François-Henri Désérable travelled from Tehran to the border with Balochistan at the end of 2022, at the height of Iranian Government repression quashing civil unrest and nationwide protests against the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. At the end of his forty-day journey he was arrested and interrogated by the Revolutionary Guards, who believed his story: instead of being imprisoned he was ordered to immediately leave the country. He returned to Europe with this unique traveller’s tale, recounting his adventures and encounters with a largely pro-Western people brutally subjugated by an anti-Western religious theocracy, in L’usure d’un monde: Une traversée de l’Iran / A Ravaged World: Travels Across Iran.
Désérable’s itinerary starts from a boarding house in Tehran, going on to Qom, Kashan, Ispahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd, Kerman, Bam, Lut desert, Keshit, Bam, Zahedan, then back to Tehran; and finally Tabriz and Saqqez.
Continue reading Spotlight | François-Henri Désérable, A Ravaged World: Travels Across Iran | Editions Gallimard
Jean Michelin’s Those Who Stay is a powerful and deeply human novel about the impact of war on soldiers fighting in distant countries, and what these men are like when they return. Wearing a mask of silence to avoid the expression of strong feelings for fear of losing control comes at a high cost. The story centres around a private investigation done by four soldiers when one of their unit is reported missing. Their adherence to the military doctrine based on mutual trust between leaders and those they lead is unshakeable, even when back home on civvy street. Those Who Stay also shows the detrimental effect of their arrivals and departures on the families, girlfriends and wives who stay behind; and the children growing up alone with their mother.
Continue reading Spotlight | Jean Michelin, CEUX QUI RESTENT – THOSE WHO STAY | Éditions Heloïse d’Ormesson
This year’s Beyond Words Festival featured a great line-up from across the Channel. Throughout the week, the Institut Français du Royaume Uni in South Kensington, London, was bustling with people eager to see their favourite French authors in conversation with their British counterparts discussing not only their latest books, but many things words and ideas from France, past and present.
The first event I attended was A Gallic Evening with Muriel Barbery, Antoine Laurain and Jean-Baptiste Andrea, chaired by Viv Groskop. Gallic Books publish “the very best of what the French are actually reading.” Over the past decade, they have brought over one hundred authors to the British reading public.
Continue reading Spotlight | Highlights, Beyond Words Festival, 2023 | Institut Français du Royaume Uni
London Book Fair is like speed dating for book trade professionals as they tell each other stories while buying and selling rights during half hour meetings. Negotiating rights deals – foreign language, film and TV, audio etc – with international partners is its core focus. On another level LBF provides opportunities for publishers, literary agents, authors, booksellers, librarians, literary organizations, and suppliers to network and exchange ideas, as the latest offerings are showcased and promoted at their stands or at seminars, conferences and author events. LBF’s spotlight focus this year was on Ukraine. Opened by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the fair’s headline authors were Colson Whitehead, Kate Mosse, Ann Cleeves, Dapo Adeola and Robin Stevens. All the press and PR was handled by Midas PR.
Tables in the International Rights Centre (IRC) where rights professionals meet had sold out in the blink of an eye, and there was a long waiting list. So a number of agents and scouts ended up sitting at someone else’s table: no bad thing for swapping tips and info since each market has its own unique nuances and preferences, and what works in one market may not work in another. Walking around, the humming of voices was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think. Continue reading Spotlight | A Tale of Two Cities: London and Paris Book Fairs 2023
The French Muslim community numbers nearly 6 million, according to Joseph Downing, author of French Muslims in Perspective: Nationalism, Post-Colonialism and Marginalisation under the Republic. The largest in Western Europe, it has more often than not been under a harsh spotlight following years of terrorist attacks, national debates over the hijab, the burkini and the right to offend and blaspheme.
Most are modest Muslims leading normal lives, appreciative of laïcité (secularism) and its freedoms, while the number of violent extremists is estimated to be only in the few thousands – “less than 1% of the French Muslim population become jihadists” – though this reality is not that which is portrayed by the mainstream Media. Many are fashioning new Islamic institutions and developing new ways of listening, reasoning and teaching.
Continue reading Review | French Muslims in Perspective: Nationalism, Post-Colonialism and Marginalisation under the Republic, Joseph Downing | Palgrave Macmillan