Twenty new books of French fiction to be read and translated
© John Foley
Published twice a year, Fiction France offers a selection of excerpts from French fiction, along with English translations. The French publishers wish to highlight these books abroad by targeting translators, agents and publishers who take the risk of promoting contemporary fiction. Fiction France’s aim is to create a new burst of enthusiasm for translations of contemporary French literature, to be a literary showcase for book professionals around the world, as well as an essential support to the French book market abroad. It is a tool which fully reflects the mission of culturesfrance.
How can you take part in Fiction FRANCE ? A selection of 16 to 20 titles are compiled in cooperation with the Book and Written Word department of culturesfrance, the staff in the foreign rights departments of the French publishing houses and the staff of the book offices in London, New York and Berlin—French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
Page 117 of this sixth issue of Fiction France, you will find those titles presented in the previous issues whose foreign rights have since been sold. Please do not hesitate to contact the Foreign Rights Managers of the publishing houses at the addresses listed in the table of contents and on the page presenting each text. Olivier Poivre d’Arvor director of culturesfrance
What are the selection criteria? • The book must be French-language fiction (novel, short story, narration). • Recent or forthcoming publication (maximum of 12 months before the publication of Fiction France). How should work be submitted? • The publishers should submit the book/draught/ manuscript. They will themselves have selected an extract of 10,000 characters. • Every entry should be accompanied by a commentary, a biographical note and the bibliography of the author (maximum of 1,500 characters). • Two printed examples of every proposed work will be sent to culturesfrance. Next deadline for submitting texts: 17th May 2010 Next publication date of Fiction France: 15th September 2010
CULTURESFRANCE is the cultural exchange operator of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.
Fiction France is disseminated free of charge through the French cultural network to its partners and to book industry professionals around the world. Fiction France is also available on line at www.culturesfrance.com
Quai des enfers
Publisher: Gallimard Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Publisher: Actes Sud Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: David Letscher/
Anne-Solange Noble firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Marc Lowenthal email@example.com
Élisabeth Beyer, firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Linda Asher email@example.com
The Private Diary of Benjamin Lorca
Publisher: Verticales Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Publisher: Éditions de Minuit Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Anne-Solange Noble firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Jonathan Kaplansky email@example.com
Catherine Vercruyce firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Charlotte Mandell email@example.com
Stéphanie Des Horts
Tom, Little Tom, Little, Little Man, Tom
The Black Sea
Publisher: Sabine Wespieser Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Joschi Guitton
Publisher: Éditions jc Lattès Date of Publication: February 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Eva Bredin
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Jody Gladding email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Linda Coverdale email@example.com
Catching Up With Callaghan
The Power Station
The Commissaire Is Not a Poetry Fan
Publisher: Librairie Arthème Fayard Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Publisher: P.O.L Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Vibeke Madsen
Publisher: La Table Ronde Date of Publication: February 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Anna Vateva
Carole Saudejaud firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Jordan Stump email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: William J.Cloonan email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Alyson Waters email@example.com
Publisher: Calmann-Lévy Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Patricia Roussel
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Hester Velmans email@example.com
Kayro Jacobi, Just Before Forgetting
Olympus of the Unfortunate
Publisher: Albin Michel Date of Publication: April 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Publisher: Mercure de France Date of Publication: March 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Catherine Farin
Publisher: Julliard Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Benita Edzard
Solène Chabanais firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Tina Kover email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Jane Todd, email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Donald Nicholson-Smith email@example.com
The Unexpected Book
Publisher: La Différence Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Publisher: Héloïse d’Ormesson Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Sarah Hirsch
Parcidio Gonçalves firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Pascale Torracinta email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Tegan Raleigh email@example.com
Publisher: Éditions du Seuil Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Martine Heissat
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Susan Emmanuel email@example.com
A Trip to Japan
Publisher: Grasset & Fasquelle Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Heidi Warneke
Publisher: Éditions du Rouergue Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Edward Gauvin email@example.com
David Letscher/Élisabeth Beyer firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Ariana Reines email@example.com
The Last Days of Stefan Zweig
Publisher: Flammarion Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager:
Publisher: Éditions de l’Olivier Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Martine Heissat
Patricia Stansfield firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Vivian Folkenflik email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Mary Ann Caws email@example.com
Quai des enfers
Publisher: Gallimard Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Anne-Solange Noble firstname.lastname@example.org
© Catherine Hélie/Gallimard
Translation: Marc Lowenthal email@example.com
Ingrid Astier lives and works in Paris. Her passion for gastronomy has led her to publish numerous books on food, including Le Goût de chocolat, Le Goût du thé, Le Goût de la rose, and Le Goût des parfums (Mercure de France). Quai des enfers is her first novel.
Paris, winter 2008. The Paris river police squad sets off on its night patrol along the Seine. The officers discover a mysterious row boat moored directly below 36 Quai des Orfèvres: inside it, a dead woman wrapped in a white shroud, and the calling card of a renowned perfumer, Camille Beaux. Camille is a friend of Jo Desprez, a legendary figure at “36,” but this will not shield him from the anxiety and confusion of an interrogation. Desprez takes on the investigation, as much to shed some light on the affair as to discover whether his friend is also a monster. And so begins a long descent
into the underworld, investigating this corpse whose secrets slowly begin to emerge. This blazing thriller is also extremely realistic: for months the author immersed herself in the atmosphere of 36 Quai des Orfèvres and the Paris river squad, spending nights on Zodiac boats going up the Seine, sharing evenings with cops who had plenty of stories to tell … Every anecdote, every description is accurate and precise. Never has the Seine seemed so mysteriously alive. The intrigue is breathtaking and the characters human—simply and terribly human …
Chapter 1 “Hey Steph, what’s darker than the waters of the Seine at night?” “I don’t know … The eye of Satan?” “Why ‘eye,’ you twit—you think he only has one?” Phil, commander of the river squad, probed the dark water with his eyes. He caressed it, undressing this woman-river like a connoisseur. He hesitated before answering. “To see only the bad side of everything … he must have sold the other eye, right?” Laughter burst from the Zodiac as it cleaved the Seine, passing the Pont d’Arcole. The powerful motors grew louder, sounding like a plane, as the Cronos bounced along the thick water, dark as a priest’s robe. Paris was fast asleep. The officers, their faces snug under their hats, scrutinized the shadowy zones. It wasn’t just cold; it was freezing—enough to kill an olive tree. The expression was one Phil had brought back from his last scuba diving vacation in Antibes. Words, like people, were scarce in that weather. It was December 18 as of a short while ago. For a week now it had been raining in Paris. The speed of the boat made the frozen rain drops slap cruelly against their faces. Of the four men on the night squad, two were wearing silk balaclavas, which made them look like bank robbers. The banks of the Seine rolled by. The twin towers of the Conciegerie rose up like ghosts in the night. Two
stone posts gutting the sky. At one in the morning the image of justice was rather somber. That morning the roles, normally interchangeable, had been assigned: Phil had been appointed commander, Steph pilot, Hervé diver, and Rémi first-aid man. The quai of the Louvre announced the Pont du Carrousel. A couple of scooters lay on their sides, ending their lives by the bridge’s “rings”. “Hey guys, did you know the streetlights of the Pont du Carrousel used to have telescoping poles?” Rémi didn’t speak much, a habit left over from conversations with his father, who could go through a meal without letting anyone get in a question edgewise. He had learned to live in the backyards of words. With all the noise, no one had heard him. Phil’s voice sounded out. “Rémi, like I’ve said before: the fish can’t hear you, so stop talking to the waves.” Rémi looked down. “I was talking about the telescopic poles of the Carrousel, which come up at night …” “If the catfish ever scare you off, you could always become a tourist guide, Rémi. No doubt about that.” Rémi didn’t answer. He didn’t need the others to feed his imagination. He turned away from the group, looking at the lampposts, and felt content, watched over by these beacons, the mad creations of the sculptor Raymond Subes. They used to rise up over thirty feet at nightfall. Parisians had forgotten Raymond Subes, but Rémi considered himself to be the guardian of the Seine. His memory was sharp: not a detail escaped him, from the grotesque masks on the Viaduc d’Austerlitz to the massive bulls’ heads of its piers, to the great Zouave on the Pont de l’Alma, its feet dipped in the water, showing the level of the Seine. This was his territory. He was proud to not be blindly patrolling the waters, and he couldn’t care less if they belittled his knowledge. Chill out … Rémi was used to speaking to himself, and if he needed to, he could be his own audience. The rubber dinghy slipped under the bridges, their names uncoiling in the young man’s mind. Unconsciously they stirred his memories, the way a child’s fingernail opens the cardboard windows of an Advent calendar—a malevolent one revealing a room of horrors. Pont Royal, Pont de la Concorde, Pont Alexandre-III, Pont des Invalides, Pont de l’Alma, Passerelle Debilly, Pont d’Iéna, Pont de Bir-Hakeim, Pont de Rouelle, Pont de Grenelle, Pont Mirabeau, up to the Pont du Garigliana, to the west of Paris … Memories rose up to the surface, one after the other: there, a drowned woman who had left herself no chance, her knapsack filled with diving weights; here, the search for a .357 Magnum discarded by a gangster; further off, the laborious discovery, in the depths of the mud—which he stirred up like the
