et les filles intelligentes”. (I know you know all this, but since we’re on a public forum, I’m trying to be as explicit as possible, so that anyone can follow.) Annoyingly, some people have been using the phrase “écriture inclusive” to describe the sole use of the point médian, which just confuses things. Our prime minister stated that he didn’t want écriture inclusive (that is, the point médian) to be used in official government texts, but he is in favour of long-form inclusive writing. Here is a very good Le Monde article that debunks some of the strange ideas people might have about écriture inclusive.

Another idea mooted recently was a return to what was the norm until the 17th century: agreement with the closest noun, or “accord de proximité” (ie, “les garçons et les filles intelligentes). Some teachers teach it – mostly those who signed the petition and open letter to Le Monde, but they’re in the minority and the official rule is still that the masculine form should be used for adjectives qualifying joint feminine and masculine nouns (“les garçons et les filles intelligents”). Here's another Le Monde article.

Feminisation of formerly male professions and occupations: done and dusted. Uncontroversial when they take a familiar ending (le premier ministre, la première ministre), some residual whining when they have an unusual ending (la professeure, la cheffe), but used everywhere all the same.
Use of joint male and female forms at all times: controversial for the conservative, routine for others, widespread in schools, mandatory for job advertisements.
Use of joint male and female forms “when circumstances demand it” : now uncontroversial.
Use of abbreviated, “creative” joint male and female forms (les auteur•e•s, les auteur(e)s, les auteur-e-s): controversial, in discussion, but routinely used by progressive media and political parties. Used by one school book publisher. Discouraged by the Académie française (but contrarily to what many non-French people think, the Académie only has an advisory role and does not dictate usage. Sspelling and grammar reforms are done by government decree; and of course, people may or may not heed them).
Accord de proximité: controversial, discussions have stalled. Used by a handful of militant writers and teachers.
Use of “neutral” (eg, Human rights instead of Rights of Man) or epicene terms: done, with some exceptions (the phrase “Droits de l’Homme” seems untouchable). Even the Académie has now resigned itself to the use of epicene nouns (ie, un juge, une juge, un ministre, une ministre, etc.)

The short TL;DR:
We’re getting there slowly but surely.

FWIW, I think the open letter against #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc is not representative of French society as a whole. While it may resonate with a not insignificant number of people, they’re not in the majority. It was swiftly followed by some very cogent rebuttals by Michelle Perrot, Leïla Slimani and others. The problem is that the media tend to give equal representation to one opinion and to its opposite, which implies that they’re equivalent, even when one is common and/or decent and the other is marginal and/or wacky.
And Gallimard is not going to publish Céline’s anti-Semitic works. Public outrage prevailed. (Personally, I would have liked a serious, annotated edition because I feel that his texts have historical value, and that they would benefit from contextualisation. It might also limit the fetishisation of his work.)

Edited: Jan 24, 5:22pm Top

>43 Dilara86:

Thanks for the breakdown of the debate around the language. I should have been more precise, to me the net effect of gender-inclusivity is gender-neutralness--at least, that's what one hopes for, socially, with these measures.

And I for one would be for more radical changes to French and other strongly gendered languages. The divergence between the approaches in, say, French vs. (for example) English, is striking and opens up many questions regarding communication between languages as well as conceptualisation within a language. For one thing, our understanding of biological gender is getting more complex and the linguistic binary seems less and less adequate. In English there's already the possibility of de-gendering some professions, titles, etc. (for instance using "person"), or using the gender-neutral "they" (them, etc.) I don't see why something like that couldn't be introduced in other languages (I do "see" it would cause huge amounts of debate. But, patience...)

Right now we are seeing a weird opposition of concepts and tactics, while all are supposedly motivated by the same agenda of gender equality. For example, in English there's a trend AWAY from female-gendered trends (but not male--so Meryl Streep is an "actor" but George Clooney isn't an "actress")--while in French, as you describe, the trend is for MORE female-gendered terms.

Clearly we have to wonder where does the latter leave people who don't feel they belong to the gender binary, and whether this "female-gendering" doesn't simply serve further isolation and ghettoisation of women.

I would at least propose a few other measures (some of which I've encountered already, but not very often)--break up stylistic patterns of speaking always about "men and women", "boys and girls" etc.--that is, always putting male gender first; also, in impersonal speech vary the gender of putative subjects (they are typically male unless the matter deals with explicitly "female" topics) etc.

The problem is that the media tend to give equal representation to one opinion and to its opposite, which implies that they’re equivalent, even when one is common and/or decent and the other is marginal and/or wacky.

I certainly hope so all the time (not just in regard with French media), but I'm not sure the statistics of achievement warrant any great optimism about the unrepresented. That is, even if the public opinion is less sexist than the media make it seem, that supposed egalitarianism isn't evident in stark indicators. I read about this somewhere not long ago; in brief, the idea is that French women are in some respects better off (than, say, American women) simply because the social net is better, but in terms of equality, they are way behind where you'd normally expect them to be. (I tried looking for the article but can't find it in haste, instead this popped up, a bit old--2012--but perhaps of interest: Why French women have so little equality, a story in charts. "Economic opportunity for French women is similarly low, particularly on wage equality, on which France ranks a stunning 129th in the world. According to the World Economic Forum's global survey, France is the absolute worst in the world for gender wage equality." (italics in the text)


Yes, I read about the decision (this time anyway, I'm sure it'll come up again), but I'm bitter about the side that championed publication for reasons that would take too long to explain--I'll just note that, as far as I read, the main problem for the opponents was precisely Gallimard's refusal to include anything but a "literary expert"'s notes, and not at all a proper academic critical apparatus by a historian. Let's face it, it's exactly that sort of "we are the mandarins, we know best" self-satisfied smuggery that keeps so much antisemitic dreck alive in French letters and culture at large (here's a timely example--I'm reading Ernst Jünger's wartime journals in a French edition, and yes it's Livre de Poche so lengthy notes can't be expected, but not only is there no context given, there's a blurb on the back cover by... Marcel Jouhandeau. Why not, the two gentlemen hung out together in occupied Paris and chatted Baroque literature and other finer things in life while Jünger's mates where burning Jews in Poland--lemurs, Jünger called them.)

On questions of access, these are still available, I bought a copy collecting all of his major antisemitic works directly from a publisher in Québec (on Amazon Canada if memory serves, could have been Abe.) They are also available in English, and possibly other languages.

Would broader knowledge of them decrease the "edgy hipster" cult of Céline--possibly; on the other hand, it would CERTAINLY feed the much more numerous rabble in search for validation of their antisemitism.

Edited: Apr 20, 10:44am Top

Trying to get back in the habit of posting after a few weeks' hiatus. I wrote a long answer to >44 LolaWalser:. Then Microsoft Edge had a fit before I could click Post message and I lost everything. I got discouraged, and then stuff happened in real life... Anyway. I am now writing all my reviews and long posts in a word processor first.

Here's the last book I read:

Les deux épouses by Chung So-Sung, also spelled Jung Soseong and Jeong So-seong, translated by Kim Jin-Young and Jean-Paul Desgoutte

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: South-Korean
Original language: Korean
Translated into: French
Location: North and South Korea

Although Chung So-Sung is a prolific author and seems fairly well-known in Korea, I’d never heard of him before stumbling upon Les deux épouses at the library the other day. As far as I can see, this is his only novel available in translation. You can even read it (or skim it) online, on the translator’s website, if you are so inclined: link

There’s something very old-fashioned about this book. It could have been written in the nineteenth century rather than in 1999. It’s a straightforward novel with a very linear plot and a single point of view. Things happen to the hero and the secondary characters, they make their way across a country in the throes of a deadly civil war, they are separated, then their paths cross again... The two wives of the title are transparently North and South Korea. They get jostled from man to man – or should I say owner to owner? (it’s quite grim in a lot of places) – and are both loved by the book’s main character, Chul Woo. One stays in the North, one ends up in the South, having failed to reach Japan. Despite the title, the wives are definitely not main characters: they’re ciphers and have no psychological depth. You read the book for its descriptions of Korean culture, history and geography, or because you’re taken in by this rollercoaster of an adventure. I feel it was a good primer on Korea, and wonder whether some of the information was put in for Western readers: there was quite a bit of background historical information, complete with names, explanations and dates, which I assume Koreans would not need. It was a bit didactic, but I was very grateful for it and for the map on the inside front cover. They were very useful to me and a lot less disruptive than looking stuff up on Wikepedia, which I would have had to do otherwise.

Edited: Apr 23, 8:09am Top

La traversée du mal by Germaine Tillion

Writer’s gender: Female interviewee, male interviewer
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Paris, Musée de l’Homme (Paris), the Aurès region in Algeria, Ravensbrück concentration camp

Germaine Tillion* was an ethnologist at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris who studied the Chouia people from the Aurès region in Algeria. She came back from a field trip to wartime France and joined the Résistance on the day of capitulation, and later on General de Gaulle’s France libre via the intelligence network Gloria SMH. She was part of a Résistance group posthumously called the Réseau du Musée de l’Homme, along with Paul Rivet (its director), Yvonne Oddon (its librarian), Boris Vildé (ethonologist), Émilie Tillion (writer, art critic, Germaine’s mother), Agnès Humbert (art historian), Pierre Brossolette (journalist, politician), Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz (writer, Charles de Gaulle’s niece), and numerous others. Before the war, Paul Rivet had also found work at the Musée and at the recently-founded CNRS for Jewish and political refugees.
Germaine was betrayed and sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women, where she was joined by her mother and Geneviève de Gaulle among others. She meticulously recorded the workings of the camp, even calculating the monetary worth of each prisoner, and Himmler’s personal revenus gained from the camp. She survived the camp – her mother didn’t – thanks to the Swedish Red Cross. She worked as an official observer during the post-war Nazi trials, and went on to study Nazi crimes and deportation for the next 10 years.
Then, the Algerian war of independence picks up steam, and Louis Massignon, a renowned orientalist, basically begs her to go on an observing mission to Algeria, to make sure that the army and OAS don’t mistreat the local population. She visits camps, witnesses terrible hardships and acts as a whistleblower against the atrocities committed by the French occupiers.

La traversée du mal is the reworked transcript of an interview by writer and journalist Jean Lacouture made for a radio show called A voix nue on French public radio station France Culture. In this short book – 125 pages - Germaine Tillion recalls the years I’ve just outlined and gives us her thoughts on the terrible things that humans do to each other. I was struck by all those moments of female solidarity and ingenuity, in prison and in the camps: the way they managed to pass on information and help each other. This is a good “in” to Tillion’s life and work. She comes across as an intellectually rigourous woman, full of compassion and courage, and surrounded by like-minded women. I must say though that it is slightly bemusing to be reading this book, where General de Gaulle can do no wrong and in the case of Algeria, only individual bad people do bad things, shortly after reading Le corps d’exception by Sidi Mohammed Barkat, that dissects the myriad ways French institutions and people created a reality in which colonised subjects could be systematically and mindlessly discriminated and even killed.

* Here’s a link to her Wikipedia article if you want to know more about her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germaine_Tillion, although unsurprisingly, the French Wikipedia article is much longer, more accurate and gives a better idea of her achievements: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germaine_Tillion.

Edited: Apr 29, 7:35am Top

Chroniques de l’asphalte 1/5 by Samuel Benchetrit

Writer’s gender: Male
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: An urban working-class, multicultural neighbourhood (banlieue) in France
Minority representation:
The author/narrator’s father is a Moroccan Jew, his mother has Tzigane (Hugarian Gypsy) origins.
The origins of the narrator’s friends are very varied (North-Africa, Italian, Spanish, West-African), as you would expect from the setting.

Chroniques de l’asphalte 1/5 is the first instalment of Benchetrit’s memoirs. Each short chapter works as a short story describing an anecdote or a snippet of his and his neighbours’ life, in a multicultural, working-class block of flats in the seventies/eighties. It’s pretty much Renaud’s song HLM in book form (youtube link, lyrics). Some stories are realistic but exaggerated for effect; others go off on flights of fancy (the one where an American astronaut lands on the roof, for example). They’re slightly too contrived for my taste. I think the story that will stay with me the longest is the one where a teenage boy steals and reads his sister’s diary to his friends in a desperate attempt to try and understand her behaviour and her obsession with Les nuits fauves (Savage Nights), a film adapted from Cyril Collard’s autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves. There’s only one thing to do: go and see this gay film (with his friends for support, of course)…
Benchetrit is also an actor and director. He turned this book into a film called Asphalte in French and Macadam Stories in English, apparently.

A easy, entertaining read, but ultimately not entirely satisfying for me.

