Review | Seven Terrors, Selvedin Avdić | Book of the Week

 “I noticed that the pigeons have completely lost their faith in people. It is impossible to get nearer than five metres to any one of them.” [p. 38]

Because of the war in Syria, an estimated 12.5 million people are displaced, and refugees seeking asylum in Europe invariably develop depression, anxiety and PTSD. The world is facing the highest levels of displacement ever in history, with 65.3 million people forced from their homes by war, internal conflicts, drought or poor economies. The walking traumatised are becoming a major challenge of the twenty-first century, requiring a global plan.

The Bosnian war of 1992-95 resulted in some of the worst atrocities seen in Europe since the Nazi era. More than 100,000 people were killed and, according to a recent report by Al Jazeera, twenty years on many survivors suffering from trauma are not getting the help they need. 

 “I am solitary and depressed. A man with no one to look after him . . .” The narrator has spent nine months and three days in bed after his wife walked out on their five-year marriage. It is 7 March 2005, it is snowing, and he is coming back into life. He plays the Rolling Stones and watches the world outside his window.
Continue reading Review | Seven Terrors, Selvedin Avdić | Book of the Week

Breaking News | Where have all the intellectuals gone? | Librairie La Page 20.3.2018

Intellectuals have never had a more important contribution to make to culture and to democracy than now, in our age of post truth politics, trumpery and newspeak. We need to recreate a public sphere in which intellectuals and the general public can talk to each other in more profound ways than tweeting soundbites.

Intellectuals are a rare breed however there have been a number of sightings in past months. Some of these controversial individuals are likely to be found in South Kensington next Tuesday 20 March at 6.30pm since Pascal Bacqué will be at Librairie La Page, 7 Harrington Road, London, SW7 discussing his epic and hallucinatory novel just published by Massot éditions.

winston churchill in his daimlerOf War, Mankind and Planet Earth is a madly ambitious, hypnotic 440 page novel; the first of five volumes. Fifteen years of research and five very different drafts took Pascal Bacqué on a journey through his life and that of the world. Taking in 6000 years of history, he travels through the centuries to create a pot pourri of people, places and events, telling the never-ending story of war through the ages.

« You can get totally immersed in this book, play mind games, dream, admire and disagree . . . It is a book to be read aloud, a book on which to meditate, to be listened to with the third ear, to be read in one sitting, backwards, fast, or on edge of your chair . . . It is an extraordinary book, an addictive narrative which cannot be put down and which, once read, possesses you. » Bernard-Henri Lévy

World War Two and the Holocaust take centre stage. 1945: the end game is being played out. Ian Bute and Tolkien travel East with Churchill, and as they do so the secrets of ancient, millennial, old Europe emerge from the rubble. On their journey they encounter seventy archetypal men from through the ages, and rub shoulders with all the major world figures of literature, music and politics. A parallel narrative gives an added Tolkienesque dimension to this odyssey from West to East, culminating in a dramatic showdown in a clash of empires. 

Pascal BacquéThe event at Librairie La Page has been arranged in collaboration with the Hexagon Society, a centre for French and English cross-cultural exchange that facilitates encounters between thinkers and artists and the general public.

@EditionsMassot @BHL @LIBRAIRIELAPAGE

Pascal Bacqué is a poet, a writer, and artistic collaborator and a devotee of the Talmud. He has worked as director of the collection « Libelles » for L’âge d’Homme, as a member of the editorial board of the magazine La Règle du Jeu, and as director of the French Talmudic College with René Lévy. His works include Imperium (L’âge d’Homme, 2007), The Legend of Elijah (L’âge d’Homme, 2011), Ode to Armageddon (L’âge d’Homme, 2014).

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Review | Fireflies, Luis Sagasti | Book of the Week

God, like fireflies, only shines in the darkness, wrote Schopenhauer.” – Fireflies (p. 71)

Fireflies by Luis Sagasti is a brief, existential history of the world in the form of eight essays knitted together by subtle connection points. An eclectic array of highbrow and pop cultural personalities are presented in a seemingly random manner but have common threads that carry an underlying message. Philosophy helps us live our lives, is a consolation: Wittgenstein and Habermas make an appearance; as does the celebrated author of haikus, Matsuo Basho.