muddy layers of memory—of a voodoo jar filled with some unknown person’s guts mixed with an infernal concoction: pins, honey, dried blood, a scrap of fabric and a lock of curly hair. The Seine carried off the secrets of those who had wanted to drown their sorrow. And their job was to make those secrets speak. Even if it meant confronting their own demons. The rain intensified, their grimacing faces competing with the gargoyles of Notre-Dame. As they reached the Port d’Auteil, they tacked about. The night patrol was no cruise; the Seine was oozing along, a sticky river of oil that coated the soul. “This fucking weather!” True to form, Phil was engaging in the art of oratory. As they went alongside the barges, the officers watched the moving shadows. But the shadows remained silent. The long black Maglite created transparent red moons of light drifting over the barges. At 1:30 in the morning, the crew of the river squad might have believed that the gods had abandoned them. “Are we the only idiots out here? I’m going to get really pissed if I’m the only one freezing my ass off!” Steph clapped his hands together, as if to exorcize the numbness. He looked like the last skier of the day, wedged into a ski lift and applauding the cold. He glanced pointedly over at Hervé, the pilot. “I think it’s time we headed back to base, boys: we’re the only Parisians who’d be out tonight in this cold. Let’s go dry off.” These sensible words were uttered by Hervé, and everyone was in agreement. “After all, we’re not paid to watch the gulls!” Knowing they were heading back, Phil could already feel himself warming up. The speed made Paris look like a carnival. White, yellow, blue, and red lights streaked along the banks, sketching out another world: that of the city. For on the Seine, the officers of the river squad belonged to a separate kingdom. A floating kingdom. When they went up the river at night, these men knew that they were modern-day explorers, happy to be casting virginal glances at the city. They knew Paris like no one else—knew its depths—and examined its blood. More secret than the city’s unsuspected alleys, more intimate than the vaginas of its buildings, the Seine carried away the most concealed, most sordid stories, a vehicle for both tourism and death. The officers, leaning over the pulsating water, felt its rhythm, its mood. At the moment, all of them shared the same wish: to not have to dive in. The water was at most 40° F—enough to make one avoid any contact with it. The level of the Seine was rising. As usual, Steph had glanced at the Austerlitz ladder when they reached it, and it had shown five and a half feet. The Seine’s
Quai des enfers
normal level was usually a little over three feet on the ladder. In the channel, the depth was around fourteen and a half feet. The current was a little over two miles an hour, and fairly strong. The green color was good for travel brochures, but at its best, you could compare the Seine to thick iced coffee. At its worst, it was a muddy hell in which you wouldn’t recognize your own mother a foot away. This was how they all felt, which is why they had started back, craving the warmth of the common room, over which a smell of shepherd’s pie still hung. If the wind came from the east. Phil sang, which surprised no one. Paris is the town of bridges And I’m the man with just one love To the Square du Vert-Galant! To the Square du Vert-Galant! The Seine has two lovers, Justice and Police To watch over all our vices But how could I have known But how could I have known That a day would come when they’d drag the river For my love … “That’s one romantic song, you crooner!” “Give your sarcasm a rest. It’s an old song. The ending’s sad as hell.” If the night had been less dark, Steph and Phil would have been able to see Rémi’s face light up. Slowly, he decreed: “Especially since one doesn’t know whether the fellow killed his wife or lost her …” “That’s true, Rémi, I never thought of it that way. Though god knows I’ve known the song long enough. ‘They’d drag the river for my love’ … My father used to sing it to me when I was a kid …” “A very long time ago, then,” said Rémi sarcastically. “Hey, shrimp—you don’t get to be a veteran of the river squad for nothing; you have to earn it. Even the captain’s got nothing on me.” The Cronos broke out in laughter. The Passerelle des Arts emerged, the café drew near. The nights had been calm for a week now, enough to make one think that the cold numbed everything, even sick minds. The last act of aggression along the banks had coincided with a temperature thaw. Hence the saying of the brigade: morals firm up with the cold.
They took the Monnaie branch. Rémi couldn’t keep his mind from wandering through the centuries, and thought of how they were passing the ghost of the Monnaie lock, and the terrible flood of 1910 that had engulfed even the site office. He couldn’t help himself and said: “And there’s the sex of Paris!” “Now what are you talking about, Rémi?” “The place Dauphine and its triangle … according to André Breton.” The three officers of the Cronos had no time to comment on Rémi’s strange words. They were suddenly on edge. There, at the foot of the Quai des Orfèvres, right where they were to put in, something was floating in the halflight, something worse than a threat: a dark premonition. The vision emerged, shimmering in the silvery gleams of the reflections, before being devoured again by the night. “What the hell is this?” Phil tapped Steph’s shoulder; Steph cut the gas, and they stopped short. “All right guys, let’s see what the story is. Rémi, throw some light over there!”
Quai des enfers
Publisher: Actes Sud Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: David Letscher/ Élisabeth Beyer, firstname.lastname@example.org
© DR/Actes Sud
Translation: Linda Asher email@example.com
Véronique Bizot has written two short-story collections. Prize Day is her first novel. Les Sangliers (The Wild Boars), Stock, 2005 (paperback ed., Le Livre de Poche, 2007) (2006 Renaissance Prize for the short story); Les Jardiniers (The Gardeners), Actes Sud, 2008. Publications
Awarded a prestigious prize—through no effort of his own and without his knowledge—for some important discovery he has long ago forgotten, a retired scientist suddenly finds his parlor invaded by admirers and journalists come to congratulate him. His housekeeper Mrs. Ambrunaz, endlessly cooking him lentils (Le Puy lentils) to keep up his strength, is his last barrier against the importunate crowds. The scientist-narrator is not at all prepared to face the honors, and will also have to deal with his family who flood back around him as if for the grand reckoning. Reminiscences and rediscoveries will show that the lentil lady may well be his only friend.
With the lightly bitter humor and the unusual darkness that characterize her short stories, in this her first novel Véronique Bizot deepens her unyielding observation of the secondary effects of the absurdity of our lives, explores the waywardness of familial love often disguised as epidermal animosities, and strips to the bone the logic of despair. Her writing has a striking immediacy that leaves us speechless—even helpless—before the accuracy and acuity of her articulation and of the gaze she levels at a world whose nature it is to divert, cast us adrift and athwart. A universe at once disturbing and delectable.
1 The people finally went away, and I was alone in the apartment with Mrs. Ambrunaz who was in the kitchen cooking lentils. I could hear the beans clatter as she stirred and rinsed them, I was thinking that those lentils—Le Puy lentils, the ones I buy at the supermarket—are not supposed to be rinsed, and that I was certainly not going to be eating them tonight. The people had no sooner gone than Mme. Ambrunaz put the onions on to blanch, and immediately there was that onion smell spreading and blending into the disorder in the apartment. The disorder in this apartment is truly prodigious—what a mess, people must have thought, but the circumstances were such that they didn’t seem to notice it, nor the dust, they just stepped over the things lying about in the hallway and, circling the stepladder planted in the middle of the parlor, they bore down on me with their outstretched hands and their smiles. Fine, fine, I said to myself, here’s some people. That went on for several hours, but thank God I had the stepladder to hang onto, nobody could have torn me away from that stepladder. Crowds like I hadn’t seen in ages. The whole afternoon Mrs. Ambrunaz kept opening and shutting the door on them, and when the last of them had left and she looked down the elevator shaft and saw that no one else was coming up, she said: I’m going to make you some nice little lentils. It’s a fact that lentils are little, I thought. I held onto the stepladder, listening for, you never know, more footsteps in the stairwell. On a table in the midst of the jumble I saw a bowl of mandarin oranges, some still wrapped in
tissue paper—where’d they come from, those mandarins, a mystery. Probably some last-minute idea of Mrs. Ambrunaz’s to make the apartment look a bit more fresh and well tended to all those people who, at the news of my award, had started filing though the place, taking us both by surprise. One first ring at the doorbell and then it never stopped. As I understand it, some discovery I apparently made long ago in my physics laboratory had now turned out to have some new application, a segment of the human race suddenly by my doing could expect to be cured of one of its maladies. Very good, very good. They wanted to photograph me and film me but to do that they also had to photograph my stepladder, I never left that stepladder the whole afternoon. What it was doing in the middle of the parlor I no longer remember. Had I intended to change a lightbulb in the ceiling fixture, or tack up the top of some curtain, or take down a painting? And what must I look like, in those photos and films? What do you want to look like, Mrs. Ambrunaz will say if I fret about it in her presence. I am wearing my old eyeglasses, since the ones I stupidly sat down on the other day are still at the optician’s being repaired. And I’m wearing my old corduroy trousers, and my old wool sweatshirt, over which Mrs. Ambrunaz made me put on a jacket when the bell first rang. Why bother, I told her as I pulled it on, that must be my brother, better you should go let him in. Come come now, said Mrs. Ambrunaz, your brother wouldn’t make so much noise all by himself. And in fact, there was an odd rumbling of voices on the landing, and some foot-shuffling, and the elevator kept going up and down. Then I heard Mrs. Ambrunaz exclaim as she opened the door to the whole crowd, and I thought it must be those Jehovah’s Witnesses who ring apartment bells at any old hour and, all things considered, I wasn’t unhappy wearing that rough jacket on my back to confront them. In the vestibule, the racket grew louder and Mrs. Ambrunaz came back into the parlor to scold me for never reading my mail or answering the telephone, I would have known that I had been scientifically crowned, she said, shaking her head and shrugging her shoulders, whereupon she left the parlor again and I heard her declare that yes, monsieur is available, if you would be so kind as to enter. Scientifically crowned? I repeated to myself, standing in the middle of the room. I had no idea what it was about. Suddenly the parlor was full of outstretched hands, of smiles and congratulations, and I instinctively backed toward the stepladder. In the midst of all that, Mrs. Ambrunaz was clearing seats and fluffing cushions, on which no one sat down except for a very old lady in thick-soled sneakers who called me by my first name and whom I could not remember.