Apr 24, 4:37am Top

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

Writer’s gender: Female
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Minority representation: plentiful, varied and includes main characters

  • Gay couple and parents, at least one of whom is Black
  • One of the main characters is an elderly woman of South-Asian origins – given the name (Bhattacharyya), probably Bengali. One quibble though: given the dates, we are led to believe that an educated Indian man living in the UK in the eighties and working in Education (he’s a deputy headteacher) would be against his daughter going to university. I find it very hard to believe. Even if he wanted her to be a traditional stay-at-home wife and mother, she’d still need some further education to make a good arranged marriage! This cliché was unnecessary: the plot would have worked without it.
  • The mixed family members of the above.
  • Another main character has a Central European name.

Location: UK: London and Tarbat Ness Lighthouse, North-East Scotland

This takes place in an alternate reality and in a near-future where people have by and large stopped making and carrying babies in the usual way. They use biotech grow-pouches instead. In theory, they’re safer than a natural pregnancy, and because they allow all adults to reproduce and all parents to bond with their unborn babies and share responsibilities, they’ve made possible a level of equality between the sexes and between different family structures (gay and straight) that would have been impossible otherwise. Obviously, things are not as perfect as the picture painted by the company pushing those pouches. There are hidden unexplained still-births among third-generation pouch-babies. And because embryos that would in the past have been terminated are transferred to a pouch and grown to term, there are legions of unadopted children kept out of sight in orphanages. Also, the NHS is no more, and only rich people can afford good healthcare. Years ago Holly Bhattacharya volunteered to be the first person to use a grow-pouch. Now, she’s a strong-willed old lady whose grand-daughter is expecting her first pouch baby…
This novel pushes a lot of right buttons for me: there’s science (the author is a bona fide scientist), BAME main characters, women in STEM, people of different ages interacting together, a reflection on gender equality and reproductive rights/habits… I’m not sure they totally gelled together, and the plot was a bit holey in places. Despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable read and a bit of a page-turner.

Edited: Apr 25, 6:08am Top

La fabrique des garçons : l'éducation des garçons de 1820 à aujourd'hui by Anne-Marie Sohn

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France

I borrowed this abundantly-illustrated hardback from the library, its sister publication about girls having been in my wishlist for years. It describes the way boys have been raised and taught from 1820 (under Louis XVIII’s constitutional monarchy) to the present time, and what forms of masculinity they have been encouraged to perform. The author’s contention is that it all fits into three well-demarcated periods. That feels pretty artificial to me. Until 1879, boys and young men’s shows of violence are widespread, expected and tolerated, to the point where they are the only ones able to take to the streets with relative impunity in an age where there is no freedom of speech and no right to protest for adults. There are frequent violent mutinies in schools (and of course, the fact that they are called mutinies shows that schools are basically army barracks for the underage). From 1880 to 1950, the focus changes from brute strength to the pursuit of excellence. Other types of dominations - at school, at work, on the football pitch – are encouraged. Violence is more sublimated. Lastly from 1950 to the present time boys are less likely to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, and more likely to socialise with girls.
On the whole, I wasn’t overly impressed. I found the text unconvincing, simplistic and not always easy to follow. For me, the book was saved by the secondary stuff: the anecdotes and the illustrations. (Although these could have been more varied - they clearly had a Breton corpus and a lycée Henri IV corpus, and they were going to use them!) Nice form, not enough substance.

Apr 30, 10:00am Top

Les jeunes mortes (Chicas muertas) by Selva Almada, translated by Laura Alcoba, a novelist in her own right

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Argentine
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: Argentina

Hundreds of women are murdered in Argentina every year. There has been a massive mobilization, galvanized by a grassroots movement called #NiUnaMenos to fight femicides. This book helped raise awareness of this issue. The narrator investigates the murder of three teenage girls / young women: Andrea, María Luisa and Sarita. This reads exactly like long-form journalist, to the point where I actually don’t know whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. She describes the patriarchal, top-down society that made those murders and their cover-up possible. It’s grim and it gave me nightmares, but it’s a must-read.

Edited: May 1, 2:58pm Top

Tableau de Sabbat (The Shaman Sorceress in English) by Kim Dong-Ni/ Kim Tong-ni, translated by Jean-Paul Desgoutte and Kim Jin-Young

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Korean
Original language: Korean
Translated into: French
Location: Gyeongju/Kyung-ju, Korea

When googling Tableau de Sabbat to see whether I’d like it, I found that I could read the whole novella online, on the translator’s website: http://jean-paul.desgoutte.pagesperso-orange.fr/livres/sabbat/sabbat.htm. So I did!

The author, Kim Tong-ni (I’m using this spelling because according to Wikipedia, it is the author’s preferred transliteration) was a Korean writer from an impoverished aristocratic family in Gyeongju, in South-East Korea. He was married to another writer/poet called Son Sohui, who I’d very much like to read, if only her work was available in translation. His mother was a Christian of Confucean background. He had a strong interest in all the spiritual paths he encountered: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and traditional Korean Shamanism.

The Shaman Sorceress of the title is a traditional village witch/healer. She lives with her mute daughter, a painter, in a derelict cottage. One day, her first-born who had been sent away to a Buddhist monastery comes back. He has converted to Christianity. As you can well imagine, things do not go well.

The novella’s plot could have been more subtle and better developed, I suppose, but I enjoyed Kim Tong-ni’s poetic style and his beautiful descriptions. I’ll probably be looking for more of his work, especially if they’re also translated by Jean-Paul Desgoutte and Kim Jin-Young.

Edited: May 2, 8:57am Top

Le sommeil de la raison by Juan Miguel Aguilera, translated by Antoine Martin

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Spanish
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: Spain, France, The Netherlands and what is now Belgium

This is a historical fantasy novel written by an acclaimed author (and well-known in France and Spain). In 1516 – the start of the Spanish Golden Age – Spanish humanist Luis Vives and French witch Céleste travel across Europe in their quests for knowledge, safety and a mysterious man, meeting seemingly every major sixteenth-century figure – from Erasmus to Hieronymus Bosch to King Charles V - along the way. I thought it would be on the high-brow side of fantasy, but it definitely wasn’t. Apart from all the “intellectual” name-dropping, it’s the novel equivalent of a Hollywood film. The writing is actually very visual: we move from scene to scene and cliché to cliché at a good pace, and there’s never any real substance. And because Celtic and Germanic/Nordic folklore is so ubiquitous in modern fantasy, it even creeps in this otherwise VERY Spanish novel in the form of Sidhe, which I thought was jarring. I read as far as page 139, then gave up. This is so disappointing.

May 2, 9:34am Top

Hello, it's great to have you back. Just to let you know your fascinatingly observant reviews are being followed (sorry I have no time for more than this quick note.)

May 3, 6:04am Top

Thank you! It's good to know I'm not talking to an empty room :)

Edited: May 5, 1:21pm Top

La pièce du fond by Eugenia Almeida, translated by François Gaudry

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Argentinian
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: an unnamed town in Argentina

Eugenia Almeida, like Selva Amada upthread, is an Argentinian author published in France by Métailié, a publishing house specialising in translated literature. Their books were shelved next to each other at the library, and I picked both out of curiosity, having never heard of either of them before.
This is a book of interwoven threads. First, there’s Sofìa. She notices an old homeless man in the square in front of the bar where she works. She brings him food and tries to strike a conversation, to no avail because he’s either dumb or unwilling to speak. When he disappears, she goes to the local police station to enquire after him. That brings us to the second thread. That one belongs to Frias the nice, sensitive policeman. And then, there are all the people working at Santa Lucia’s, the psychiatric hospital. This fascinating and well-observed novel revolves around the interactions between well-intentioned, good-hearted characters and uncaring ones, or between those who need help, those willing to provide it and those withholding it. It also shows the impact that jobsworths have on other people’s lives. This short, poetic, and moving book really hit home, helped by the unobtrusive translation. It was beautifully written and I had tears in my eyes at the end.

May 5, 12:55pm Top

Kalpa impérial by Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Mathias de Breyne

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Argentinian
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: a fictional empire called Kalpa

I’m on an involuntary Argentine roll, thanks to the library. I chose two books written by Argentinian authors – Eugenia Almeida and Selva Almada – then saw Kalpa Imperial, which has been in my wishlist for ages, in the new arrivals. Given her name, I thought the author was German, but nope: another Argentine!
In France, Kalpa impérial is published by La Volte, a small, rather macho publishing house. As far as I know, their only female-authored books are this one and Shikastat by Doris Lessing. Kalpa imperial was originally published in the eighties in Argentina. It took twenty years for an English version to be published (and if it wasn’t for Ursula Le Guin, we’d probably still be waiting), and the French translation by Mathias de Breyne came out last year, which is astonishingly late.
The book has no unifying, linear plot, but is comprised of a succession of tales told by storytellers about kings,queens and past events of the Kalpa empire. The style is poetic, old-fashioned (almost biblical) and meandering, as befits traditional storytelling. This must have taxed de Breyne’s translating skills, but he did a good job.

Edited: May 6, 1:39pm Top

Very interesting last reviews.

>56 Dilara86: Interesting info about La Volte. I keep meaning to explore their books but other stuff always get in the way. I wasn't aware that they did translations. In the end did you like Kalpa impérial ?

>49 Dilara86: I thought for a moment that this was another edition of a collection of essays I've read: Pour en finir avec la fabrique des garçons but the books seem quite different. From your review I'm glad I read the one I did rather than yours.

May 6, 3:38pm Top

Interesting info about La Volte. I keep meaning to explore their books but other stuff always get in the way. I wasn't aware that they did translations.
They're branching out! They publish translated works and they certainly have more women authors now than before. Having said that, I loved La horde du contrevent, which I think was their first book?

In the end did you like Kalpa impérial ?
I enjoyed some chapters more than others, but on the whole, yes, I liked it. I wavered between 3.5 and 4 stars, and eventually gave it 4 stars. The fact that I really loved the last chapter helped.

right now, I'm slogging through Poissons en eaux troubles, an old manga about a nuclear power station (among other things), but I'm not enjoying it.

May 7, 1:22am Top

>58 Dilara86: I also loved La horde, which is the main reason why I became interested in La Volte in the first place. :)

May 8, 10:57am Top

La France végétalienne by Léna Korobova and Frédéric Zégierman

Writer’s gender: 1 female, 1 male
Writer’s nationality: I don’t know what passport(s) Léna Korobova has, but she was born and raised in Russia and moved to France as an adult. Frédéric Ziégerman is French.
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France, all mainland regions

The book’s title is La France végétalienne (Vegan France). Végétalien means vegan (it’s a clever twist on végétarien, which means vegetarian). The végétarien/végétalien pair is not great for the hearing-impaired, dyslexic people and non-native speakers, but to me, the word végétalien has a nicer ring to it than the English calque vegan (or végan), which we also use. Having said that, the meaning of both words has evolved in the last fifteen years, and some people don’t see them as synonymous anymore. So, “végétalien-ne” is about not eating animal products (meat, dairy, honey…) and “vegan” is about not using any animal products in all areas of your life (food, footwear, furniture polish, etc.)
Last year, I stumbled upon a recipe for fake vegan foie gras on pinterest that led me down the rabbit hole of vegan substitutes, and eventually to http://francevegetalienne.fr/, a website specialising in French vegan food, which I found hugely refreshing after the endless vegan burgers/cinnamon buns/brunch dishes that crop up on vegan food blogs and in vegan/vegetarian restaurants, whatever the country. Now, those are very nice too, but it’s good to have a bit of diversity, and to find foods that are meaningful in your culture. (Full disclosure: I am not vegan. I am a lapsed vegetarian. I’m always curious about new recipes, foods, etc. and I love vegetables. I also have a thing for beans and pulses).
When France végétalienne announced a book of French regional recipes, it had to go into my wishlist. I now have it in my possession, and it’s even better than I’d hoped. You know you’re reading recipes for regional, peasant food when the dishes have names such as kouign patatez, crapiau de treuffes, cacasse à cul nu and pétatou…
The book is quite comprehensive. It looks like a textbook: big, thick and stingy on photos. Even the paper and the layout remind me of school. After the usual introductions and a first section devoted to recipes found everywhere in France (omelettes, “steak” and chips, Yule log, chocolate mousse…), the rest of the book is divided along geographical lines: the West (Brittany, Poitou, Vendée…), the Centre and Ile de France (Paris, Loire Valley…), the North-East (Alsace, Lorraine, Picardy…), the South-West (Aquitaine, Périgord, Charentes, Basque country…), and the South-East (Provence, Languedoc…). Lastly, basics have their own section at the end of the book. This is where you get recipes for various types of vegan sausages and stuffings, butter, cream, cheeses, mayonnaise, pastries, aquafaba, and even ice-cream. Il also liked the fact that there are three different types of index: alphabetical, categorised by ingredient (carrot, potato, stale bread (yes, really!), tofu…), and by theme (Christmas, Easter, savoury tarts, soups…).

