“So many books have been written with Paris as a character and there are so many clichés about its seductive beauty, as a writer you need to find your Paris and step away from the great dark magnet that it is. Often the dark Paris is what is most interesting.” Alicia Drake
The vision of Paris as an intellectual’s city with writers and artists chain-smoking on café terraces, arguing about literature, art and Existentialism has been consigned to the attic by most contemporary novelists at work today who are worth reading. Tatiana de Rosnay and Alicia Drake are two such writers whose vision of the City of Light is anything but a picture postcard. They graced the stage at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington.
There is, of course, some superb non fiction on offer which gives a genuine, riveting, and rather more leftfield take beyond the usual stereotypical reads – my favourite being the memoirs of late, great John Calder who I was lucky enough to know. The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene is essential reading for anyone curious about visionary entrepreneurs operating in the publishing industry of yesteryear, and the Paris-London-New York golden triangle.
I was delighted to be invited along to some of the key talks held at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington. Beyond Words has become ‘The Big Event’ in London for the promotion of French books translated into English. The festival features bilingual live literature events, writers’ talks, musical performances, screenings of recent literary adaptations, staged readings and books galore – both classic and contemporary.
This is the first of two posts about just some of what was up for discussion at the #BeyondWordsFest
New year, and news could be better from France. Over 600 small businesses have been destroyed or damaged in Paris alone since the yellow vests protests at the end of last year. President Macron’s open letter to French citizens seems to have done little to quell dissent; ditto for his tour of the regions in an attempt to get Mayors and their communities to share what’s on their mind. The EU’s political landscape is set to change after the elections in May 2019. Thank goodness for books, films and music offering an essential breath of fresh air!
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? In suburban North London near the end of the Northern Line, in a small maternity home at the top of Hampstead Heath which later became a NHS nurses’ residence.
What sorts of books were in your family home? What did you read as a child? Plenty, and an eclectic mix, but not entire walls or rooms of them. Always a fresh haul from the local library. My mother’s shelves had one of the very first Penguins: André Maurois’ Ariel (about Shelley). My father’s included rows of Pevsner’s Buildings of England, which always accompanied us on country walks and holidays. He knew German, went to German conversation classes until the end of life, so there was also some German literature in the original. I vacuumed up the contents of the library (my first was Friern Barnet, not long ago saved from closure by a community campaign). I was a scattergun bookworm although I did early on develop a taste for classic science fiction (Verne to Bradbury). Also piles of books about cricket (again, always from the library). Somehow I fell in love with a collection picked up for a few pence from a jumble sale: Best Modern American Humour, in effect an anthology of the great New Yorker wits: Parker, Thurber, Benchley etc. I loved them then. Still love them now.Continue reading Interview | Boyd Tonkin | Author of the Week
“Since the ages of Enlightenment and Romanticism, the champions of translation – such as Goethe and Madame de Staël – have urged its necessity, if only as an inferior substitute for the true polyglot’s command of several tongues. That case still needs to be made, especially in English, whose position as a planet-spanning lingua franca may trick native speakers into the delusion that their language, or any language, may encompass the whole world of thought and art.” – from the Introduction
Great novels help us to understand what makes people tick and offer glimpses into the human psyche; they are as illuminating as psychology books. Translated fiction gives a whole added dimension, opening windows on to other worlds and ways of being and perceiving, which is ever more important now that Britain is being forced to re-evaluate its place in the world.