2 When I still drove a car, I often used to go to the seaside, probably to look at boats. This memory is of no real interest, but I would leave the lab early in the afternoon, buy myself a sandwich at the cafeteria, climb into my car, and less than two hours later I would be at some harbor. The harbor would bore me soon enough, as did the narrow streets crowded with half-timbered houses, and I would wind up sitting at a casino table. Nowadays I take the bus, with other men my age. Seated in the bus in the middle of the afternoon staring out the windows, we all look as if we think this bus is not about to take us to the seaside or actually anywhere else . Why we ever got into it, as far as I’m concerned I would be quite incapable of saying. A few steps into the rue Saint-Lazare and there I am, climbing in. Rue Saint-Lazare is undeniably one of the most overwhelming thoroughfares in Paris, like a few others where you find old geezers like myself in raincoats of dubious cleanliness coming downstairs from their musty, cluttered, silent apartments—needless to say, there was a time when none of us would have had a single minute to spare. Now and again someone crumples onto the sidewalk, potatoes falling from the folds of his raincoat and rolling toward the gutter, or a newspaper flying into the air, and the next minute he’s declared dead by some perspicacious passerby. No matter that we feel relatively safe, sitting there in mid-afternoon on a half-empty well-heated bus, an unpleasant episode can still happen. The other day it was a woman who, seeing the Eiffel Tower through the window, started shouting to the driver that he was going the wrong way. I’m not going to the Eiffel Tower, she shouted, and she threatened to make such a fuss that the driver stopped and asked her to get out. But the woman categorically refused to get out, what she wanted was for the bus to turn back, and since the argument looked likely to drag on forever, I got out of the bus myself and there I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, where I had not, any more than that woman, had the slightest intention of going. And it was there at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, deprived of the protective shell of the bus, that I experienced my first weakness, which took the form of a curious sensation of giddiness. It was as if I had suddenly become weightless. When I made the stupid mistake of mentioning it to Mrs. Ambrunaz after I’d regained my sense of weight, she rushed into the kitchen to cook me the first of a long series of lentil dishes, after which she called in the doctor who lived upstairs, Doctor Manière, three years my senior as I learned that day, an insomniac and a former medical examiner. That Doctor Manière was insomniac I had already suspected from various nocturnal noises that came through the ceiling between us. What I’d like to understand is just what it is he did during his insomnia. He seemed to run a lot of water. He was dressed in a mixture of pajamas and wool sweaters, and I must say that the outfit was rather untidy. But then we all are untidy, once we reach a certain age, including
those among us who still go to the barbershop and knot a silk kerchief at the neck. I thanked him for the visit—coming down one flight couldn’t have been what tired him out—even though, as I made clear, I didn’t think a consultation was necessary. I am a medical examiner, he made clear, I don’t do patient care, and he sat down in the comfortable armchair I normally use, next to the fireplace. Disoriented, I had to look for somewhere else to sit. The doctor was inspecting the room as if I were absent. Still I did go on to say that I was not much worried about my health, since that lightheadedness I’d experienced at the Eiffel Tower, along with a slight confusion, had only been temporary and utterly without pain, I had not fallen down or even stumbled, my vision was not affected, my heart rate had not increased, and my pulse, I stated firmly, had always been very slow, like those of major athletes, and I was about to add that despite that advantage I had never done any sports at all, like most of my scientist colleagues actually, when I understood that Doctor Manière was by all indications barely listening to me. His gaze traveled from the ceiling to the walls and from the walls back to the ceiling, as if he were measuring them. This is your parlor, right? he asked when I fell silent. I confirmed that indeed the room where we were sitting served as my parlor, but also as my office and my dining room—an attempt to justify the disorder. My parlor looks out onto the courtyard, declared Doctor Manière. He seemed to be blaming me for that. Well, I said, it certainly is quieter on the courtyard, rue Saint-Lazare is pretty noisy, isn’t it? The traffic never stops, he said, that’s the whole problem. Absolutely, I agreed, thinking he might be a little out of it, but you don’t sleep on the street side, do you? I am ninety years old, the doctor declared, I have given up sleeping. I understand, I said, myself, I rarely sleep more than four hours at a time. Night, day, how do you tell the difference? said the doctor, pointing a skinny finger toward me. Then he seemed to slump back in my armchair. Things matter less and less, he said. I didn’t want to throw him out, and anyway how would I do that. He was the one who got up first, walking straight out to the landing, where, after I had once again thanked him for the visit and had assured him—not that he cared—that I now felt completely myself, he bade me farewell with a brief nod before clutching the banister. He started up the stairs, and I considered that ten years earlier we could perhaps have had a few good conversations, he and I.
Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Anne-Solange Noble firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Jonathan Kaplansky email@example.com
© Catherine Hélie/Verticales
The Private Diary of Benjamin Lorca
Arnaud Cathrine was born in 1973. He has published seven novels with Verticales, and several works of youth fiction with L’École des loisirs. He co-wrote the screenplay for Éric Caravaca’s first film, Le Passager (2006), based on La Route de Midland. At the same time, Arnaud Cathrine became involved in the musical scene, writing several songs for the singer Florent Marchet for the Rio baril album (Barclay, 2007). Subsequently, they designed together a book-cd entitled Frère animal (“Minimales” collection, 2008), the stage version of which is still touring France. [www.arnaudcathrine.com] Publications His most recent works published by Verticales include: La Disparition de Richard Taylor, 2007 (paperback ed., Gallimard, “Folio” collection, 2008); Sweet home, 2005 (paperback ed., Gallimard, “Folio” collection, 2007); Exercices de deuil, 2004; Les Vies de Luka 2002.
After La Disparition de Richard Taylor (The Disappearance of Richard Taylor), Arnaud Cathrine once more draws a dramatic portrait of a character who has disappeared: here, the absent central figure is a writer whose existence was brutally interrupted in May 1992, at age thirty-four. A posthumous hero, then, whose work has almost sunk into oblivion. Remembering him are two friends, a brother, and an ex-partner. Four points of view that complement one another or diverge, spanning the fifteen years which separate us from his tragic death. Although this irreparable event has occurred, they feel the need to re-evaluate,
take stock, and probe the effect Benjamin had on their lives. Each also hopes to finally discover the underlying nature of this elusive, independent, enigmatic character by reading his private diary. In making the decision— whether or not to betray the posthumous secret—each will discover the secret of the unique relationship linking him or her to Benjamin, along with a few personal truths, comforting or unsettling. It’s up to the reader to piece together the puzzle, without ever being able to completely solve the mystery surrounding Benjamin.
“Vulture.” The word was uttered shortly before the summer by Benjamin’s successors. Proof they feared me. And had something to defend … Me, a vulture? No, a modest publisher, and a big admirer of Benjamin. A man, more simply, who did nothing more than beg for his due. Allow me today to describe the abrupt entry into Normandy during which I had to confront Benjamin Lorca’s personal bodyguards. The date was May 4, 2007, the fifteenth anniversary of his death, at Blonville-sur-mer, not far from Deauville, the ultra bourgeois seaside resort where Benjamin claimed he had never set foot. He spoke more readily of Blonville, his “shelter,” his “refuge,” the house where he had spent all his summers, and the beach he had described so many times. Not the majestic and rugged coastline of Brittany, but rather a beach with a quiet beauty, “wonderfully insipid,” he would say. He stayed there often in the last years. His family came there to see him, to live and work alongside him. Ninon Wagner. Ronan Augé, of course. His brother, I doubt. The house, the beach, it seemed to me I knew them by heart before even setting foot there—Benjamin had described them so often in his novels, and I had read every text he ever wrote. Except for the last one, of course, which had never been published, on the orders of the Cerbères, Ninon mostly. Yes, the story begins there, at least the one I have to tell. On May 4, 2007, disembarking at Blonville, Normandy, to attend the anniversary mass bringing together Ninon, Ronan, brother and family, my intentions could not have been clearer:
people had been able to read all of Benjamin’s works except one, the last one that the Cerbères guarded jealously (hid, I should say), no doubt because, as opposed to all Benjamin’s other books, it was not a novel but a personal diary. And I needed that diary. * Benjamin had only ever written fiction. And while he found this confining, it seemed impossible for him to escape it. He was often heard saying he only read autobiographical writing now, as a man longingly contemplates a spectacle in which he can never participate. And claim as he might that this was what writing now required of him (meaning: writing and publishing a totally autobiographical text), he recognized pathetically he could not allow himself to do so, which rendered him almost completely unproductive at the end. Galey, Guibert, Ernaux, Calet—he quoted them all, reread them all the time, quoted each of them during the three last years of his life, even when responding to interviews not concerning literature so much as the theatrical tour he had undertaken with Ronan, and during which he was invariably asked him at the end of the discussion: “And you, Benjamin Lorca, a new book?” “No. No new book.” He made do with reading, the way a punished child with nowhere to go on a Sunday would when he knows nothing is going to happen. So what a shock it was for me to learn of this diary’s existence … Benjamin’s unique and unpublished concession to autobiography had been squirreled away in some drawer, or more likely inside a computer, for fifteen years … Of course I needed that diary. Not so much to publish it. But to read it. With the secret hope of appearing in it. I can hide nothing from you.