This is not just a collection of recipes, the authors added quite a lot of background historical, etymological and cultural trivia on dishes and ingredients: about the introduction of apricots in France, or the history of the quiche lorraine, for example. What you don’t get is any kind of nutritional information about veganism, or how to pair dishes, or eat healthily on a vegan diet. That’s clearly not the aim of the book. Its aim is to show the diversity of French regional cooking, and help us manage our journey from meat-eating to veganism in a way without dropping out of our culture. I discovered plenty of new dishes, and I learned a lot about local dishes.
On that front, the recipes fell into four categories:
1) Recipes that are de facto vegan (escalivada, various soups…)
2) Recipes that can be made vegan with minimal changes or a simple ingredient swap (all the recipes that call for lardons – easily substituted with smoked tofu – or all those stews and soups where removing the meat doesn’t make much of a difference)
3) Recipes where “veganisation” requires thought and trial and error (meringues, crêpes…)
4) Imitation foods (faux gras, fake roll mops made with slices of aubergine and nori, fake ham made with gluten four, chickpea flour, tomato puree, etc.)

I’m more interested in the first 3 types, but I’ll definitely be trying some type-4 recipes. Not the ham though.

One thing though: I would have liked some recipes from French overseas territories. If recipes for linzertorte and black forest gateau where included because they were adopted by Alsatians, they could have included recipes for coconut flan and accras, which are even more ubiquitous in mainland France. Still, this book was an extraordinary effort, and I’m glad I have it in my cookbook collection.

Best phrase in the book: “frénésie viandarde”

May 8, 11:36am Top

This seems quite interesting! Is the region of Normandie addressed in this book? I noticed that there is no "North-West" in the list of regions you described, and I figure it must be easier to "veganise" south-east cooking in which they use olive oil, than Normand cooking in which cream is must have ingredient. ;) (just kidding, I guess recipes with cream can be easily adapted by replacing
it with something else).

Have you tried the deserts? I heard that they're the hardest thing to make vegan, but I've never tried it myself (I'm neither vegeterian nor vegan but trying to reduce my meat intake, so I'm interested in vegeterian recipes).

May 8, 3:47pm Top

>61 chlorine:This seems quite interesting! Is the region of Normandie addressed in this book? I noticed that there is no "North-West" in the list of regions you described
I hadn't even noticed but now that you mention it... Normandy is lumped into the West (Grand Ouest). Sorry I forgot to list it. I had a quick look through and here are the recipes I found for Normandy:

  • Soupe à l'échalote d'Avranches
  • Salade normande
  • Terrine de la mer (that one is transregional: it encompasses Brittany, Normandy, Aunis, Saintonge, Bordelais)
  • Escalope de seitan vallée d'Auge
  • Tourte aux brocolis
  • Gâteau normand
  • Tarte normande
  • Pommes à la grivette
  • Teurgoule

They have a recipe for "crème fraîche" made with cashew nuts, water, lemon juice and cider vinegar. They claim it looks just like Isigny cream! I very much doubt it tastes similar though (which doesn't mean it's rubbish - just different).
More than cream, I think cheesy recipes must be difficult to aproximate taste-wise and texture-wise. I don't know how close their fondue and raclette recipes are to the real thing.

I haven't tried any of their recipes so far, but I've made vegan desserts in the past: things like chocolate mousse made with tofu, or egg- and cow's milk-free pancakes. They were OK, but not great. Except for rice pudding made with almond milk. That is delicious. I've never made a vegan cake though. One day... I'll keep you posted.

May 8, 4:19pm Top

Thanks for taking the time to look it up! Vegan d'Isigny cream is really an intriguing concept. Maybe one day I'll try that!

May 14, 2:43pm Top

Histoire couleur terre Vol.1 (The Color of Earth) by Kim Dong-Hwa, translated by Kette Amoruso

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Korean
Original language: Korean
Translated into: French
Location: A village in Korea

This is a coming-of-age story. Ihwa (Ehwa in the English version, I think) is a young girl growing up with her widowed mother in the Korean countryside, in – I would guess – the first half of the twentieth century. This beautifully-drawn manhwa (Korean manga) is an homage to the author’s mother and grandmother. The landscapes, and the backgrounds in general, are exquisitely detailed. The author is clearly on the side of gender equality: he shows how women are the victims of sexual double standards, for example. Having said that, I am slightly uneasy about his “lense”. It feels a bit inauthentic, voyeuristic and dare I say creepy? He might be projecting his sexual feelings and fantasies onto his characters. And of course, the parallel between nature (flowers in particular) and the character’s romantic/sexual awakening is a bit of a cliché. As is too often the case in graphic novels, the art is great, but the content lacks depth and subtlety. While I didn’t regret the time spent reading this book, I will not be borrowing the other two in the trilogy.

May 14, 4:10pm Top

Poissons en eaux troubles by Susumu Katsumata, translated by Miyako Slocombe

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Translated into: French
Location: Japan

This book is a collection of Susumu Katsumata’s mangas. They were written in the seventies and the eighties. The first two are about workers (and a giant squid) in a nuclear power station. The next ones feature Japanese supernatural beings called kappa and tanuki. Finally, there is a series of semi-autobiographical stories about the author’s youth and his mother’s life (she had him out of wedlock and died when he was 6). I must say that I nearly gave up about a third of the way through, but I’m glad I pushed on because I liked the autobiographical stuff better. If you like dark, depressing stories about the environment and heroes who lose the will to live, this is a book for you. It wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, but I definitely recognise Susumu Katsumata’s artistry and distinctive voice and vision.

May 14, 6:16pm Top

This is probably due to an interplay of my ignorance of the genre and possible bias in what gets translated, but it strikes me that "dark, depressing stories about the environment and heroes who lose the will to live" may be more the rule than exception in manga (for adults). At least that seems to be true for titles I chance on--MW, Apollo's Song, The book of human insects, and the latest, The push man and other stories. First three by Osamu Tezuka, the fourth by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and all published in the 1960s up to 1970.

May 14, 11:18pm Top

>66 LolaWalser:

Yep, definitely a question of bias and not being familiar with the genre. Manga for adults can be anything! Right now gourmet comics are popular with the main character going around Japan trying different foods. But manga for adults can also be about job life, personal life, golf, zombies, romance, really, anything. I think a lot of the adult manga that gets translated into the US if looking at customers who enjoy "high-brow literary fiction" and thus they choose the stuff that is darker and has more of a message to tell.

Edited: May 15, 10:54am Top

>67 lilisin:

I should have emphasized more the period in question--sixties-seventies ("all published in the 1960s up to 1970."). In that period the motif of environmental and cold war panic keeps cropping up in literary and graphic fiction from Japan--that's why Dilara's post, dealing with another earlier work, reminded me of those titles.

No idea how "highbrow" or not Tezuka appeared to the public then. As for Tatsumi, he seems to have been regarded as a trashy, sort of pulp writer, maybe best comparable in status to underground comics creators in the US like Robert Crumb.

May 16, 3:12am Top

>68 LolaWalser:

Ah yes, my apologies, certainly in that period that was a huge topic for any genre of media.
I personally wasn't familiar with Tezuka until recently when I was gifted one of the volumes in his series, and as I didn't like the hand of the gift-er I promptly sold it to a used book store. :) It seems many of my Japanese friends who are readers and with whom I've talked to about Tezuka, have actually read his series, and considering I'm in my 30s and one of those friends is in his 20s, Tezuka seems to certainly still be read today but I know nothing about his reputation at the time of publication.

May 16, 5:10am Top

>67 lilisin: Right now gourmet comics are popular with the main character going around Japan trying different foods.

That sounds right up my alley! I've read Jirô Taniguchi's Gourmet. Do you know of other titles I should look out for?

May 17, 10:32am Top

El guanaco by Francisco Coloane, translated by François Gaudry

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Chilean
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: Tierra del Fuego, Chile

The author tells us very matter-of-factly loosely interwoven stories of people living in Tierra del Fuego (including Mabel, daughter of one of the last Ona Indians and the White Indian-hunter who raped her), in the (probably) first half of the XXth century, and Ona legends. Settlers raise sheep or look for gold, and some of them kill Indians, cut off their ears or breasts, and exchange them for bounty, thus perpetrating the little-known Selk'nam (or Ona) genocide. Life is as harsh as the local climate. Imagine a stark, violent Western movie, with sheep – called white guanacos by the Ona (non-white guanacos being wild llamas) – instead of cows.

May 17, 3:39pm Top

>71 Dilara86: This sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!

May 18, 1:54am Top

>70 Dilara86:

Sorry but I don't follow the genre and have no idea what is being translated into English so I have no idea!

May 20, 12:32pm Top

>No worries!

May 20, 12:36pm Top

Codes noirs : de l’esclavage aux abolitions (Black Codes : from slavery to abolitions) by André Castaldo, introduction by Christiane Taubira, texts by various civil servants and law-makers

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France, including historical colonies

Codes noirs was a birthday present from my daughter. She knows me well… It’s a very useful (that is, if you’re interested in the history of civil rights, which I am) and interesting little book. And when I say little, I mean LITTLE: it’s smaller than my hand and the writing is annoyingly tiny. There’s a proper introduction by former French justice minister Christian Taubira: 39 pages about the history of slavery in France and its overseas territories. She knows her subject: not only did she write L’esclavage raconté à ma fille, she is responsible for getting through parliament a law (now named after her) recognising slavery as a crime against humanity. Then come another 35 pages outlining the historical and legal contexts courtesy of Professor André Castaldo, and then, the 18 primary sources. We start with the first black code, signed by Louis XIV in 1685, then the second, and then all the legal texts that punctuate the rigmarole of abolitions and reinstatements that lasted until the final abolition decree of 1848. This section ends nicely with the previously-mentioned Loi Taubira. The last part of the book reproduces extracts from international conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning the outlawing of slavery. The last page is Article 5 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights:
1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
3. Trafficking in human beings is prohibited.

A great reference: clear, concise and thorough.

May 20, 1:30pm Top

>75 Dilara86:

Thanks for that, sounds like a good starting point. Would you happen to know of something recent like a comparative history/survey of slavery that would give an idea of the relative situations in different countries/continents? I come across a lot of stuff dedicated to single countries or periods but for a non-historian it's a struggle to stitch it all together.

Edited: May 21, 4:29pm Top

>76 LolaWalser: The short answer is no, and I'd very much like to read one, for the reasons you outlined yourself!

However, your question spurred me into doing a bit of research, which I should have done ages ago, given how often I’ve thought to myself that a global history of slavery would be useful...
I had a look on my local library's website. They have a Que sais-je ? called L'esclavage by Maurice Lengellé. I'll borrow it and report back. You never know what you're going to get with this series, and this particular book was published in 1992, so it might be a bit dated. We'll see. The same author also wrote L'Esclavage moderne ("Toutes les formes contemporaines de la servitude, dans différents pays, sont passées en revue. Cette étude préconise une nécessaire coordination au sein des organisations internationales pour lutter contre ce fléau, en assurant enseignement et santé à chaque enfant puis emploi à chaque jeune adulte."). That might be worth a look.
They also have Dictionnaire des esclavages ("Ce dictionnaire de 200 entrées traite des formes de l'esclavage selon les régions et pays du monde, les périodes historiques, les personnages, les différents aspects de la vie quotidienne des esclaves, et s'intéresse aux traces perceptibles dans le monde contemporain.") and L' histoire de l'esclavage racontée en famille by Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau ("Présentation des différents systèmes esclavagistes du passé avec une analyse de l'histoire des civilisations qui les ont développés. Une approche comparative conduit à se demander ce qui a pu favoriser l'émergence et la durée de ces formes de servitude et comment nos prédécesseurs ont su parfois y mettre un terme. Avec des extraits de textes de philosophes et de reportages historiques."), which despite its title is shelved in the adult section of the library, and therefore must have a bit of depth to it. Those two are going straight into my wishlist, as are Les traites négrières : Essai d'histoire globale and Qu'est-ce que l'esclavage ?: Une histoire globale by the same author. These seem to be more on the academic side.
I've also found Une histoire de l'esclavage : de l'Antiquité à nos jours by Christian Delacampagne ("Retrace l'histoire de l'esclavagisme depuis l'Antiquité jusqu'à l'époque contemporaine, en s'intéressant aux aspects institutionnels (politiques, économiques) et aux justifications philosophiques ou religieuses qui ont pu en être données.").