An original and stimulating work of experimentalism, Fireflies is in the tradition of fellow Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (who asserted that “the brain begins in the eye”), Roland Barthes and Michel Tournier. What is true and what is false? Are conspiracy theories grounded in any kind of reality? Is there a relationship between death and black holes? Can words express truth, and is perception reality?

Continue reading Review | Fireflies, Luis Sagasti | Book of the Week

BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads January, 2018

New year, new in from France: here is our list of top 5 reads in French creating a buzz across the Channel for all of you Francophiles out there . . . Special thanks to our friends in Paris for their recommendations.
The books reviewed are listed alphabetically by author surname. @EditionsGrasset @beigbedersays @robert_laffont #francoisjonquet @olivierguez @jschnerf
@robert_laffont @EditionsduSeuil @EditionsZulma

I, Self, Me: social media and the human condition in the digital age

A Life Without End (Une Vie Sans Fin) Frédéric Beigbeder (Grasset)

59 million people die every year. But Beigbeder refuses to submit to such a fate, and sets off instead to discover the secret to eternal life. His journalistic investigation morphs into a work of literature – “a book of ‘non-fiction science’; a novel in which all the scientific developments have been published in Science or Nature.”
Beigbeder is as irreverent and rebellious and original as he was twenty-three years ago when I first read him. He has lost none of his self-deprecating humour and mischievous attitude underpinned by an eclectic body of knowledge; quite the contrary, he has matured and honed his skills. Twenty years ago he despaired of making love last – today he despairs of making life last.
frederic beigbeder bookblast diary
To publish your photo is now more important than your signature on a cheque, or on a marriage contract.” A radio-TV host celebrity in France, Beigbeder’s relationship with image and selfies is paradoxical: he is delighted when fans ask to pose with him, yet is intensely irritated by the one-upmanship involved. When Robert Pattinson a.k.a. Harry Potter is promoting his new film Maps to the Stars at Cannes, he signs a photo for Romy, one of Beigbeder’s two daughters. She is disappointed not to have snapped a selfie with her hero to post online for all her friends to see. Her father is hurt that his daughter has never asked him for a selfie (while other kids do, as he’s on TV).

Continue reading BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads January, 2018

Review | Translation as Transhumance, Mireille Gansel | Book of the Week

In this beautiful memoir of a life lived in and through translation, Mireille Gansel defines the process of bringing words from one language to another as a kind of seeking, tied to the land. Transhumance refers to the seasonal movement of a shepherd and his flock to another land, or humus. It is the opposite of settling and farming: it is a form of nomadism, a search for richer grass, and it provides an apt image for her own trajectory as a translator.” From the foreword by Lauren Elkin

Translation as Transhumance is a rich and resonant read. The lucid, concise prose of award-winning translator, Ros Schwartz, brings alive an exceptional life dedicated to translation as activism. At the book’s launch in Caravansérail, the French-English bookshop and gallery near Brick Lane in the East End, Mireille Gansel spoke to a packed audience about the adventure of translation, of how “it gives you something – a perception of the other,” and of how “Langue natale is not mother tongue, it is a native language. For me it means the language where you come to the world, where you are born to yourself, discover yourself – you are inside intimacy.” A powerful, humanitarian empathy lies beneath Gansel’s narrative. “You end up translating the spirit and the sense of what is underneath the words . . .” said Ros Schwartz, “This book articulated so many things for me that were half-formed ideas, thoughts, about what I do.” Continue reading Review | Translation as Transhumance, Mireille Gansel | Book of the Week

BookBlast® Archive | Jean Anouilh interviewed by Gael Elton Mayo | Queen Magazine, 1956

Jean Anouilh’s (1910-87) work ranges from high drama to absurdist farce. He is best known for his 1943 play Antigone, an adaptation of Sophocles’ classical drama; and a thinly veiled attack on Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government. His complete works are available in Gallimard’s La Pleiade series and La Table Ronde’s paperback imprint La Petite Vermillon.