The Private Diary of Benjamin Lorca
* I’ll be frank: I knew Benjamin a lot better than his close relations thought I did. That, at least, was what I discovered upon meeting them. Benjamin did not tell all. Benjamin was discreet about certain episodes. And notably the one in which I took part. I met Benjamin in 1983. We were seven years apart. He had just published his second novel. As for me, I was already literary editor of Condé Publishing. When he was twenty-five, Benjamin was what you could call a … lost boy. And, may he forgive me, wherever he is, for starting my story with this sketchy portrait. With him, this was not pretence. Just reread his books. Merely a very common personality trait not without charm. I’ve since learned to be wary of lost boys (and of myself!). The ones willing to do anything to be taken care of
and receive an older person’s reassuring attention. The ones who let themselves be driven around, entertained, treated to drinks and taken home: in other words, who let themselves be loved without making a fuss. It doesn’t bother them to let you think, for an evening, that they could be a bit in love with you … But of course, there always comes a moment when they kiss you politely on the cheek and go away. I knew a lost boy named Benjamin Lorca. I won’t let myself be caught again. Benjamin resembled his books. This coincidence, which may be observed in certain authors, does not necessarily make their work more interesting, but the fact is (and it interests me) that Benjamin, just like each of his texts, was a curious mixture of timid reserve and momentary shamelessness. Looking at what happens to the teenagers who appear in his novels, we have no trouble imagining the teenager he was and of whom he spoke to me at length: introverted, shut away in his house in Caen, happy to have a room of his own in which to dream when life forces you to tread water, and while waiting to conquer Paris, inventing escape through reading. Solitary, wary as soon as a group began to form with its suspicious number of people, keen on one-onones, even back then, having a guest over—every Wednesday afternoon, one friend, never more, unabashedly domineering, sucking the life blood out of … It was like that for seventeen years. And finally, on the station platform as soon as he got the chance. Prepared to throw out the baby with the bathwater in order to reinvent himself in Paris (he soon would no longer remember any of his Caen friends). Intensely present, then surely but gracelessly gone. People imagine that tragedy controls the destiny of artists. But some artists, on the contrary, are created out of emptiness and ennui, out of the unbearable nothingness that man drives away as best he can by making up stories. Benjamin was a writer born one Sunday in the provinces; his work arose from a lack of anything better to do, from a stubborn desire for something to finally happen. He still wore that teenager’s look on his face when we met. He retained the features of the young runaway, kept a very precise memory of him, with which he imbued his fiction. He was impatiently waiting, he said, to be free of him. At the least, he hoped one day to become more used to the incessant cycle of metamorphoses that make up existence, of which adolescence is only the first painful chapter. As I said, Benjamin was sufficiently lost at the time I knew him to never balk at an admirer who proposed taking him under his or her wing. Of course, he was careful not to mention he would only take shelter there for the time it took to recover his serenity and would disappear with the last metro. Deal with it. And go home alone. And remember it many times with relative incomprehension. All that to have to hear:
“It was a misunderstanding, Édouard.” I had exactly that pitiful experience the year Do It In Memory of Me was published. The book went relatively unnoticed, so I imagine that Benjamin was grateful I was interested in it. Leaving the Paris Book Fair where we’d hit it off, I suggested I drop him off in a taxi. We saw each other again regularly. I took him to rather upscale restaurants. Benjamin didn’t eat much. He drank only white wine. I did not tire of contemplating his slightly cracked tooth that gave him that irresistible smile. He was playing me, but I enjoyed it. He insisted on paying his share. I preferred to treat him. Leaving the restaurant, we walked around Paris. I held his shoulder. He poured his heart out sadly, directing cleverly ambiguous looks at me. I made an inventory for myself of these many signals that in reality were but the construction of my deceptive desire. Benjamin always ended up talking to me about Ninon. I couldn’t stand him talking to me about her. I only half listened. I steered the conversation onto subjects that better suited the mirage I was constructing. But Benjamin dwelled at length on their breaking up, their reconciliation, the procrastination I hoped would end in a formal demand to make up his mind, pure and simple, giving me a place next to him. In utter confusion, I wanted him. But he left as he had come, leaving me with the beginning of a crush that ended up intensifying more than I’d have wished, leaving me in the end without any hope but also without seeking to fill in the hole into which he had seen me sink. “Call me to say you got home safely.” “I promise.” Benjamin, at all of twenty-five years, preferred my affection to nothing, and couldn’t care less that I was hurt. We had not signed the same contract, he and I. And while he found it very pleasant to be courted, (alas there is no other term), he did not desire me. I did him. Whatever. It was he who had the last word.
The Private Diary of Benjamin Lorca
I had trouble forgetting Benjamin. I mean: giving him up. Giving up what had never taken place between us and would never happen either. Especially when our outings in Paris became less frequent. Had the boy found another prey? Guessing the pitiful disaster to come, I, unknowingly began to accelerate it by writing him notes (which he was careful not to answer). Most often they were brief quotations, which all said the same thing. Yourcenar: “Where shall I run to? You fill the world. I can only escape you in you.” Éric Jourdan: “Why have you tied me up? I can no longer leave you. If you opened my eyes, you’d see yourself.” In the end, Benjamin opened my eyes, but I can’t say what he saw. Or, perhaps, I know only too well. The fact remains we stopped seeing each other alone. I quickly understood the change in direction in our relationship and tried to reconcile myself to it, more or less successfully.
In the day-to-day, I managed quite well without him. Nevertheless, IÂ expected him to send me his latest book. But nothing. Furious, I forbade myself to go buy it. But I ended up giving in. Of course, we were bound to run into one another eventually, given the microcosm that is the publishing world. We spoke politely to one another. I sometimes allowed myself some unsettling allusions. But overall one might think our relationship had become clearer. For me, that was not the case. All I had to do was cross paths with him and I would be tied up in knots for a few days. Clinging to the impossible, I lived out a passion that could not have come to term, its release, which took forever to die. It was not the promise of a beautiful friendship or a future collaboration that kept me, but dreams of the intense emotion our evenings had allowed me to anticipate. Once the ship had docked, the trip itself didnâ€™t matter much. That trip, at least. Benjamin died one evening in May 1992. From that point on, it was a completely different trip that I needed to invent.
Publisher: Éditions de Minuit Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Catherine Vercruyce firstname.lastname@example.org
© Hélène Bamberger/Éditions de Minuit
Translation: Charlotte Mandell email@example.com
Éric Chevillard was born in La Roche-sur-Yon (Vendée) in 1964. Publications Most recent novels, from Éditions de Minuit: Sans l’orang-outan, 2007; Démolir Nisard, 2006; Oreille rouge, 2005 (paperback ed., “Double” collection, 2007); Le Vaillant Petit Tailleur, 2003; Du hérisson, 2002; Les Absences du capitaine Cook, 2001.
Fallen Island is a reef of rough, hostile, inclement land, and we, its unfortunate inhabitants, loathe, despise, curse it with all our might. We all have only one dream: to leave. Pitilessly, we are stuck here in its sand and mud. They say, though, that one ancestor, Ilinuk, born with a remarkable deformity, managed to tear himself away from here and reach the sky. Now one of his former
companions, old as storm and ash, lulls our sufferings to sleep and soothes our complaints with his stories of Ilinuk’s miraculous life. Ilinuk promised to come back and get us. Ever since then we have lived with that single hope. And we watch out for his return, pausing in our scrutiny of the sky only to loathe, despise and curse the soil of Fallen.
The sole ambition of Fallen’s inhabitants, our only project, is to get away from Fallen. This is stated here in coldly measured terms for the record. Normally we shout it out at the top of our voices. Get out of fallen! Oh, me! leave Fallen, leave this vile filth of my decrepitude, my incontinence! Get out of fallen—take the leap, Exeamus! tear myself away from its guano, its mud, enlarge the eight orifices of my body so the sand of Fallen can stream out of them all! and fall back down behind me! leave the tumulus and prisons of Fallen behind! oh! to gush out of the molehills of Fallen! goose gosling fledgling chick fly me away! all my feathers for the arrow! go on—out! Drive me out of the territory, condemn me to exile far from Fallen, take radical expulsion measures against me, use bodily restraint, arms twisted behind my back, without escort or delay march me to the border! See, I bite myself and flagellate myself, slap myself, scratch myself, beat myself, bang my head against the walls as much as I like, deprive myself of water, food, and still cannot extradite or banish or get myself out? and be forbidden from staying in Fallen?