I found nothing relevant written in English. If anybody reading this thread knows of titles, I’m all ears.
I'm so glad you asked this question :-)

May 21, 11:58am Top

Codes noirs seems really interesting, as well as many of the books you've dug up while doing your research. Thanks for this list!

May 21, 4:19pm Top

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Lebanese and American?
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: Beirut, Lebanon

Aaliya, a former bookshop employee, has been living in the same Beirut apartment for decades. She tells us about her life, her books,her bookshop, her thoughts on life, war, Beirut and literature. For fun, she translates novels into Arabic. Not from the original language, but from the English and French translations. I don’t know what to think about this novel. I liked the premise, but I found the execution slightly disappointing and Aaliya unconvincing as a character. I think she was a conduit for Rabih Alameddine’s musings, more than anything. Still, it was an enjoyable read.

May 21, 4:39pm Top

>76 LolaWalser: >77 Dilara86: >78 chlorine: I've dug a little deeper about Olivier Grenouilleau and it seems there were some controversies about his work. So I don't know. I'll have to read it and see...

May 21, 5:46pm Top

Thanks for the recs, I'll see what may be available here. The uni library is fantastic but for that very reason hard to navigate for the non-expert and being so totally out of my field I don't even know anyone to ask. And it's a topic I feel the need to know better with every passing year. It's fascinating how dynamic history--I mean the discipline--has gotten in our lifetimes, and it's all thanks to the introduction of novel perspectives and interests through women's studies, gay studies, black studies...

May 23, 12:15pm Top

La péninsule aux 24 saisons (The Peninsula with 24 Seasons) by Inaba Mayumi, translated by Elisabeth Suetsugu

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Translated into: French
Location: A hamlet in the Shima Peninsula, Japan

This is a slow, contemplative novel about a year in a life of a middle-aged, single woman in search of a simpler life near the sea, in a small hamlet peopled by retirees and the odd holiday-home owner, in the Shima Peninsula. “Why 24 seasons?”, you might ask. The main character is given an almanac that divides the year into 24 seasons of two weeks each. This gives a good idea of the level of detail with which the narrator observes her natural surroundings, especially plants, seasons and the weather. This first-person narrative is very descriptive and evocative. The premise is not particularly original, but this was a charming novel all the same.

May 23, 12:23pm Top

>81 LolaWalser: I hear you! I'm also doing it on my own, as it were. I'll come back to you if (or when - let's be optimistic!) I find something of interest.
And I so agree with you that history is an exciting discipline right now, for the reasons you mentioned. It's starting to trickle down to school curricula too!

May 23, 7:01pm Top

I've only just found your thread, so I've had a lot of catching up to do! You've been doing some really interesting reading. I got Falling in Love with Hominids from a Humble Bundle too, and have yet to read anything by Nalo Hopkinson, so I might try and get to that one soon.

May 28, 12:40pm Top

>84 valkyrdeath: And I only found your thread, which I very much enjoyed, a few days ago! It's now starred so I can find it again.

May 28, 12:40pm Top

L'Étourdissement by Joël Egloff

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: The crappest place in France

This short novel is narrated by an abattoir worker in what must be the worst place in France. He lives with his grandmother in a house under a flight-path, near high-voltage power lines, train tracks, an abattoir, a water-treatment plant and a landfill (that’s where people who were good at school are employed). You have to look for aggressive feral dogs when you go outside, especially when you’re hiding the bits of offal you filched at work in your pants. There are mutant fish in the local river, and when a strange smog engulfs everything, people get lost. It’s a world full of mediocrity, closed horizons and pollution: so basically our world seen through a slightly heightened, dystopic lense, with a good helping of black humour.

Edited: May 28, 3:44pm Top

L'Entrée du Christ à Bruxelles (en l'année 2000 et quelques) (Christ's Entry into Brussels) by Dimitri Verhulst, translated by Danielle Losman

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Belgian
Original language: Dutch
Translated into: French (Belgian French)
Location: Brussels, Belgium

Jesus Christ is coming to Brussels on Belgium’s national day and people are getting ready for it (or not)! This is a funny, generous and insightful look at Belgium and Belgians, Brussels and its inhabitants, and in the end, humanity. I borrowed this book from the library the other day, because I was looking (still am) for books about Brussels, and this one looked like it might fit the bill, although having read the blurb, I wasn’t totally sure it wouldn’t be about Belgium in general rather than Brussels in particular. Turns out, it’s about both, but Brussels takes centre stage: virtually everything of note about Brussels is mentioned, at least in passing: its squares, its geography and sociology, its inhabitants – whether they’re refugees, immigrants, expats or locals, Flemish or Walloon, Manneken Pis, chocolates, ettekeis, the EU, the Belgian government… For this novel, which was originally written in Dutch, the publisher went for a Belgian French translation which is fitting, and made the whole experience more authentic and enjoyable: chocolates are called pralines, they say “la toilette” instead of “les toilettes”, etc. I’m pretty sure this is my first translation into a French that was not from France or Québec, and I’m really happy about it. Well, I says that, but I’m guessing La Merditude des choses/The Misfortunates probably was in Belgian French as well, but it didn’t strike me when I read it… I saw in Danielle Losman’s bio that she translated Margriet de Moor, Leon De Winter, Helga Ruebsamen, Renate Dorrestein, Lieve Joris, Roger van de Velde, Stefan Hertmans, Frank Westerman, and of course Dimitri Verhulst. I’ll have to do a bit more research and see which authors are worth pursuing.

May 28, 6:42pm Top

>87 Dilara86: That book sounds interesting. The wife of one of my closest friends was born in Liège and speaks French, so I'll mention it to her.

Jun 6, 1:27pm Top

>88 kidzdoc: I hope she finds it interesting!

I haven't posted much recently: I don't have a lot of free time at the moment. A friend asked whether we could put him up for a few days because he was evicted from his flat. We did, but he's hard work!

Jun 8, 9:43am Top

L'empreinte du renard by Moussa Konaté

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Malian
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Pigui, a Dogon village in Mali

Chief constable Habib Kéita and inspector Sosso Traoré are sent to Pigui, a small Dogon village near the Bandiagara Escarpment, to investigate two murders. But mores are different in Bamako and in Dogon country, and our two heros find it difficult to establish a rapport with the local population and get them to talk, until they apply a bit of psychology and cultural sensitivity. This book was written by a non-Dogon Malian novelist. It is very much an outsider’s view of the place, complete with all the set pieces you might expect: a fight at the Bandiagara Escarpment, a funeral Dance of the Masks, a meeting with a hogon… It is slightly too didactic and unsubtle for my taste and the (copious) dialogues don’t ring true to me. Having said that, the whole series is available at my local library, and the books are well-thumbed, so it’s obviously a hit with some readers.

Edited: Jun 9, 3:24pm Top

Le convoi de l'eau by Akira Yoshimura, translated by Yutaka Makino

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Translated into: French
Location: A small, isolated village in Japan

This first-person narrative is told by a man who, when he discovers his wife was unfaithful, kills her by bashing her on the head with a log. When he gets out prison, he finds it impossible to live in the city and to resume a normal social life. He decides to work as a construction worker in an itinerant team tasked with building a dam in a remote mountainous area. They set up camp in a place overlooking an old village whose cottages have roofs that are thatched and covered with a thick layer of moss and whose people keep to themselves to an uncanny degree. Once the dam is built, the village will be at the bottom of a lake.
Harsh and violent, but also strangely poetic, just like Shipwrecks by the same author.

Jun 8, 12:12pm Top

Kaukasis The Cookbook: A culinary journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan & beyond by Olia Hercules

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Ukrainian, with Armenian roots in Nagorno-Karabakh
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: the Caucasus, mainly Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan

I asked for this cookbook for my birthday, mostly out of personal interest, but also in preparation for Reading Globally's third quarter Between Giants: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. I wasn't going to wait until July to read it, though!
I discovered Olia Hercules through her Guardian contributions, which I really enjoyed. Kaukasis is her second cookbook. It’s a nice size hardback full of atmospheric photos, sometimes long-winded anecdotes, and lovely recipes from the Caucasus, with an emphasis on freshness, vegetables and rusticity. I want to try everything, from matsani (the local yogurt) to charkhali (plum-marinated beetroot) to tarragon pie, to pine-cone muffins! Some of the ingredients will be hard to find, though.

Jun 8, 1:34pm Top

Une ville à coeur ouvert (Dom z witrażem in the original Polish, and The House with the Stained-Glass Window in English) by Żanna Słoniowska, translated by Caroline Raszka-Dewez

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Polish or Ukrainian or both – sources are contradictory and confusing. What is certain is that she was born in Lviv/Lvov/Lwów in what was then the USSR and is now Ukraine, in an ethnic Polish family. She now lives in Poland.
Original language: Polish
Translated into: French
Location: Lviv/Lvov/Lwów, a town in Poland, the USSR and Ukraine.

In a flat in an old building in Lviv live four women: great-grandmother Stasia, grandmother Aba, mother Marianna and the daughter, our narrator. The book tells their stories, enmeshed with the history and architecture of Lviv, a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic town that used to be Polish, became part of the Third Reich during the Second World War, then became part of the USSR, and is now in the independent state of Ukraine. This novel also has the distinction of having one of the most casually unpleasant male characters I’ve encountered recently: Miko, who becomes Marianna’s lover, and after her death, grooms her then-teenage daughter into becoming his lover, all the while, hitting her over the head with his ideas about art and architecture.

Jun 11, 3:33am Top

Le boléro dans la villa des vieux by Fatos Kongoli, translated by Edmond Tupia

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Albanian
Original language: Albanian
Translated into: French
Location: Tirana, Albania

You know how some male writers project their fantasies onto female characters, to the point where they’re not credible anymore? There’s one fine example of this right in the first chapter, which seems firmly stuck in the Sixties, with our female main character – a nurse (of course!) - fantasising about a doctor’s secretary and wondering whether she’s wearing a bra or not. In what world is this not obvious at first glance to most women – and probably men too? Then she moves on to whether she might be wearing a slip and nothing else under her white coat *snort*.Also, it’s implied the secretary was hired for her willingness to service her boss. The head nurse, nicknamed Hippo, not so much. She’s fat, ugly and hairy, and therefore bitter, unpleasant and a bit of a bully. Bosses are male and of course, there’s some sexual tension between them and our main character, who clearly sees herself through their eyes. So: Sixties fashion AND sexual dynamics, then… By the way, the Albanian version is copyrighted 2009 and the novel is set in the noughties (they drink a 1999 Bordeaux at some point). Anyway, I lost the will to live before the end of the first chapter. Life is too short to slog on through 250 pages of this when there are so many other, more appealing, books to read instead!

Jun 11, 10:52am Top

God that sounds dire... and so familiar. In general attitude, I mean.

My brother visited Albania last year with his bike gang and describes it as feeling very peculiar. Some pretty nature but feral people and amazing poverty.

Jun 11, 4:08pm Top

>94 Dilara86: Good for you to be able to stop reading this one quickly! Hope your next book is better.

Jun 16, 12:09pm Top

>95 LolaWalser: I studied Albanian for a few weeks at university with a lovely old Kosovan professor back in the late nineties, and I've been wanting to visit the country ever since, but then your hear about the local mafia and endemic insecurity... I'd definitely go if I knew people there, though!

>96 chlorine: My next book was definitely better! I don't usually stop reading so soon. I like to read the first 50 pages or the first third of a book before giving up. But I was spending the day away from home, and I didn't want to risk taking a book that I wouldn't be able to persevere with, because that would have meant having nothing to read! So I took Mon ombre instead. And then, I had lost my impetus and really didn't feel like going back to Le boléro dans la villa des vieux...

Jun 16, 12:12pm Top

Mon ombre (Min skugga) by Christine Falkenland, translated by Marc de Gouvenain and Lena Grumbach

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Swedish
Original language: Swedish
Translated into: French
Location: A Swedish island

As a child, Rakel fell off a tree. As a result, she has a scar on her face, a painful limp, and a heart full of bitterness about the unfairness of her life: she’s lonely, a cripple who’s never known the passions of True Love, she’s neglected by her husband who she feels never really loved her, resented by her housekeeper and despised by the islanders whom she despises back. A lady of leisure with a self-contained life, she plays cards, dotes on her dogs and eats sweets all day. Her complete lack of interest – or respect - for anyone on the island, except for her husband’s daughter from a previous marriage, is obvious. She takes a shine to Cornelia, and manages against all odds to befriend her. But, Rakel has a perverse, possessive and manipulative streak, and things will not end well...
The blurb praises the author’s great psychological insight. I’m not sure it’s warranted. Having a character blame their lonely, loveless and bitter life on their disability, culminating in some outlandish and reprehensible acts, seems quite cliché and one-dimensional to me… Having said that, the self-justifications come from Rakel (this is a first-person narrative), not from the author, and Rakel is a pretty awful and delusional character. So, it all makes sense from that angle. But I didn’t find any psychological depth or subtlety to the discourse. I don’t think it was the point of the novel, which was more about describing extremes of behaviour and feelings.