Anouilh is from Andorra. In the small village of Cerisols where his father is a tailor, all fifty inhabitants are named Anouilh. Andorra is a separate-apart place — and Anouilh is a separate-apart person.

He is well known as the great contemporary playwright in London, New York, Paris, Spain . . . and he is completely unknown as a personality and takes great care to remain so.

The scathing wit of his plays then, which is so famous translated, adapted, from whom does it come? What is Anouilh? Does anyone know if he is thirty or seventy? Has anyone seen him? Does he never eat in restaurants, go to public places? At opening nights of his plays, while sophisticated revelations of the decadence of society flash across the stage alternately with visions of a certain fleur bleue lost purity — drawing peals of laughter from the audience one minute and gasps of shock the next, even sometimes tears — there is a slight man seated high among the public in the cheapest seats, incognito. He is hidden like a mole from the lights. His face is gentle. There is apparently no connection between him and the biting power on the stage . . . unless it is in the intensity of the small eyes behind the steel-rimmed spectacles. Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Jean Anouilh interviewed by Gael Elton Mayo | Queen Magazine, 1956

Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week

The city is destroyed, plundered. A very interesting city. Polish culture. An ancient, rich Jewish colony. These frightening bazaars, dwarfs in hooded coats, hoods and side-locks, the aged, a school street, ninety-six synagogues, all half-destroyed, and stories – American soldiers were here, oranges, cloth, thoroughfare, wire, deforestation and wasteland, endless barren land. Nothing to eat, no hope, war, everyone is equally bad, equally foreign, hostile, inhuman, before life was traditionally peaceful” – from Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary in which he describes his experiences with the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war.

To actually feel what it was like to be caught up in the most momentous event of the 20th century, and to walk in the shoes of those who either stayed and wrote under the increasingly tricky conditions of censorship, or fled to become émigrés pining for a lost world, or visited from abroad wanting to see revolution in action . . . read Pete Ayrton’s anthology Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917. Of all the books marking this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution, this is the one to go for. Continue reading Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week

Review | The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life, Clara Beaudoux | Book of the Week

I’d been drifting from one studio apartment to another for several years already. I didn’t feel at home anywhere. In July 2013 I ended up in this little place. And I never suspected that the secrets it concealed might one day lead to a book,” writes Clara Beaudoux in the preface to this unusual read.

The mixing up of genres and categories that is characteristic of the way we read online has gradually fed into new forms of writing ‘in print’. Daniel Glattauer’s Love Virtually (Gut gegen Nordwind, translated from the German by Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch) tells the story of an internet love affair through the emails of Leo and Emmi. Other Ways of Seeing (Un Autre Regard) is based on blogger Emma’s comic strip. Her take on news stories and accepted “truths” challenges the status quo and questions what liberté, égalité, fraternité really means in France today. Shaun Usher’s blog ‘Letters of Note, an online museum of notable letters’, was published in book form in 2013 to international acclaim. The internet is a numbers game: if you hit the jackpot, it’s life-changing. Continue reading Review | The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life, Clara Beaudoux | Book of the Week

Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born and raised in Paris.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
There were many books in my family home, and my parents were used to take me to the library when I was a kid. I remember Roald Dahl, a magazine for kids called Astrapi and some comics like Marion Duval.

Why do you write?
Writing helps me to think. Continue reading Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads September, 2017

La rentrée littéraire is a curious phenomenon: hundreds of new books of all genres flood French bookshops and the review pages of the literary press between the end of August and the beginning of November. It is a way for publishers to capitalize on the awards season, and at Frankfurt Book Fair in October – at which France is the guest of honour this year – as well building up a buzz leading into the Christmas period when the most books are sold.

Anglophile French friends in Paris send recommendations. And then there are wonderful talk shows about books like La grande librairie (France 5) or Jérôme Garcin’s Le Masque et la Plume (France Inter) and of course, radio France Culture – all are streamed on the web.

So here is our first curated top 5 list of five books in French for those of you looking for some French teasers from across the Channel . . . Continue reading BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads September, 2017