Burst out? Let a ladder at least carry me away! up! up! up! come on, ladder! It’s easy for you! hoist me out of Fallen! Climb! jump! beat your wings a little! aren’t you going to take off? With your rungs beneath me, I’ll never come back here, you can burn them: a little wood for your stove, for your engine! wait!—we almost made it! why do you always stop just when we get going?
Blood of wrath! He will return! Thin as a stick, stiff and wizened, it’s now old Yoakam who speaks. At the top of this pole, the wind ruffles a flag frayed with stubble and blackish-white hair. Yoakam has survived all the ages of life, he has left them behind but has forgotten nothing. We gather round to listen to his tale. When Ilinuk was born, there was a storm over Fallen. Lightning ripped the heavy black sky that twenty years later would open for the Polydactyl like a field of wheat, like a robe. The rain fell that night, the rain we have waited for ever since. Zula brought the child into the world in the early dawn hours and at once the storm died down. Ilinuk’s first cry made the sun rise high in the sky and suddenly it was noon. People saw passing over Fallen a triangular flight of white birds whose seasonal migration took this route for the first time and just as suddenly abandoned it twenty years later, after Ilinuk’s miraculous flight. A coughing fit carries away the words that follow. The old man asks for a glass of water. A glass of water, on Fallen! Where can this remedy be found? Full-scale expeditions conducted with the purpose of learning Fallen’s geography have scarcely clarified our situation. Reports remain vague, incomplete, imprecise, and any specifics you find contradict what people thought they at least knew with certainty: it isn’t a mountain at all, but a swamp, one more swamp. That’s the way it is. But nothing is ever decided on definitively here. To this day we agree on so few things here. From all the reports however, we get the impression of wandering in circles on one hand, the irregular slope of the escarpment on the other, and then once again the impression of wandering in circles—observations that anyone can make just as easily by crawling a few yards in any direction. We suppose, though, that Fallen is an island, a ring of reefs buried beneath the sand and enclosing an inland sea. The controversy begins when it’s a question of determining what the inland sea is, and then what the other outer sea is that
surrounds us. Two bodies of water that in any case are unnavigable, bristling with reefs breaking the surface, trapped in ice a good part of the year. Fragile floes that can’t bear the weight of a child; only polar bears and walruses can move there without danger. Rare are these, and close-cropped, the vegetation. You might make a little grove by gathering all the trees together and tying them in a bundle. That’s all we know about Fallen as to its physical geography, all we can assert before being contradicted. Leave? But that’s all we ever do, we take to the sea, we brave bad weather, endure a thousand storms; finally, worn out, beaten, half devoured by eels and crabs, finally we touch land, land! land! and it’s just the other shore of Fallen. Motionless whirlpool, crumbling shoreline, where my boat ran aground my house is tottering. And how can we ever cross the barrier of coral that surrounds the island like a wall? The sharks can’t manage it either. They linger with us, prisoners of the lagoon. Fallen, then, possibly an island, unless this rocky ring is the above-water rim of a crater itself full of sulfurous water whose fumes burn our skin. Around us is the hostility of a stormy sea without majesty; last of all us, on this crest, clinging to the rock, endlessly debating the precariousness of our condition amidst the bleating of our goats (who raise the tone of the debate a little) and where we keep watch for Ilinuk’s return with renewed hope every time a cloud strays away from a cloud; then the atrocious, familiar sensation of our abandonment, is revived as soon as the covering of soot returns, sometimes set ablaze by a lightning bolt, which will be the sun of this day, by the light of which we become acquainted with those close to us, too close, leech or louse, mother, sister, husband, son, of whom we knew nothing except their short breath, their hoarse panting, the bad breath from an upset stomach,—their faces scarcely surprise us, haggard, black with congestion, lips without pulp, fixed gaze beaten with fever. Often a mossy beard, more like lichen or fungus, eats away at their cheeks and chin. We do not sympathize. They repel us: we have seen ourselves in their eyes. Ilinuk, Ilinuk, we implore you, come back! Come back and take us! Absorb us, miraculous Sponge, lift us up, all-powerful Suction Cup, O Polydactyl, inhale us into your Nostril! Wedge us under your Armpit! Or behind your Ear—and let’s get away from here! When despair isn’t wearing us down, euphoria lifts us up; then, either we sink into a forty-foot pit or we are hurled against a cliff. All this so that we can bounce back better. Our affairs prosper in consequence. We produce a lot, a huge amount of bile. No need to milk it out of us, we vomit it copiously into
large buckets that are emptied at day’s end into the tanks and cisterns scattered throughout Fallen. The inhabitants marinate their meat and fish in these. The hospital laundry, harder to clean, is washed in these also, and mothers, scrubbing their babies, go at it with a vigor as if they were drowning them in the bath. Strong from this education, we do not linger by the nauseating shores of candor in Fallen; we quickly enter old age with the mad ardor and enthusiasm of youth, hoping that everything will go faster then. Then we take care to avoid any diversion that would slow us down. Our despised, detested artists hide themselves, they do their sinister work lurking at the bottom of wells, we want none of them on the surface. You have to follow long dusty vaulted tunnels, which seem to be excavated by their stooped shoulders and shameful backs, to discover their paintings and engravings executed on the walls in cold darkness. No one has any desire to wander there but sometimes we fall upon them, literally, thanks to a tumble into a gravel pit or when we’re looking for shelter from the hail and the bugs. Oh but give us hail and bugs any day over that! A hundred times more hail and a hundred times more bugs! Monsters, born from their sick dreams and their feebly combinatory imagination, grimace on the stone cornices, often mere outlines traced with the tip of a finger in the clay, or polychrome faces that our torches awaken and excite—it’s evil. Deplorable. Better to have ceaseless hail showering down on our heads, or bugs in our hair, our ears, our nostrils and under our tongues than see these grotesque apparitions. We hurry back out into the open air, into the suddenly refreshing miasma of Fallen.
Shutting ourselves up in our shacks, we draw thick curtains over our windows, and this gesture seems miraculous, worthy of an omnipotent god: with one motion we disappear and we make Fallen disappear. Twofold relief! What sudden lightness of being! From either side of these curtains, nothing is visible anymore. We do not like the daylight that so crudely illumines all the horrors of Fallen, but we do not like the night either, which treacherously conceals them. At twilight? We guess their presence, and that’s worse. We have three hundred and twelve words for ‘grey,’ which obviously would be quite insufficient if their meanings didn’t vary according to our intonation and if our modulations of this word of complaint didn’t add all the nuances necessary for the correct, complete evocation of Fallen, where the bug buzzes in vain and its bite will never be as irritating as the frivolous many-colored butterfly that dances solely before our frowning eyebrows; we stone the butterfly, just as we shove the singer, stripped bare, into the nettles: that’s our music. Some of our young people prefer more frenzied rhythms, though, with the volume up as high as it can go; for that, we have the cactus or the gorse. There is no better
use to be made of the landscape of Fallen. As for the water of our springs, that soup of tadpoles, crane flies and slime, we need to drink something with it to make it go down. It will be one more cup of bitterness. In vain we dig down in the ground, we manage to extract nothing but mountains, and then by the grace of our will, our exhausting work, new obstacles arise, additional pitfalls, always more difficulties, whatever we undertake. And when we reach the top of these mountains, from their summit, we see only a little better than down below since we are so far from the sky. So we give our bodies over to the precise mechanisms of Perlaps, the engineer. His gears donâ€™t lead to anything, but they go there resolutely, in brief, decisive spurts, with sudden accelerations and frequent changes of course that give all the appearance of necessity and distract us from the random trajectories of our wanderings over the island, which are often fatal, occasioning collisions and inopportune interlockings at the source of our begetting. Families are formed from members thus linked by the misadventure of chance who, every morning identify each other with difficulty by a process of elimination, by crosschecking. Roles and functions revolve, are exchanged without our knowing it. The son is sometimes the father. It is our neighbors who constitute us as a family, their hostile or scornful proximity condemns us to remain grouped together. We are also, in turn, the guards of their cell. Thatâ€™s already more associating than we like. From these frictions, sometimes, a little one is born. Disastrous eggs, dust of our dust! Thin as the daylight under the door and his voice too reaches us from the other side, old Yoakam speaks. We listen. When old Yoakam speaks, we listen.
Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Patricia Roussel firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Hester Velmans email@example.com
© Tanya Constantine/Calmann-Lévy
Tom, Little Tom, Little, Little Man, Tom
Barbara Constantine is a script supervisor and novelist. She lives in the suburbs of Paris and frequently travels with her cat to the Berry region in central France to tend to her vegetable garden. Publications From Calmann-Lévy: À Mélie, sans mélo, 2008 (paperback ed., Le Livre de Poche, 2010); Allumer le chat, 2007 (paperback ed., Points, 2008).