Edited: Jun 16, 12:39pm Top

>98 Dilara86: This does indeed seem better, even though you have reservations. Coincidentally I have the same kind of reservations about Chanson douce, which I recently finished. I felt the psychological aspect of the main character could have been more fleshed out...

Jun 16, 12:51pm Top

An update on the cookbooks I read this year:

I made the Georgian tarragon pie for lunch today. I actually didn't need the book for this one, because the recipe is available online (scroll down to the second recipe). It's a keeper. The pastry is delicious but it's a bugger to work with. I should have left it longer in the fridge... The filling has an intense flavour, thanks to the 4 bunches of tarragon (!) Mr D found it a bit bitter; I didn't mind. Next time, I might tweak it a bit, and add a potato or a leek, to provide extra bulk and tone down the taste of tarragon.

La France végétalienne
I also tried the "mouclade" de fèves, which is available online in French. This dish is traditionally made with mussels, but here, they have been substituted with broadbeans / fava beans. I thought that was a great idea. I liked the fact that the recipe calls for "real" ingredients rather than meat/fish substitutes. The beans are cooked with shallots, wine or Pineau des Charentes, and cream, which complement them well. It's also a keeper, but without the curry powder which I despise!

Jun 16, 12:59pm Top

>99 chlorine: Yes. I read your review on your thread, and I'm curious. Opinions seem pretty divided on this book. I seem to remember some faint praise from Bernard Pivot after the Goncourt announcement (it wasn't his first choice). I'll be borrowing it from the library at some point. I definitely don't want to buy it because I'm far from confident that I'd like it enough to justify spending money on it!

Jun 17, 1:58pm Top

>101 Dilara86: I hope you won't have to wait too long for it to be available at your library! I borrowed the ebook version from Paris' digital library and was placed on a waiting list, but fortunately I got it in just a few days.

Jul 3, 9:24am Top

Les mémoires d’un chat (Tabineko Ripôto or The Travelling Cat Chronicles) by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Jean-Louis de la Couronne

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Translated into: French
Location: Japan

I downloaded this novel from the library. It was featured on their website’s new e-books page. The cute cat picture on the cover caught my eye, and as I was looking for one last Japanese or Korean novel to read before the end of Reading Globally’s Japan and Korea quarter, I thought why not? Also, I wanted to read something that would not be too taxing on the brain (it wasn’t).
Satoru is looking for a new home for his cat, Nana, for reasons he keeps for himself but are not difficult to guess. He contacts a series of friends, from childhood or later, and travels to see them. The cat is a narrator, but most of the novel is in the form of third-person flashbacks about Satoru, his cats, his friends, their pets, and how they entered each others’ lives. It’s a light, sentimental, and bittersweet novel. The ways Japanese people interact with each other (strangers, friends, classmates, older people…) are intricately described. I really liked the level of detail and nuance it added to the story. On the downside, the plot and premise were a bit superficial, cutesy and “tear-jerky”. I felt a bit manipulated and dirty, if it makes sense? And it was all a bit trite… So, faced with plodding on or starting on Vernon Subutex, I chose Vernon…

Jul 5, 6:18am Top

Femmes et esclaves : l’expérience brésilienne 1850-1888 by Sonia Maria Giacomini, translated by Clara Domingues

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Brazilian
Original language: Brazilian portuguese
Translated into: French
Location: Brazil

This book – another birthday present - was published by Editions iXe, a small independent feminist publisher. The first copyright for the Portuguese version is dated 1988, and although I’d never heard of this title before I got the book between my hands, I’m guessing it might be a bit of a classic in its subject area. Showing that intersectionality is not a new concept, it was written in part to counter the opinion that female slaves were luckier and freeer than male slaves because male owners looked after them, and than white women because they were not stuck at home making babies with no opportunity to work (read: they were forced to work for no pay in inhuman conditions). And because they were not constricted by the usual standards of monogamy (read: owners did not respect their slaves’ marriages), they could have sex with whoever they wanted (read: raped by their masters or made to reproduce like livestock with males slaves), making plenty of brown babies in the process (with a shocking death rate due to abandonment, malnutrition, infanticide, etc.), and creating the carefree, post-racial Brazil (as per Gilberto Freyre’s work) the author shows us doesn’t actually exist because today’s Brazilian class system is unbending and follows colour lines exactly. This study explores the living conditions and experiences of female slaves in Brazil from 1850 (when the slave trade was outlawed) to 1888 (when slavery itself was outlawed). There’s also a bit of background information about earlier periods, including in a very good, informative preface written by Arlette Gautier, and about the current sociological situation, because the aim of the book is to shed some light on the class divides and gender violence of modern Brazil.
I knew very little about slavery in Brazil because this country isn’t in my cultural bubble the way the US and the Caribbean are, but since more than 45% of all slaves from Africa ended up in Brazil*, I feel it’s important to know more about it, and this short book does a very good job of it. It is politically aware, very informative and the (French) translation is a pleasure to read. I can’t judge its accuracy because I don’t know Portuguese, but the French flows amazingly well. It feels perfectly natural and clear. I could not tell it was a translation most of the time, which is quite a feat! And I never wondered what the author actually meant the way I sometimes do when reading a work in translation.

* Why? Because until the end of the slave trade in Brazil, it was more cost-effective to work a slave to death in a short period of time (5 to 12 years’ labour on average, depending on the estimate), and buy a new one once they had died, as they would repay their cost in just one year.

Jul 6, 10:11am Top

Retour à Reims (Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Paris, Reims, France

Didier Eribon reflects on his formative years, his difficult relationships with his family, his coming of age as a gay man in a French provincial town (Reims in the Champagne region), the shame he felt about his working-class origins, and his reinvention as a middle-class gay intellectual in Paris in the seventies. The book alternates between Eribon’s life, and his takes on various philosophical and sociological works. There’s a great deal about French politics that spoke to me, but I don’t know how it fared for non-French readers (although since it seems most countries are going in the same direction, they’d be able to draw parallels with their own home politics, no doubt). He is very analytical, almost forensic on some subjects, such as his intellectual development and his description of the working-class culture he emphatically rejected due in great part to its knee-jerk racism and homophobia, but he stays on the surface of what drove the rift between him and his relatives, why he kept away for decades, and what he felt about them. We’re never alone with Eribon because when he describes his life, his thoughts and more rarely, his feelings, it is always in the light of different philosophical and sociological theories, or of the work of seminal writers (James Baldwin, Bourdieu, Sartre…). It’s a book that’s very personal and at the same time, very distanced. I think the aim was to theorise from his personal experience, which made for an engaging, intellectually stimulating read, although I would have like him to go deeper into his feelings and tell us more about his relationships with his mother, father, and brothers.

I have added Retours sur Retour à Reims (Feedback on Retour à Reims) to my wishlist. It contains two academic talks by the author about Retour à Reims. I like the idea of extended footnotes (basically) about this book! I wished he wrote a third book - let's call it "Retour à Reims – The Return", where he’d tell us what his relationship with his mother is like ten years down the line, whether he’s in contact with his brothers, whether they still vote Front National, and what their opinions are regarding gay marriage or other contemporary issues (my guess would be they’d still be pro-FN, they’d probably still use homophobic language thoughtlessly, but they’d be in favour of gay marriage, like a majority of French people, whatever their social class).

Also, I learned that Barbara is a gay icon.

Jul 6, 11:47am Top

Atlas des nouvelles fractures sociales : Les classes moyennes oubliées et précarisées by Christophe Guilluy and Christophe Noyé

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France

Another of those wonderful atlases published by Autrement. This one describes the way different social classes inhabit different geographical territories through maps (of course), graphs and short explanatory texts. It is however slightly dated because it was published in 2004 using data from the late nineties and early noughties. From the subtitle, you’d think the book focuses on the middle classes. This is not quite the case. It’s more about the rise of financial insecurity, whether it is experienced by the working classes or the “squeezed middle”. In a nutshell, the financially insecure tend to live either in social housing in dilapidated urban areas, or in the countryside and the green belts – especially if they’re of French ancestry - , where properties are cheaper partly because the infrastructure is inexistent and connections to the city (where work is) are poor. They might be able to fulfil their dreams of owning a house and a garden, but risk isolation and further financial insecurity, as a good chunk of their budget goes towards maintaining their property and cars. They end up having to pay more for childcare and transport than city-dwellers who can rely on crèches and public transport. Finding work is also more difficult. City centres tend to be less socially uniform: some neighbourhoods have been upmarket for a long time, others are undergoing a process of gentrification (pushing the less well-off to the suburbs and the countryside), but generally, there’s still a mix of people with high, middle, low and very low incomes (the latter often foreigners who haven’t been able to claim social housing and live in run-down properties). And of course, Northern and Eastern France (the former industrial powerhouses) is poorer and less attractive than Western France, Paris and the Côte d’Azur.

Jul 6, 12:21pm Top

Vernon Subutex 3 by Virginie Despentes

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Various locations in France, Paris, Barcelona

This is the third and final book in Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex series. The social commentary is as sharp as ever, and you still in turn root for every point-of-view character (of which there are many, although not as numerous as in the first two novels), and want to shake some sense into them. The language is modern, the dialogues ring true (that’s a lot rarer than you might think in contemporary French novels, where people too often speak like books), the writer is in turn biting and tender towards the world she’s describing, and every character is different: straight, gay, lesbian, rich, poor, left-wing, ultra-right-wing, muslim, non-religious, non-religious but with a Catholic fetish, cis-male, trans-male, cis-female, trans-female, aggressive, passive, young, not so young, middle-aged... They have one thing in common: they know Vernon Subutex, a former record shop owner turned tramp, turned unintentional guru and trance DJ.
Even with its disappointing epilogue and its rushed ending, I loved the Vernon Subutex trilogy and I want everybody to read it so we can discuss it! (Admittedly, finding someone else who read it should not be too hard: it was well-received critically and it sold well. It’s just that since my mum died last year, I don’t know anyone who reads non-genre literature in real-life.)

Jul 8, 9:57am Top

I'm very sorry to hear about your mother. Strange and awkward coincidence, I just finished Albert Cohen's Le livre de ma mère and came to thank you for your review. (I found the book equal parts moving and horrifying and agree with everything you said.) But maybe that's a conversation for another time.

Despentes sounds very interesting, I'll look around for this. Thanks also for the posts regarding the working class in France.

I finished just the other day We were eight years in power and the article on reparations brought up (again) the same feeling as your post, how difficult it is to get a proper grasp on the dimensions--and then ramifications--slavery, of what was done and continues to be done, in a multi-generational ongoing Holocaust (if I may be forgiven for borrowing the term).

Jul 10, 11:09am Top

>108 LolaWalser: About Le livre de ma mère, I'm glad you agree with me. I don't understand all the unconditional praise Cohen gets for being a loving son.
We Were Eight Years in Power sounds tempting. I really liked Between the World and Me!

Jul 10, 11:15am Top

Aral by Cécile Ladjali

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Nadezhda, on the shores of the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan. Probably a fictional town – I was unable to find it on a map. The name echos that of a number of literary heroines: Nadja, Nedjma, not to mention Nadia, Titeuf’s unattainable love interest in the eponymous comic books, and Osip Mandelstam’s wife, Nadezhda Mandelstam.

Cécile Adjali was born in Lausanne (Switzerland) of Iranian parents, and was adopted by a French family. Her adoptive father was a harki of Kabylian origin (harkis were Algerian soldiers fighting for the French side – not always willingly - and against the National Liberation Front during the Algerian war of independence. Some of them settled in France at the end of the war, and they were not treated well.) So, as far as I know, she doesn’t have a direct connection with the place she writes about in Aral.