In 2001 when he was literary editor of The Independent, Boyd Tonkin revived the Independent Foreign Fiction Award – first won in 1990 by Orhan Pamuk for The White Castle (trs. Victoria Holbrook). He was one of the five co-judges until 2015 when it merged with the Man Booker International Prize. The prize has not only been a huge boost for quality translations and translators, but has also paved the way for other prizes – the TA’s translation prizes which recognize outstanding translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish; the TA’s first translation prize; and the Warwick prize for women in translation. Continue reading Review | The 100 Best Novels in Translation, Boyd Tonkin | Book of the Week
During a recent trip to Paris I indulged my compulsive book browsing and buying by visiting some of my favourite bookshops. They are plentiful and varied since France enjoys a fixed minimum price agreement unlike the UK where the Net Book Agreement was abolished in 1997 leading to the closure of over 500 independent bookshops, along with chains such as Dillons, Borders and Books etc. The success or failure of a book now largely lies in the hands of supermarkets, Waterstones and Amazon. Here are a few finds for the Francophile literary flâneurs among you. @AuDiableVauvert @ediSens_edition @EditionsdelAube @Diacritik @Gallimard @GlenatBD @_WProject_
Shredded: Life After Terror by Philippe Lançon (Gallimard)
“My book is not a narrative about Islamism or the state of the health service —subjects about which I am not sufficiently well-informed — it is a personal and intimate narrative. It is the story of a man who was the victim of a terrorist attack, who spent nine months in hospital, and who recounts as accurately as possible, and I hope with a lightness of touch, how this attack and his hospital stay changed his life and the lives of those around him; his feelings, his sensations, his memory, his body and his somatic perceptions, his relationship to music, painting, how he breathes and writes.” — Philippe LançonContinue reading BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads June, 2018
“Chilli bean paste was big business, had been for Gran’s family for four or five generations. Sichuan peppers, on the other hand, were the sort of thing any small trader could sell. All they needed was a place to set up their stall. But, humble though the trade was, the Sichuan pepper was as essential as chilli bean paste at all Pingle Town dinner tables [. . .] Dad had kicked around the chilli bean paste factory for over twenty years, learning the ins and outs of his trade under the tutelage of his shifu, Chen, and if it had taught him one thing, it was that people were born to sweat. You ate chilli bean paste, and Sichuan peppers, and ma-la spicy hotpot, to work up a good sweat, and screwing a girl made you sweat even more. The more you sweated, the happier you felt, Dad reckoned. He remembered the fiery heat that the sweat-soaked bed-sheets in Baby Girl’s house gave off.”
The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is essentially a rags-to-riches tale about a small-town Chinese family’s survival following on from China’s rapid industrial revolution during Mao Zedong’s rule, and the later economic turmoil of the 1990s. Economic growth entailed a rise in social corruption in all areas of life along with social alienation and a breakdown in moral values.Continue reading Review | The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, Yan Ge | Book of the Week
Cafés, books and debate are a mainstay of French culture in a uniquely seductive way, so to savour some French flair, head to the Institut français in London this week for the second Beyond Words Festival. Forty writers, translators, actors, musicians and journalists are taking part in talks and live performances, presenting iconic films, and engaging the broader public, not just Francophiles.
How Paris changed the world
Baudelaire looked at what being a bohemian meant and invented the word “modern”; Hemingway made Paris an obligatory destination for aspiring young American writers on their European Grand Tour; the French capital was home to Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco; and Nabokov was published there.
May 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of May 1968 when French workers joined student protesters in Paris with a one-day general strike. Although the government was not overthrown, the protests ushered in a cultural revolution.
Préfacé et présenté par Georgia de Chamberet | Traduit de l’anglais par Lucien d’Azay
Écrivain et voyageuse, fascinée par l’Orient, Lesley Blanch est restée célèbre en Angleterre pour Vers les rives sauvages de l’amour, un quartet biographique où elle raconte la vie d’aventurières extravagantes, à son image. Après une enfance dans une famille bourgeoise de Londres à l’époque édouardienne, cette Anglaise spirituelle et raffinée mena une vie passablement nomade; elle était décoratrice de théâtre et rédactrice de l’édition britannique de Vogue quand elle épousa Romain Gary pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. La carrière diplomatique de celui-ci les conduisit à Paris, à Sofia, à New York, en Bolivie et enfin à Hollywood où Lesley Blanch côtoya quantité de stars et travailla avec George Cukor.