Tom, eleven, lives with his mother, Joss, twenty-five, in a trailer. Joss is an impulsive young woman who has no qualms about leaving her son home alone while she goes off on a road trip with friends for a few days. She knows that Tom’s a smart, resourceful boy, but he doesn’t much like staying alone at night in the trailer. In order to augment their meager diet, he sneaks out to take fruit and vegetables from a neighbor’s garden, just what they need, no more. That way it isn’t really stealing. And that is how he makes the acquaintance of a very old lady, Madeleine, whom he will secretly look after without letting his mother know, and who
becomes an important part of his life. At about the same time a good-looking man turns up in the neighborhood, dressed in funeral clothes, a bit of a freak but basically a good-hearted sort. He and Joss have been long separated, and he’s been in prison, but now wants to get back together. As in Barbara Constantine’s previous novels, there are generous helpings of humor, gravity and humanity in this book, which depicts characters rarely found in contemporary fiction —characters who, though battered by life, are endearingly appealing.
8 The black box Tom got up early. He’s done all of his weekend homework in order to get it out of the way. He knows that Joss is going to be pissed off when she wakes up. Because she wants them to do their homework together. But that’s just too bad. He’s got too much to do. He has put his stuff away, had breakfast, and even prepared Joss’s morning coffee before leaving. By way of placating her. And then he hopped on his bike and got out of there. He does feel a bit guilty, though. He’s all too well aware that Joss finds it terribly difficult to do her homework by herself. That she has a hard time concentrating. She says it’s on account of her age. But the truth is that she has too much catching up to do. And that she gets discouraged. Not hard to see why. She thinks it’s easier with him around. She says he’s good at explaining stuff. But mostly it’s that with him she’s less ashamed to ask questions if she doesn’t understand something. Even stupid questions. She knows he’s not going to laugh at her. He couldn’t, anyway, even if he wanted to. She’d smack him good. She can be mean sometimes. Especially when she’s annoyed with him. Because he’s just a little eleven-year old snot. And he’s teaching her. Either way …
Lately they’ve been working on spelling. It’s giving her a lot of trouble. She gets every word wrong, practically. But the hardest thing for her to get is the agreement of the past participle. She hates it. So much so that she’ll want to yell and scream. And say horrible nasty things. Although she doesn’t necessarily mean it. But she probably does, a little … It makes him sad. Especially when she tells him it’s all his fault. That if she stopped going to school at age thirteen, it was on account of him. That she would have loved to keep studying, but that she wasn’t able to, because of that. And then, when she sees he’s about to burst into tears, she’ll soften a little, take it back. Admit that wasn’t the only reason. That she never went to school that often, even before. And that she was never very bright anyhow. Don’t cry, my little Tom, c’mon. You know me. I like to exaggerate … And then, too, she could have gone on with her studies, of course, even while pregnant. But her teachers hadn’t been very good at making her want to. On the contrary, they’d done nothing but hassle her. Hadn’t even tried to find out why or how it had happened to her. She’d been five months pregnant before she’d finally realized why her stomach had grown so big. She’d felt that there was something growing in there for quite a while. Wriggling around all over the place. Like a fish inside her. It scared her. Made her think of Alien. The monster growing inside that girl’s body … She’d wound up mentioning it to the nurse at the juvenile home, who sent her to see a doctor. Who discovered what was wrong with her. It was him, Tom, getting ready to poke his little nose out three months later. A preemie. It had just happened to her—Bam!—the very first time. There hadn’t been a next time with that dude. She didn’t even like him. He’d only been after her because of her big boobs, anyhow. The only one in their gang who had such big ones. She was well aware of the effect they had on boys. With that one, his eyes were popping right out of his head. It was a hoot. And then he’d invited her to the movies and treated her to a bag of popcorn. It was the first time anyone ever bought her anything. The film was pretty cool, the popcorn too. By way of thanks, she let him do whatever he wanted. He made a complete hash of it too. She couldn’t walk for three days. It had turned her off doing it for a long time. If that was love, she’d rather do without, she told herself. But the guy, for his part, wouldn’t leave her alone. Followed her around everywhere. Like a dog. Boohooing all the time. Wrote poems to her. There was one she did think was pretty, though … But whatever. It wasn’t enough. After a while, he ended up getting it. He went sniffing around elsewhere. Went after her girlfriend, Élodie. Who wasn’t bothered by the creep checking out her tits. On the contrary. She liked it. Hers were kind of small. Joss had lost a friend but managed to get rid of the lovesick pest.
Tom, Little Tom, Little, Little Man, Tom
Now she’s twenty-five. And she wants to get her high school diploma.
She can barely write, but she wants to learn. She wants to learn everything. And improve her mind as well. She’s wanted this for a long time. To make herself more interesting. Because she doesn’t have any illusions. She’s got a pretty face, but … nothing special, really. The only thing that’s special about her is the size of her breasts. That’s what people first notice about her. Which means that people always have their eyes lowered when they’re talking to her. Fixed on her tits. And she’s sick of it. She has decided to have an operation. To go from a size 36DD down to a 34A. So that people will look her in the eye when they talk to her. And so that if they find her interesting, it’ll be for something other than her bra size. She’s been putting money aside for years. In a little black box she keeps hidden under the trailer’s chassis. Tom knows her hiding place. But neither of them ever touches what’s in there. Never. It’s sacred. Even when they’re broke. Which is often, because she doesn’t have a steady job. Because the clients she’s sent to work for complain about her. In her line of work it’s a big problem—but she just hates cleaning. She especially hates doing dishes. As far as the rest, she’s very reliable. She is honest and a hard worker. She likes looking after sick people, old people too. It makes her feel useful. Even if sometimes she’ll tell him awful stories that she thinks are funny. Stories that oughtn’t be told. Stuff that’s too private. But dishwashing … it’s a real problem. It may stem from when she was little and was always forced to do the dishes; if she refused she wouldn’t get a thing to eat. That’s probably where it comes from; poor Mom. Tom has just arrived at the vegetable plot belonging to the neighbors. Who address each other formally and speak politely even when they’re really upset. He leaves his bike in the bushes, sneaks up to the hedge, listens. Not a soul. They’re never around at this time of day on a Saturday. They’re running errands or visiting friends. Great. Tom does a little poking around. He’s finished filling up his backpack and leaves it near the gap in the hedge. Three carrots, three leeks, three onions and nine potatoes. He’s anxious. He doesn’t usually take this much. He goes back to cover up his tracks. Carefully waters the potato plant he yanked out of the soil and replanted, telling himself that maybe it will take root again … You never know. There’s plenty of time left before the owners come back. He pushes open the door and steps into the cellar, the first time he’s ever done so. Being real careful not to leave any sign he’s been there. He stops in front of the tall shelves piled
with tools, crafts supplies, all kinds of boxes. Everything is sorted, arranged, labeled. On a table there’s a stack of wicker trays storing apples from last fall. He slips three of them into his pockets, and bites into a fourth. He starts to relax. To feel at home. Now he steps into the greenhouse. It’s hot in there. The humid soil smells good. Seedlings of flowers and vegetables everywhere. Each with a color photo of what they’ll grow into later. And loads of tomato plants. Red ones, orange ones, yellow ones, green and even black ones. Pear-shaped, heart-shaped, pepper-shaped … Never seen anything like it. It’s time to go. He retrieves his bag and dives under the hedge. Scrambling out on the other side, he freezes. There, in front of him, is the cat. Looking just as mean as the last time. Tom, just as alarmed as he was the last time, looks down. He once heard somewhere that you should never look a cat straight in the eye. Makes them think you’re challenging them, and it provokes them, brings out their aggression. Keeping his backpack on his back, he takes the three apples out of his pockets. He shrugs his shoulders, as if to say: Sorry, just three is all—do you mind? Then the cat gets up, and slowly starts moving towards him. On three legs, of course. With that peculiar gait that makes it so creepy. The cat slinks nearer without taking its eyes off Tom, and then … scoots under the hedge in one bound and vanishes. Tom gives a sigh of relief. That was close—again.
Tom, Little Tom, Little, Little Man, Tom
36 It’s Bach He gives a deep sigh, sinks deeper into his big leather chair. In front of him, on the computer screen, the photos he’s just finished taking scroll by. Head on, in profile, left side, right side, close up, full length, etc … He’s perplexed. “Such a shame, they’re perfect …” “You mean … you won’t do it?’ “No, of course I don’t mean that. But please try to see it from my perspective. It’s rather distressing. My work is usually more about … enlarging, lifting, enhancing. Do you understand?” “No, not really.” His eyebrows shoot up nervously. A tick he has. Generally occasioned by severe disapproval. “Well, neither do I, I don’t really understand. You possess what most men desire and fantasize about—myself included, I’m not going to lie—and you want to get rid of them. It’s disconcerting, that’s all.”