The narrator is Alexeï. His Ukrainian parents moved to Kazakhstan in the 1950s, when there were jobs and the sea hadn’t started shrinking yet. They’re devout Orthodox Christians who were also too friendly with Jews in the Stalinist era and had to lay low far from home. He has known – and loved – his wife Zena all his life. They were baptised together as babies, and grew up together. Beautiful, passionate Zena is at the centre of his life. Their love is fusional, she is everything to him, and yet she is unknowable and unreachable – a muse, a foil to his story, a femme fatale, a perfectly two-dimensional character, in the best romantic literary tradition. He’s a cellist who has been gradually losing his hearing since childhood, just like the Aral Sea is losing water, and he is losing Zena’s love, as their relationship slowly disintegrates. All very symbolic and signposted. And clichéd. The tourist’s viewpoint of the country obvious in every description doesn’t help.
The writing is polished, elegant and somehow, remote and clinical, as it describes heightened feelings and involuntarily ridiculous situations. For example: “La plage immense craque sous nos pieds à cause des cristaux de sel. Le soleil tombe si raide sur la terre que le sol est blanc comme la steppe en hiver. Chaude et piquante, une neige couvre notre peau. Personne ne passe. Seuls trois chameaux aux jambes immenses nous frôlent. Ils mâchent du vide sans faire la différence entre nos corps couverts de poussière saline et la roche blanche jadis immergée. Ils passent devant nous et continuent leur marche absurde pour s’évanouir dans la fournaise. Le paysage fauve nous brûle, nous griffe. Il faut le dompter, l’éteindre. Zena lèche le sol et m’embrasse à pleine bouche. Ma femme a le goût de la provocation et celui de ma terre. De ma terre empoisonnée par la thénardite et le sel toxique. Je dévore le ventre de ma femme. J’entre en elle avec ma langue, avec mon sexe, et je meurs presque. Il n’y a plus que de la violence entre nous. Un corps à corps furieux dans la mort d’un paysage en flammes. Jamais nous ne couchons ensemble dans notre lit. Zena m’entraîne toujours à la limite. Là où elle pourra crier et me dire que c’est bon. Là où il y aura ses yeux fous, ses grands yeux de la couleur du ciel qui tombe en pluie après des mois de canicule. Là où la nudité n’a plus aucun compte à rendre au monde qui disparaît et nous laisse seuls. En paix. Enfin.” I think this could make the Bad Sex Awards shortlist.

I found the writing stylistically beautiful, but devoid of substance and originality. Because I only have a finite amount of patience for romantic clichés and female personifications in novels, and I expect I’ll be needing a lot of it for Jamilia, which I absolutely want to read for this quarter’s Central Asia theme, I gave up on page 65/212.

Jul 10, 11:51am Top

Le monde dans nos tasses - Trois siècles de petit déjeuner by Christian Grataloup

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Mainly France, but also places were coffee, tea and cocoa are produced, such as the Caribbean, China, India, South America, not forgetting a few lines about breakfasts and/or the way the aforementioned drinks are consumed in several other countries (the UK, Spain, Japan, Vietnam, Southern Africa, etc.)

First off, I found the cover slightly alarming. It shows a boy pouring chocolate over the Globe, like an evil oil-slick goblin. They had some strange advertisement posters in the early nineteenth century…
This is a serviceable book. It’s informative, and written with a bit of zest, although Grataloup’s flowery style is slightly ridiculous in places. If I read about La belle Province (that’ll be Québec) and Outre-Quiévrain (Belgium) one more time, my eyes will roll right out of my sockets! I’m not sure the breakfast habits ascribed to each country are entirely accurate, but hey… The historical chapters seemed quite thorough. I wished the author had spent more time on food (cereals, churros, breads, savoury vs sweet dishes, etc.)

Jul 13, 9:53am Top

Le livre de ma grand-mère : Suivi de Les fontaines de Havav (My Grandmother: A Memoir followed by The fountains of Havav) by Fethiye Çetin, translated by Marguerite Demird

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Turkish
Original language: Turkish
Translated into: French
Location: Havav, Maden and Çermik, Anatolia, Turkey

This book could just about qualify for this theme. I found it on the Armenia shelf at my local library. However, it doesn’t take place on the territory of present-day Armenia, but in Anatolia (Turkey), in what some pro-Armenia websites call Western Armenia.
Fethiye Çetin is a Turkish lawyer and human rights activist of Armenian descent. She only discovered her roots as an adult, when her grandmother revealed to her that she was born under a different name, in an Armenian family, and had been “hiding”* her origins for most of her life. This book is the story of Fethiye Çetin’s grandmother’s life. She was a young girl at the time of the Armenian genocide. The men of her village were killed; the women and children were driven out in a forced march where many people died. Her grandmother however, was picked out by a local Turkish policeman who forcibly separated her from her mother, and took her home with the intention of raising her as his daughter. I use the word “intention” because although he was kind to her, his wife was not, and did not accept her as one of the family. To her, she was a servant. She, along with many other children cynically called “les restes de l’épée” (I don’t know how that was translated into English, “the remains of the sword”, maybe?), were given new, Muslim, names and were integrated into Turkish society, learning a new language, alphabet, religion and culture. In a final, cruel twist of fate, although the grandmother’s parents survived the genocide (her father was living and working in the US at the time, her mother managed to safely reach Syria, then join him in the US), she never saw them again.
The last few pages describe the restoration of the two fountains in Fethiye Çetin’s grandmother’s native village, Havav. You can have a look at them here: https://westernarmenia.weebly.com/havav-fountains.html

* I put “hiding” in inverted commas because clearly, this was an open secret to the older generations: neighbours knew, many of them were in similar situations, and the word “Convert” on her identification papers were a clear sign to the authorities that she had Armenian origins and could be discriminated against.

Edited: Jul 14, 4:27pm Top

Thanks for very interesting reviews! You make me want to read Vernon Subutex, and to read again Le livre de ma mère which I read a very long time ago and only have the dimmest memories of.

Jul 15, 11:57am Top

Yeah, by any normal metric Cohen was an awful son (can't imagine he was a prize as a husband or lover either), but even worse, I think, is that such un-self-conscious sadism towards mothers and mothers' utter self-abnegation is a hallmark of Mediterranean cultures and still touted as the ideal.

>110 Dilara86:

That sounds like quite a lot of contemporary French fiction that falls into my hands, if I read more I might be tempted to call it a genre. Stylistic polish married to vacuousness. Two modes: "cold" (as in your example) and "warm", i.e. shallowly comedic/frivolous.

Jul 24, 7:53am Top

>114 LolaWalser: such un-self-conscious sadism towards mothers and mothers' utter self-abnegation is a hallmark of Mediterranean cultures and still touted as the ideal
Unfortunately, it's a hallmark of most traditional cultures, I think.

Jul 24, 8:04am Top

Par les monts et les plaines d'Asie centrale (Through the mountains and plains of Central Asia) by Anne Nivat

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: The 5 Stans: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan

Anne Nivat is a journalist and war reporter specialising in Russia and Central Asia. She worked in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya, amongst other places. It seems most of her books are available in English, but not this one…

In Par les monts et les plaines d’Asie centrale, Anne Nivat travels on her own or with a cameraman in all 5 former USSR republics of Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, for two extended periods of time, in the early noughties. She spends the majority of her time in the Fergana valley, a fertile and therefore densely populated area disputed to some extent between all five countries. She also goes to several capitals and big cities, as well as the Pamirs. She sees and talks to all sorts of people in her travel: Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tajik, Turkmen, Russian, Korean, Uighur, men and women, artists, government officials, farmers, imams, etc. including a terrifying number of educated people (teachers, engineers…) who’ve had to give up on their careers to survive. The book is in three parts: People from the plains, People from the mountains, and People of Islam. So, the first two parts follow geographical lines and contain wide-ranging information about each area, whereas the last one focuses on the reclaiming of Islam by the local Muslim population, and the rise (or not) of fundamentalist Islam, as well as its instrumentalisation by the authorities.
I am very much aware, however, that none of the non-fiction books I’ve found in my local library is less than 10 years old, including this one. And a lot happened these last 10 years, not least the war on terror, which means that I am not going to get up-to-date information about the political situation from these books. Even so, Par les monts et les plaines was interesting, and gave me a much clearer idea of the local geography, and of how complicated the “ethnic spread” is in the region.

Edited: Jul 24, 10:46am Top

La douleur (The War: A Memoir) by Marguerite Duras

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Paris, France

I’d been put off Marguerite Duras since reading L’amant (The Lover) as a teenager, back when the film of the same name came out. That’s a shame because La douleur is definitely worth reading. It contains the novella of the same name, followed by half a dozen short stories (some of them straightforward fiction, others autofiction), all about the Second World War. The first and second stories were made into a film called Memoir of War in English (it comes out on August, 17th in the US, in case you’re interested). I went to see it last winter and it made me want to try Duras again. I finally got round to it, and borrowed it from the library last week. As it happens, it was a special edition aimed at highschoolers, with 70 additional pages of commentary. That was a welcome bonus. (The liberal use of highlighter made by one of the previous readers wasn’t, though!)

Background info: Marguerite Duras, her husband she calls Robert L. in the book (Robert Antelme in real life), her lover D. (Dyonis Mascolo in RL), Georges Beauchamp, Edgar Morin, François Morland (François Mitterrand’s Résistance name) belong to the same Résistance cell. Someone betrays them, and Robert is arrested and sent to Buchenwald and Dachau as a political prisoner.
La douleur takes place at the end of the war, when prisoners and camp survivors return home. Marguerite Duras tells us in the first person and in the present tense about her harrowing wait for her husband, their friends’ desperate efforts to find him and take him back home, and the terrible state he is in when he does make it home. You’d think that once a camp is liberated, prisoners would be looked after, fed, treated, then sent home, but no. The American soldiers on site were scared of catching their diseases, especially typhus. So if you looked like you were not going to make it, you’d be quarantined and left to die. This would have happened to Robert if Mitterrand and another resistant called Munier hadn’t sneaked into Dachau’s quarantined quarters to look for him. They found him and moved him to the livings’ quarter, then organised for D. and Beauchamp to secrete him out of the camp under the Americans’ nose. Thinking about all the prisoners who could have survived but didn’t because they didn’t have friends in high-up places makes me ill.
The second story, Monsieur X. dit ici Pierre Rabier, is about Duras’s bizarre dealings with the Gestapo agent who claimed responsibility for her husband’s arrest. He is fascinated by her, and he strings her along with empty promises regarding Robert just so he can see her again, and again… She sees through that, but humours him for all sorts of complex reasons.
The third story, Albert des Capitales, describes the questioning and torture of a Nazi informer at the end of the war. Marguerite Duras tells us in a preamble that Thérèse, the female interrogator in this story and the next one is her. She plays with factual and non-factual truth (psychological truth, if you will) in virtually every line in the book, but she will give us hints about which is which. The last two stories, for example are inventions (“C’est inventé. C’est de la littérature.”). For people interested in bare facts, there’s possibly this article: https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/la-verite-recomposee-de-m-d_802218.html, about this book: Marguerite Duras: A life.

Marguerite Duras is a very skilled writer, and a genius at dissolving the distance between reader and narrator. I was sucked in. Of course, given the subject matter, it is an uneasy read. La douleur is a book of grey areas: it weaves truths and untruths, and shows us the complexity of wartime, where moral and immoral, courageous and cowardly, generous and callous behaviours coexist.

Jul 24, 11:02am Top

Villes sans palmiers (Cities without Palms) by Tarek Eltayeb, translated by Paul Henri

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: ? Born in Egypt of Sudanese parents, lives in Austria
Original language: Arabic
Translated into: French
Location: a small village called Woudd el-Nâr and Omdurman (Sudan), Port Said, Egypt, Italy, France, the Netherlands

Hamza’s family is starving in their small Sudanese village. He decides to leave them and try his luck in the big city – Omdurman. He wants to find work and send them money. One thing leading to another, he travels to Egypt, and then to several countries in Europe. That is going to draw parallels with Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, another Sudanese writer, but the stories are quite different. There’s only the bare bones of a novel(la) in there: Hamza goes somewhere, is lost and helpless, finds work – legal or illegal – moves to the next place, and the cycle starts again. One thing is certain: wherever he goes, it’s always grim, but he always manages to 1) fall on his feet; 2) lose a possession, until the heart-wrenching ending. Descriptions are minimal; there’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing (not that I’m a showing fanatic – but this read more like a plot outline than a fully-fleshed-out novella). At least, it was short…

Jul 24, 11:32am Top

Fanta blackcurrant by Makena Onjerika

(I don’t think a cover is available for this short story)

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Kenyan
Original language: English (Kenyan vernacular English, peppered with Swahili words. The good news is, I was able to google all of them effortlessy.)
Translated into: N/A
Location: Nairobi, Kenya

I discovered recently the Caine Prize for African Writing (http://caineprize.com/) – a prize that awards a tidy sum of money to an African writer of a short story published in English. The shortlisted and winning stories are available (to read or to listen to) on the website, and I had a lot of fun reading them.
Makena Onjerika’s story, Fanta Blackcurrant is this year’s winner. It is about the life of a “chokoraa”, or street child, called Meri, as seen through the eyes of her companions. Unsurprisingly given the subject matter, it’s all a bit depressing, but also very engaging. And the author is on record saying she would give half her prize money to rehabilitate street children (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44698012 about a street child).
Apparently, Makena Onjerika is working on a fantasy novel at the moment. I’m looking forward to reading it once it’s published!

Jul 24, 12:49pm Top

Jambula Tree by Monica Arac de Nyeko

No image for this standalone short story

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Ugandan
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: Kampala, Uganda

I’m not going to write about every Caine prize short story I read, as that would be tedious. I thought I’d quickly mention the ones I really liked, such as this one. Monica Arac de Nyeko won the award in 2007 for this moving story told in the form of a letter to the narrator’s childhood friend, then girlfriend. For a short, 10-page story, it packs a lot about what life is like in the Nakawa Housing Estates, a run-of-the-mill Kampala neighbourhood, about the social constraints that people experience, the local culture and mores, and of course about the very innocent same-sex love between Sanyu and the narrator. Now, bearing in mind Uganda’s terrible anti-homosexuality laws, this is quite brave.

Jul 24, 2:55pm Top

You have read some interesting stuff! Thanks in particular for bringing to light the Caine Prize stories.

Jul 25, 2:34am Top

You're welcome! Have a look here: http://caineprize.com/previous-winners/ if you haven't already, for links to previous winning short stories! Some of the authors (Leila Aboulela, No Violet Bulawayo ) have gone on to greater things now, which is encouraging.

Edited: Jul 27, 5:36am Top

Une histoire de l'esclavage : de l'Antiquité à nos jours by Christian Delacampagne

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: The whole world (allegedly), focussing on Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Western Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, the Americas and the Caribbean

Some of the things I learned:

  • As you know, Bartolomé de Las Casas advocated shipping African slaves to the Americas to replace enslaved native Americans, as he felt the latter were suffering too much, and he thought Africans were “natural slaves”, better suited to hard labour. What as far as I remember wasn’t mentioned in any of the books and articles I read on the subject (such as Tzvetan Todorov’s The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other and Serge Gruzinski’s The Mestizo Mind: The Intellectual Dynamics of Colonization and Globalization), is that he actually changed his mind later on in his life, and realised that enslaving Africans was just as cruel as enslaving Native Americans. However, his final reflections were only published 350 years after he wrote them and therefore did not help the abolitionist movement. This reconciles me a little bit with Las Casas, although ideally, I would have liked it a lot better if he had considered all humans equally worthy of respect and freedom from the start.

  • Names of proto-abolitionists and abolitionists to look out for (They’d typically still be problematic in our contemporary eyes, though. They might have been against slavery, but not in favour of full civil rights for black people, for example.):

    • Fernão de OliveiraA Arte da Guerra do Mar
    • Domingo de SotoDe justitia et de jure
    • Martin de Lesdema – Commentaria
    • Tomas de MercadoSuma de Tratos y Contratos
    • Bartolomé Frias de Albòrnos – Arte de los Contratos
      Those people are all priests – most of them Dominican monks – arguing that slavery is wrong, against Christian teachings and/or a mortal sin, which went against the general opinion. At the time, the Bible was used to justify slavery and slave trafficking.
    • Francis Hutcheson - System of Moral Philosophy
    • George Wallace – A System of the Principles of the Law in Scotland
    • John MillarThe Origin of the Distinction of Ranks
    • Abbé Guillaume François Thomas Raynal – Histoire philosophique et politique du commerce et des établissements des Européens dans les deux Indes
    • Louis-Sébastien Mercier – L’An 2440 : rêve s’il en fut jamais (This one is a speculative novel from 1771 - Librarything thinks it's the same novel as Memoirs of the Year 2500, which seems counterintuitive, but you never know, with old translations...)
    • Bernardin de Saint-PierreVoyage à l’Ile-de-France/Journey to Mauritius
    • Quobna Ottobah Cuguano – Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Trafic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (first book against the slave trade written by a black man - in 1787)
    • Olaudah EquianoThe Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano
    • Olympe de GougesZamore et Mirza

      If anybody here knows about the antislavery movement in the Muslim world, I’d be ever so grateful for information. Delacampagne doesn’t think there were any antislavery writings or social movements from that part of the world, which I think is unlikely, simply because if Mohamed encouraged the freeing of slaves – which he did – there had to be some kind of antislavery advocacy based on that, and because if there were slave uprisings – which there were-, chances are some people would have thought they were justified and might have written about it. I bet he just didn’t have easy access to Arabic and Persian sources and did not pursue the matter. I’m wary of searching for this on the Internet because I know I’ll just get down a rabbit hole of islamophobia, which doesn’t appeal.

      Delacampagne sails quite close to the wind on some of his assertions, but since he’s not above contradicting or partially contradicting himself, he’ll always have plausible deniability on any claim of partiality or eurocentrism… I suspect he just follows the line of whatever book he’s using for a given section. It’s not always perfectly obvious whether he’s genuinely trying to clarifying concepts and events, or whether he’s excusing or downplaying them. There are a few points that stick in the throats. For example, according to Delacampagne, one of the main reasons Europeans colonised Africa was to stamp out homegrown slavery. Not an excuse, but a genuine reason! And the use by colonisers of forced African labour is a false equivalency because it wasn’t as widespread in time and in place as slavery, and workers were set free once the work was done (if they hadn’t died, that is…). I therefore don’t understand why he had to have a chapter on modern slavery depicting bonded labour, forced labour, labour camps, etc. when he specifically writes that only chattel slavery counts as slavery. But then, nothing in his definition of slavery justified their exclusion or the exclusion of serfdom for that matter…
      He picks and chooses what he writes about, which leaves holes in his book. Conversely, I’m puzzled as to why he writes about the civil rights movement in the sixties in the US, since post-slavery isn’t slavery, especially since he’s so strict as to what constitutes slavery in other parts of the book. Leaving those later issues out would have made more room for on-topic material.

      Granted, this is a subject difficult to tackle in its entirety, but I don’t think it’s the definitive book on the subject. For a start, it’s far from comprehensive, and I don’t think the choices he made on what to write about and what to leave out make sense. There’s a lack of analysis and objectivity that makes it look like a dilettante’s efforts rather than a modern history book. Basically, most chapters read like school reports on other people’s books, which might explain the odd changes of perspective. Delacampagne’s background is in philosophy, not history, and it shows. It’s all a bit rushed and patchy. You’re probably better off going from link to link on Wikipedia, to be honest… Or try Hugh Thomas’s The Slave Trade, which is so often quoted in the section on the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas, it would make sense to read Thomas’s book rather than a second-hand take on it.

Jul 25, 12:42pm Top

Histoire mondiale de la France by Patrick Boucheron et al

Writer’s gender: Male editor-in-chief, all 4 coordinators are male, 35 female contributors and 81 male contributors – yes, I counted!
Writer’s nationality: Mostly French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France, including former colonies, as well as the rest of the world

The aim of this book is to show the interplay between what happens in France (or in the territories of what will become France) and in the rest of the world, how national and international events are interconnected, in a way that takes for granted the fact that France isn’t the centre of the world.
It isn’t an academic tome and it isn’t a comprehensive history of France. It’s a big book aimed at the general public. Each chapter is a short essay – no more than a dozen pages, often 4 or 5 pages – on a given event or topic, ordered chronologically. By design, each chapter is basically a standalone article, disconnected from all others. I read the book from cover to cover because that’s what I do, but you could dip in and out of it at your own leisure, or read only the parts that interest you. On the whole, it’s an informative and easy read, some chapters more than others, as essays are written by subject specialists, and some are better than others at communicating with lay persons. They all have their own style and understanding of the book’s “brief”. I understand why it sold so well in France: it’s just the right blend of accessibility and seriousness.

Jul 26, 8:32am Top

Le Gouverneur (The Governor) by Léonid Andreïev, translated by Serge Persky and Teodor de Wyzewa

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Russian
Original language: Russian
Translated into: French
Location: A town in Russia

This novella was written by Leonid Andreiev/Andreev/Andreyev, a Russian author who wrote mainly plays and short stories.
The people of the town are on strike, starving and angry. The governor decides to talk to them from his balcony, but things get heated and stones are thrown. Reflexively, he gestures for his men to shoot at the crowd, killing 35 men, 9 women and 3 children. From that moment on, he is a dead man walking, and he knows it, as do his family, his employees, and indeed the whole town. Nineteenth-century Russian existentialism. I loved it.
I’ll definitely be reading more of him, especially since his work is in the public domain and available online (https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Auteur:Leonid_Andre%C3%AFev and Project Gutenberg).

Jul 26, 12:29pm Top

>122 Dilara86: Thanks for the link!
And thanks also for the very interesting reviews!

Aug 6, 10:50am Top

Le mythe national : L'histoire de France revisitée by Suzanne Citron

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France

I discovered Suzanne Citron when she died earlier this year, which is typical. This shows that I am really out of the loop, because she is clearly not unknown, and I’ve just learned that Le mythe national sold out during the last electoral campaign, after another historian I should have heard of but hadn’t – Laurence De Cock -, gave a copy to right-wing candidate François Fillon on national TV. This biography gives a good idea of who she was. She comes from a middle-class non-religious Jewish family, and survived the second world war through a series of lucky escapes, although she did end up in Drancy as a political prisoner towards the end of the war.

Le mythe national was first published in 1987 as Le mythe national : L'histoire de France en question. Suzanne Citron thoroughly reworked it and republished it under the title Le mythe national : L'histoire de France revisitée twenty years later in 2008, then updated it once more in 2017 (Le mythe national : L'histoire de France revisitée – this is the version I read), when she was in her nineties, and clearly still very involved in current events and progressive causes. She died less than a year later.
The book starts with a comparative analysis of different history textbooks used in French schools, from the twenties to the eighties, including the most famous and controversial of all: Histoire de France, by Ernest Lavisse, also simply called “le Lavisse”. Disappointingly, the one I used in primary school, Histoire CM : images et mémoire des Français, isn’t mentioned. I think it might have been marginally more acceptable to her than some of the others… After that, we get to the central thesis, which is that French history as it was and is still partially taught in schools and as it permeates our culture, shapes and serves a national narrative (“roman national”) that is factually incorrect (and therefore “bad history” in the same way that there is “bad science”), biased, exclusionary, and is one of the root causes of a number of societal ills and political errors. She corrects some of the glaring misconceptions we might have about French history, starting with the self-evident – but often overlooked - fact that France didn’t exist as a political entity before the thirteenth century at best. Gaul wasn’t France; the Frankish territory didn’t map with contemporary France, and nor did the early French Kingdom; Charlemagne wasn’t French; and France had no cultural unity before the nineteenth century, if not the twentieth. She then goes on to explain how those misconceptions and untruths can have terrible consequences in real life. For example, in her opinion, the sacrality afforded to the King was reinvested into the State, making it difficult to question it when it went wrong, such as under Vichy or during the Affaire Dreyfus. She also shows how minorities (Jews, colonial subjects, Bretons, Corsicans, etc.) were ignored, ill-treated and marginalised or forced to assimilate. Not to mention women, who were only given the vote in 1944, the claim of “universal suffrage” somehow discounting half the adult population.
A wonderful, thought-provoking read!

In the 2017 epilogue, she praises Patrick Boucheron’s Histoire mondiale de la France, which I reviewed recently.

Aug 6, 11:18am Top

Un océan, deux mers, trois continents (One ocean, two seas, three continents) by Wilfried N'Sondé

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French, born in the Republic of the Congo
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: the Kongo Kingdom, West Equatorial Africa, on ship in the Atlantic Ocean, the Iberian peninsula, Rome

This novel tells the story of a real historical figure, Nsaku Ne Vunda, or Dom Antonio Manuel, an African Catholic priest who was sent by the King of the Kongo Kingdom Alvaro II to the Vatican as his ambassador in 1604 (see http://www.culturecongolaise.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&a... in French and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuele_Ne_Vunda in English). This takes place before the European colonisation of Africa, but at a time when the slave trade was becoming well-established. Nsaku Ne Vunda is a pawn in the political games played by the Portuguese, the French, the Vatican and the Kongo Kingdom. For that reason, instead of being ferried straight from Luanda on the African coast to Italy and to the Pope (who had asked for a Kongo native ambassador to weaken Portuguese hegemony in Africa), he is taken to Brazil as a free traveller on a slave ship of all things, which as you can imagine is a terrible situation to be in, especially as a Black man! All the tropes of sea adventures are there: pirates (in this case, Simon Danziger - Zymen Danseker’s crew), storm, mutiny, a cross-dressing cabin boy (whose sex is revealed when our hero spots a well-placed period stain while nursing him/her from a terrible undiagnosed illness that turns out to be crippling period pains), an intense platonic love with said young teenager (barf!), the Spanish Inquisition… I should have played Bullshit Bingo with this book.