“So—what’s next?” “Go see my secretary, and let her help you pick out a date that’s convenient for you. I don’t know what else to say.” Joss gets up, picks up her purse, puts out a hand to say goodbye. He can’t help adding, “Just think it over, won’t you?” “I’ve thought it over.” She opens the door of the office, turns and gives him a sweet smile. “I’m sure you can do it. Don’t worry.” He’s chagrined. His tick starts up again. The secretary sets her up with a date for the surgery. But first she had to make her an appointment with the anesthesiologist. Since he happened to be at the clinic, the anesthesiologist suggested he see her right then and there. She said OK, because it was just as convenient, she wouldn’t have to come back. They went to his office. He put on some music … It’s Bach, do you like it? … Yes, she said, though she’s never heard of it before. She doesn’t want to look ignorant. He’s asked her a ton of questions about her health. And then he too wanted to know her reasons for wanting this operation. You don’t have to answer, of course. But I do like to forge a relationship with my patients, you see … His voice is soft. His gaze soothing. The music very beautiful. She’s let herself relax. She doesn’t have that horrible feeling of being constantly judged. And she’s started telling him the whole story. About when she was ten. And saw them starting to grow and grow … Over a very short period of time. And soon after, she began to see blood. And was horrified. She told her mother, but her mother had started to laugh. She drank a lot and her teeth were all rotten. It made her look mean. A bit like a witch, if you see what I mean … And then, with her stepfather, things changed. He’d started giving her these funny looks. Wanting to touch her. Sending her down to the basement and then catching her on the stairs. Rubbing up against her. Never inside her but everything else, anyway … No need to spell it all out. At eleven she ran away. But the cops caught her. And brought her back home, no questions asked. Not long after, her mother died of cirrhosis of the liver. No surprise. And she was placed in a foster family. It was fine in the beginning, the lady was nice. But the husband, well, same story as with the stepfather. He only had eyes for her tits … She burst out laughing … Eyes for tits … Silly but it makes me laugh every time, please excuse me … Anyway, she was sent back to the juvenile home. And at age thirteen, she ran away. Then she met a boy a few years older than her. She thought he was nice. And, most important, he had a car. She told herself he could take her away from there. Thousands of miles away. But no. He’d fallen for the same thing as the others, that was all. She’d only realized it when it was too late. It was her first time going all the way. And she wound up pregnant. Bam! On the very first try. After that, it was always more or less the same thing. It’s not even worth talking
about … So there. But maybe, after the surgery, the day someone falls in love with her, it’ll be just for who she is, won’t it?… Anyway, it’s worth a try. She ran a hand across her face and her hair, as if to chase away memories or visions that had got stuck there. Then she added, “It’s lovely, this back music. I really like it.” He gave her the CD as a gift and walked her to the door. He shook her hand and looked her straight in the eye. “Until we meet again, Mademoiselle.”
Tom, Little Tom, Little, Little Man, Tom
The Black Sea
Publisher: Sabine Wespieser Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Joschi Guitton firstname.lastname@example.org
© Dorothée Lindon/Sabine Wespieser
Translation: Jody Gladding email@example.com
Kéthévane Davrichewy was born in Paris in 1965 to a Georgian family. Her childhood was marked by the memories and experiences of her grandparents’ exile. After studying modern literature, film, and theater, she worked for various magazines and began to collect Georgian stories for L’École des Loisirs, which has since published a number of her works for young audiences. She also writes film scripts. Publications Tout ira bien, Arléa, 2004.
On her ninetieth birthday, Tamouna’s first thought is for Tamaz, the love of her youth, whom she met in Batumi the summer when she was fifteen, and for whom she has never stopped longing and who would be the fortyfirst guest at the upcoming family reunion. Half-asleep, Tamouna remembers their timid, bedazzled romance, soon to be interrupted by a hurried departure for France that autumn of 1921 when the new government was forced into exile. She would never return to Georgia. When Tamaz finally reappears, it is too late to renew their hopes and aspirations. Tamouna’s life now is filled with her children, her grandchildren, and her whole extended family forming a joyous community around her.
The old country, the painful past, memories woven of the grief and heartbreaks of history are evoked with great grace and a remarkable economy of means. No pathos for relating the ups and downs of these incredibly exuberant people. The long birthday is like a metaphor for Tamouna’s life. Surrounded by her family, she opens the floodgates of memory, and gradually, thanks to a skillfully woven narrative, the image of the matriarch that she has become is superimposed upon that of the young exiled girl. The belated arrival of Tamaz, her enduring love, is all it takes to start trouble.
What did he say to you? Théa asks me the next day. I try to describe the situation to her again as clearly as possible. We are home alone. Our cousins have gone to church with their parents, with Babou, Bébia, and Déda. Our mother never makes us go to church. I suspect our father doesn’t really want to go either. I can’t resist the urge to talk about Tamaz. It makes him real and I need that reality. Théa resents it that I’ve waited so long to talk about him. She makes me repeat his name over and over, what we said, what we did. She refuses to believe that he did not kiss me, she asks me if I wanted him to. I’m tired of her questions. Suddenly I’m sorry I’ve confided in her. I tell her that and I say too that her reaction cheapens my feelings. This time, she falls silent, she’s hurt, but she never stays angry for long. I make her promise to keep this to herself and just that wish alone is excuse enough for her. I meet with Tamaz again as soon as I can. We don’t talk as much, we’re happy just to walk side by side. We don’t touch. Simple accidental contact prompts an emotion in me that I have a hard time controlling. He doesn’t seem to notice and I like to think that it excites him too. I’m sure he likes our walks because he doesn’t get tired of them, anymore than I do. The days pass, summer comes to an end. I go to sleep thinking of him, I dream only of seeing him again when I wake up. September arrives. On the thirteenth of the month, all Batumi is celebrating. The government is receiving delegations from the European democracies, the city is decorated with flags, garlands, flowers. Crowds fill the streets, singing and dancing. Everyone who lives there seems to be outside. This excitement
makes me euphoric, as I think it does the others, we go outdoors, loud and raucous, and follow the crowd waving signs that read: “Georgian democracy welcomes the heads of the European democracies” or “Long live the International, long live socialism.” We race off without answering when our mothers call us, we’re out of control. The foreigners arrive aboard a liner: Belgian, English, French, and German politicians. They’re welcomed with patriotic songs, toasts, and cheers. The speeches go on and on. My enthusiasm finally wanes, I inch my way through the crowd, I’ve lost the others or they’ve lost me. Far off, I make out Tamaz’s tall figure. He spots me and doesn’t seem surprised to have run into me. For a moment, I imagine that chance has nothing to do with it, that he was waiting for me, unlikely in the midst of such a crowd. He makes his way toward me and takes my hand. This time, I squeeze it and don’t let go. He pulls me back into an alley. He pins me against a wall, caresses my cheek, holds my face in his hands and draws it toward his own. His eyes don’t leave mine, he seems to be watching for my reaction; I burn beneath his gaze, raise my lips toward him. We kiss, first very gently, then very hard. Neither of us seem to want to stop, we have to catch our breath. We stare at each other in silence, he pulls me close, I put my arms around him, I raise my lips to his neck, he strokes my hair. Are you proud of your father? he asks me later. Did you hear them? They welcomed Georgia as the first democratic socialist country in the world. And what about your father, is he a socialist? I don’t think so, he’s a doctor. And as a Georgian, he wants what’s best for his country. How can you be sure what’s best? You’re right, he says, it’s impossible, but some people have unshakeable faith and their convictions carry them forward. We kiss again. Between two kisses, I whisper: We’re going back to Tbilisi tomorrow. I know, he says. I resent him being so calm. I insist: We won’t be back before next summer. I know, he says again, that doesn’t scare me, we’ll see each other again. I take his answer as a promise. I would return to Batumi only once more, to board an Italian ship and flee with my family across the Black Sea. When we leave each other, the city is calmer and I realize that he has walked me back to the house. I don’t want to go in. I watch him walk away without being able to cry. My lips are still trembling from kissing. I hear my aunt cry out. I realize that Gougou only just got back, he is alone, no one was keeping an eye on him. I push open the front gate.
* She doesn’t open the family albums. She would rather sit there doing nothing, her thoughts keeping her sufficiently occupied. In such moments as these, she walks and runs as in the past. She can go anywhere at all, her memory has no bounds. She savors the endlessness of it. At this moment she’s not thinking of anything, her eyes fixed on the window, the balcony railing. A bee lands on a flower. It’s April and soon it will be summer. The scent of Paris, the atmosphere of the street will change, voices will ring out along the sidewalks, the days grow long. They’ll leave for vacation, she’ll be alone in the city under Mohamed’s care. Because of her immobility, she has become receptive to the slightest trembling of a leaf, to the humming of an insect. She notices things she would never have noticed before. A different accent, an intonation in the voice. She can detect a hint of suffering or burst of gaiety. Children are shouting in the schoolyard, it’s recess time, the light’s just beginning to fill the square. Her days ought to all seem the same, punctuated by the same sounds, the routine of external life. But that’s not the case. Visits bring with them an air of the unexpected. She eagerly looks forward to them. In the summer there are postcards. Some people choose them carefully and theirs have strong evocative powers. More than photographs. The surface of the water, looking out over the sea, the wheatfield behind the house, those places now off limits to her.