Apart from a few chapters in italics in the third person used mainly for glorified infodumps, the novel is an omniscient first-person narrative, my least favourite type of writing because its implausibility makes suspension of disbelief so difficult, unless the narrator is some kind of supernatural, omniscient being, which is not the case here. So for example, when the main character is shut off in his tomb-like room, he is able to tell us exactly what is happening on deck and how the sailors are feeling. In fact, he always knows and always tells us, which is tedious… The novel is a succession of clichés, anachronisms and improbabilities, written in a voice more reminiscent of the nineteenth-century than the seventeenth (another annoyance!). I don’t understand why it was so well-received. It’s basically a run-of-the-mill platonic love romance/adventure novel dressed up with trite political, philosophical and historical frills. This is especially disappointing because Nsaku Ne Vunda should be more widely known, and he deserves good fiction.

Aug 7, 5:59am Top

>127 Dilara86: Sounds interesting!
>128 Dilara86: Oh, dear! That’s always the danger with historical fiction...

Aug 7, 12:17pm Top

>129 thorold: Yes! When it's good, it's good, but when it's bad, it's terrible...

Aug 7, 12:20pm Top

Le Libraire de Kaboul (The Bookseller of Kabul)by Åsne Seierstad, translated by Céline Romand-Monnier

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Norwegian
Original language: Norwegian
Translated into: French
Location: Afghanistan, mainly Kabul, also Pakistan

Åsne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist. She met the bookseller of the title while reporting from Afghanistan, struck a “friendship” with him, and ended up living with him and his family, in Kabul, for a few months. She was only able to communicate in English with three members of this extended family, which is not a lot. She then wrote a book about them. It is supposed to be non-fiction, but there are a lot of assumptions about how people feel that she cannot possibly have been told. This is annoying. It reminded me of those terrible novelised history books, where the author will tell you how nervous but excited the Prince felt before the battle, and how the Queen must have been beside herself with worry, “as a mother”. There’s clearly a lot of artistic licence for a journalistic work, which feels disingenuous. Also, Seierstad found one of the most dysfunctional families on planet Earth to write about, which would be fine if it was straight-up fiction and presented as such, or if the readership was clear on the fact that the family is not necessarily representative of Afghans as a whole. They use their culture and religion to justify, bolster and validate their dysfunctional behaviours, as do sociopaths everywhere. That does not mean that the writer should follow them there. Culture does have an impact on behaviour, of course, but it doesn’t explain every interpersonal dynamic. For example, you can’t on the one hand tell us how the little brother is disrespectful and tyrannical towards his female elders because male ALWAYS trumps female, and on the other, have a grown man at the beck and call of his mother later on in the book. In short, I felt the book didn’t work as fiction, nor as non-fiction. It lacked nuance and depth.

I’m getting tired of the outsider’s vision on non-Western countries, but there’s a dearth of books in my local library written by people who are natives of Central Asia and the Caucasus, and that’s frustrating.

Aug 7, 12:24pm Top

L'Autobus (The Bus) by Eugenia Almeida, translated by René Solis

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Argentina
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: A small town in Argentina

In a small town in Argentina, the local bus isn’t stopping for passengers anymore. No warnings and no reasons are given. The couple who is stranded at the local hotel has had enough. They’re walking to the next village along the train tracks. Ponce’s sister Victoria is staying put a bit longer. The local police chief is trying to follow orders, which is not always easy when they change without notice and come from different places. Two things are certain: the military trumps his direct hierarchy and it’s best not to ask questions. Still, people are curious and talk, especially in a small place like this where nothing happens. Between him, Gómez with his bicycle, Rubén the hotel manager and Primitivo the barrier operator for the railway crossing, we get a fair idea of what is going on. The world is stifling for all, but especially women. And people disappear. Not that this should be cause for concern to honest people. Surely, the authorities are always in the right, and only bad people, such as subversive individuals and whores, are eliminated? One of my best read this year.

Edited: Aug 9, 12:50pm Top

Le Turkménistan (Turkmenistan) by André Kamev

Writer’s gender: Male (André Kamev might be a pseudonym. The author’s real name could be Alain Couanon – a former French ambassador to several Central Asia countries)
Writer’s nationality: If the author is indeed Alain Couanon, French. Otherwise, who knows?
Original language: French. And I could have sworn non-native French (ie, grammatically flawless but possibly “Russian-inflected”), at least in some places.
Translated into: N/A
Location: Turkmenistan

This book is apparently the first monograph about Turkmenistan published in a Western country. As has been the case for all the books I’ve read for this quarter, it isn’t very recent, having been published in 2005. It outlines very competently the geography, history, and (very briefly) culture of Turkmenistan. Imagine a serious, more academically-minded, Michelin Green Guide, with 170 pages of background information, one page of travelling tips, and no phrase book. I learned so many things, and was shocked – once more – by my lack of knowledge about the area. For example, I don’t think I had ever heard of Merv, and it’s a UNESCO site of huge historical importance. I wished the maps were larger and clearer: colours would have been useful. Oh, and as is often the case with that kind of book, I had to do quite a bit of extra digging on Wikipedia to get a clearer picture of what was being described.
A very good find from the library, published by Karthala. There are so many books I’d like from their catalogue! It’s such a shame there’s hardly anything under €18, and so many books over €30…

Edited: Aug 13, 4:36am Top

Désorientale (Disoriental) by Négar Djavadi

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Iran (mostly Tehran), Paris (France), Brussels (Belgium)

Kimiâ is in the doctor’s waiting-room: she’s about to undergo artificial insemination using Pierre’s washed semen. He’s HIV-positive and they’re not actually a couple. In a series of interrupted flashbacks, she tells us about her family, her parent’s politics, her life in Iran, her escape to France after the Revolution, and how the different facets of her identity developed. I don’t want to say too much about those because the narrator’s shtick is to tease the reader with small bits of information that eventually coalesce into a whole that makes sense, but it’s pretty obvious from early on that she’s a lesbian, even though it’s not said outright until quite late in the novel. Very well-written, engaging and thought-provoking.

Aug 20, 3:50pm Top

Great last few reviews!
I read Le libraire de Kaboul and had the same kind of reservations as you.

L'autobus and Désorientale seem great!

Aug 27, 12:54pm Top

The Railway by Hamid Ismailov, translated by Robert Chandler

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Uzbek, British
Original language: Russian
Translated into: English
Location: Gilas, Uzbekistan

This book is made up of a succession of vignettes about the people of a small railway town called Gilas. The stories and characters are quite disparate, but they do blend into some kind of (grim and slightly surreal) whole, which is not unlike the Gilas itself. This is a fruit salad of a place, where people of all sorts of ethnicities (Uzbeks of course, Koreans, Russians, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Uighurs, etc.) and beliefs (Muslims, Christians, Jews, sincere communists, reformed ones…) live side by side. It took me a long time to finish this book. I couldn’t get into it at first, and I found the writer’s type of humour tedious. I’m glad I persevered though, because I can see the value in the writing, even though it wasn’t entirely for me. I learnt a lot about the area, the culture, local dynamics, history and people. The translator’s notes and preface were a godsend.

Sep 2, 3:47pm Top

Very interesting excursions into Central Asia. I've been reading Sayat Nova's Odes arméniennes and watching the reissue of Paradjanov's movie (The Colour of pomegranates/Sayat Nova) on Criterion. Sheer beauty.

Going back a little to your comment about Arab/Muslim sources on slavery, I'm afraid this is likely useless or superfluous, but fwiw--Bernard Lewis mentions in the preface to Race and slavery in the Middle East that a 1982 French translation of his book Race and color in Islam contains new documentation and a selection of original sources translated from Arabic. I actually made a note of this as I too was curious about Muslim sources, but clearly it's not something that answers your specific query for material relating to slave uprisings.

Sep 10, 10:07am Top

>137 LolaWalser: Thank you for mentioning Sayatnova. My local library doesn't carry his books, but I was able to listen to some of his poems sung by Ensemble Kotchnak through their streaming service. The music is beautiful. I wish I understood the words... Will you be participating in the Reading Globally Central Asia thread? I'd like to read what you have to say about Odes arméniennes and the Colour of Pomegranates (which I'm planning on borrowing from the library).

I'll definitely look for Race and color in Islam, if only as a springboard to other sources.

Sep 10, 10:17am Top

La fin du chant (Das Ende des Liedes – The End of the Song) by Galsan Tschinag, translated by Dominique Petit and Françoise Toraille

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Mongolia (ethnic Tuvan from Mongolia, lives in Germany and Mongolia, writes in German)
Original language: German
Translated into: French
Location: Mongolia

I wasn’t going to read another Galsan Tschinag book for this quarter’s theme: I wanted to branch out and try new authors, but I’ve been thwarted by my resolution to not buy books anymore and use the library instead. He is, as far as I can see, the only Mongolian author they carry. I’m not complaining about “having” to read La fin du chant, though. The plot appealed to me and the writing was fine.

Like all the Galsan Tschinag books I’ve read so far, this novel describes the life of the Tuvan minority living in Mongolia. This is the story of Dombuk, a young nomad girl, her father Schuumur, her (now-dead) mother Dshajnaasch and Schuumur’s long-time lover Gulundshaa. The book starts with a harrowing scene, where Dombuk, who is old beyond her years and pretty much female head of the household since her mum died, tries to make a mare whose foal died take to another, strange foal. This involves skinning the dead foal and tying its skin to the living foal. Meanwhile, Schuumur’s children are also in need of a new mum and Gulundshaa is ready to step in, but Schuumur rejected her after Dshajnaasch’s death, projecting onto her his guilt at the way he treated his wife when she was alive (Gulundshaa and Schuumur went on seeing each other after Schuumur’s arranged marriage to Dshajnaasch).
I think La fin du chant is my favourite Galsan Tschinag novel (they can be a bit uneven). The parallel between the horse and human families was a bit too obvious, but it was still a lovely, moving story, by a writer who does not shy from describing unpleasant aspects of his culture, but does it in an intelligent, sympathetic and multidimensional way, with fully-realised female characters.

Sep 12, 8:59am Top

>138 Dilara86:

Ordinarily I would hesitate even to mention books from the 1980s but I found it striking that you had trouble finding references because Lewis mentions it too all the way back then! So it sounds as if the problem persists, in which case, who knows, I thought those books may be as good a starting point as any, at least as a pointer to sources. ("... serious difficulties. One of them is the remarkable dearth of scholarly work on the subject. ... The documentation for a study on Islamic slavery is almost endless; its exploration has barely begun."--1989!)

Oh, I hope you like Paradjanov's movie. It was a revelation to me at age 14-15 (first year I got a subscription to a cinematheque), not just of the subject matter but of film as real art and poetic medium. It's something I've known and loved all my film-watching life, but getting to Sayat Nova's poetry itself wasn't that easy (I think this French translation was basically the only edition I've come across, or that was remotely affordable--and that at about sixty dollars.)

I'll try to write a little something about it by and by, thanks.

>139 Dilara86:

With a title like that, was there any mention of that fantastic Tuvan throat-singing? :)

Tuvan Throat Singers - Huun Huur Tu

Edited: Today, 4:27am Top

I've borrowed The Colour of Pomegranates DVD, but haven't watched it yet. I'll keep you posted ;-)

It's a shame Sayat-Nova's poetry is so hard to find in book form. Some of his sung odes are on Youtube though, so I've had a bit of a Sayat Nova binge-listen. For the music more than for the lyrics because I don't underderstand Armenian. (Although sometimes, the translation is provided in the comments.) I really like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwBNdITR3dI

With a title like that, was there any mention of that fantastic Tuvan throat-singing? :)

Throat-singing wasn't mentioned as such, but songs are a huge part of the story: it feels like Tuvans haves a song for every chore and every event! Mongolians too. I borrowed a CD with music from Mongolia: there's music in praise of Genghis Khan, in praise of the Altai, there's one for milking camels and there's religious music...
I'm excited you mentioned Huun-Huur-Tu. I love them! We saw them live about 10 years ago having no idea who they were, and we were bowled over.

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