The Black Sea
A few years ago, Rézico drove her to see the sea again and she had a feeling it would be the last time. She was beginning to have trouble breathing. She had just stopped smoking and could only think of her Gauloises. She walked along the beach thinking that it would be an ideal moment for a cigarette. She hardly took advantage of the moment. She held Rézico’s arm, placed her feet hesitantly, they sank into the sand. The bathers watched them go by. She envied them. She put her feet in the water. A wave broke in front of her, splashing her clothes. The whole time she was dreaming obsessively of a Gauloise— which had turned her into the woman she was, in clothes amidst of all these undressed people. Today, she can endlessly retrace the path of the car on the beach. Breathe in the fragrance of the sand, salt, and seaweed. She sees the sun setting over the field. She pushes open the door of the house in Batumi. She walks the streets of Tbilisi toward Mtasminda. Once more to follow the same route, take the same streets, same time of day. Nothing is impossible for her. She often thinks of the way Tsiala talks to her about photography: the pleasure of holding a lens; of being able to transform things as she likes. The phone starts to ring. Just then a key turns in the lock. Nestane has a particular way of entering and closing the door behind her. Her energy immediately fills the apartment.
Here I am, she cries, I’m coming. She hears her heading for the kitchen, putting down the groceries. She picks up the telephone. Eka wishes her happy birthday and isn’t sure she can come this evening. Does she know if Daredjane’s planning to come? Eka isn’t sure but she thinks so. Daredjane and her fashion plate looks, Daredjane and her legendary elegance, said Tamaz. Furiously she begins to chew her fingernails but remembers—in time—the nail polish. She takes off the oxygen mask, turns off the machine, frees herself. In the kitchen Nestane is busy emptying the shopping cart. She smiles at her. They don’t embrace. Their daily encounters make it unnecessary. She’s grateful for that. No emotional displays. We’re making the lobios? says Nestane. I’ll put the green beans on to cook. Bring what we need into the living room if you want, and I’ll get started. I can do it alone, you know. No, no, I like doing it together, says Nestane. She goes to sit down again, with the kitchen cupboard doors opening and closing. Do you want me to help you, Madame Nestane? asks Mohamed. No thanks, Mohamed, how are you? Is your foot better? She can’t hear them anymore. Nestane brings the ingredients for preparing the dish: walnuts, onions, kilzi, spices, outskhosounéli. The kinzi overwhelms the others. It’s the smell of the Tbilisi kitchen and permeated Bébia’s dresses. She shells the nuts, begins to crush them. You don’t want me to give you a little oxygen? asks Nestane. You seem out of breath. If you want. She keeps her hands in the salad bowl while Nestane helps put the mask back over her nose. Impossible to ask her for some cotton to avoid the marks. She cooks to the rhythm of the oxygen machine’s hum. You watched Salomé’s reportage? asks Nestane. Of course. Salomé, Nestane’s oldest daughter, is a television reporter and she recently filmed some illegal immigrants holding a hunger strike. It was good, wasn’t it? says Nestane. Yes, she knows how to ask the right questions. How are things going to work, now that she’s pregnant? What do you mean? Her job isn’t in danger, answers Nestane. She’ll take a maternity leave, that’s all,. But afterwards? She’ll have to take care of the baby, won’t she? Yes, and she’ll work, too, like lots of young women do these days. Well, that’s good, but I don’t really understand it. A child always does better with its family. It will be with its family, says Nestane. So there’ll be forty this evening after all. Well, forty-one. I have an old friend who is coming, you know, Tamaz.
Tamaz! answers Nestane. You—? She interrupts to suggest that forty might be too many for this little apartment. Since when do you care about the number of guests? asks Nestane. Always lots of guests, it’s true. Their parties are known for that. Many and happy guests, a family tradition. Almost an obligation. Eka phoned, she may not be coming. Are you sure that Daredjane is coming? she asks.
The Black Sea
Yes, don’t worry, someone will stop by to pick her up. Tamaz might have chosen another time for his visit. A day when she was alone. He often avoided meeting one-on-one. Shit, says Nestane, I’m afraid this isn’t spicy enough, I always ruin the lobios. But you’re the one who makes the best khatchapouri.
Stéphanie Des Horts
Publisher: Éditions jc Lattès Date of Publication: February 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Eva Bredin firstname.lastname@example.org
© DR/Éditions jc Lattès
Translation: Linda Coverdale email@example.com
Stéphanie Des Horts is a literary critic for Valeurs actuelles and a regular contributor to Service littéraire, Le Magazine des livres, and La Revue littéraire, with a special interest in English literature. The Panther is her second novel. Publications La Scandaleuse Histoire de Penny Parker-Jones, Ramsay, 2008.
Here, told for the first time, is the remarkable story of Jeanne Toussaint. Born at the dawn of the twentieth century, she grew up in Brussels, where her mother made lovely bobbin lace that her father sold in local marketplaces. When her father became ill, however, the family fell apart, and sixteen-year-old Jeanne ran away. Promising marriage and a life of ease, a French deserter captured her heart and carried her off to Paris, only to become engaged to another woman. Jeanne Toussaint then met the man who would be the great love of her life: Louis Cartier, the “Jeweler to Kings.” He taught her how to work with precious stones and mysterious alloys, and together they created fabulous masterpieces of jewelry. Although
he left her in the end, Louis appointed Jeanne Toussaint Director of Luxury Jewelry and gradually allowed her to take full charge of his company. She threw herself heart and soul into the business, bringing to its creative designs her genius and flair for modernity, as well as a spirit of resistance that might well have proved fatal during the grim years of the German Occupation—if a certain Coco Chanel had not saved her from the clutches of the Nazis. The Panther is a fascinating recreation of the legendary Paris of Proust, Cocteau, Dior, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds—and a magnificent portrait of a woman who made her way through her century with her head held high, leaving in her wake the sparkling elegance of diamonds.
I The Majestic March or die, that was my motto … Paris, 1941. Who am I? A bird in a cage, glittering and most certainly precious: that’s what they claimed, those men whom I loved and who did not marry me. Where are they now when I need them so? Let them come tear me from the grip of the Gestapo and not leave me face to face with myself, alone in this windowless room with memories of less merciful times. Who will come get me, who will dare defend my name, restore my lost honor, who? Louis, Pierre, where are you? Don’t abandon me! I’m not as strong as I try to appear. Please … What’s left of my pride? Five strands of precious pearls with a silvery luster. The tears of the Gods … And that brooch they stole from me. Lapis lazuli, coral, sapphire, rose-cut diamonds in a platinum setting, a bird in a cage … Oh, I made fools of them, all right. Filthy Krauts! Early this morning, they pull up in front of the store. We have just opened the doors, but the atelier has already been busy for two good hours. Accessories, charms for watches and bracelets, drop earrings and other trinkets make up the chief part of our production. These days, the bestiary is in fashion: birds
of paradise, roosters, ladybugs—customers go wild for them, for the touch of frivolity they offer in these dark times. There is less and less call for pieces made to order, so we’re turning out our usual inventory. The Germans have taste, I’ll say that for them, and money, too, which I mean to make them spend! Sipping my third ersatz coffee, a vile concoction, I wonder if I ought perhaps to have stayed down in Ciboure, near Saint-Jean-de-Luz. “There’s no point in having a tantrum, Jeanne,” Louis told me before he finally left the country for New York. “We’re powerless against them, and since the current situation doesn’t exactly foster a love of finery, let’s wait, let’s stay put in unoccupied France for the time being.” Louis, so wise, so far away … The Gestapo have just tossed eleven of our personnel into prison, eleven employees, including Lucien Lachassagne, my favorite designer, and Georges Rémy, a wizard with rings. What a sad fate, to be ruled by boors! Yes, maybe I should have remained in Ciboure … Two ominous black cars screech to a halt in front of number 13. Doors slam as soldiers pile out, their boots hammering the pavement. And there he is, Werner Best—but I don’t know his name yet, although I’ll learn it soon enough. Curious passersby wait to see who’ll be carted away this time. The soldiers burst into the first showroom; I can make out hard, sharp, guttural sounds: “Schnell, vernünftig, still!” I don’t speak German. I loathe the Germans. With a brusque gesture, Best has the window display cases opened. Excellent, my fine friend: now I know why you’re here. You’ve come for me. I’m not afraid. Not yet. One of the soldiers yells, “The Toussaint woman, go get her!” Finette, a young sales clerk, is shaking all over, stammering; when they strike her, she collapses. Stinking bastards! How I hate you! “Jewish,” yells the soldier. “The Toussaint woman is Jewish!” “Mademoiselle is Belgian, she’s from Flanders,” replies Finette, gasping for air. “Where is she? Where is she?” the man barks, then slaps the poor child. “Right here, monsieur,” I reply, descending the wrought-iron staircase. “Please stop mistreating her. I am not hiding and am ready to answer your questions.” I have always paid particular attention to my entrances, and this one will go down in the firm’s history. Standing defiantly on the last step, gripping the crystal globe at the end of the balustrade with a trembling hand, I choose to confront the man who seems in charge. Werner Best, as it happens. I am la Panthère of Cartier. At almost fifty-five years old, I have nothing left to prove, and nothing left to lose, either. Certainly not my dignity. That’s right, Monsieur Best. Certainly not my dignity!
“Ah, perfect, madame, you’re being reasonable,” observes this unnerving person. “I feel that we’re going to get along just fine. Let’s take a little tour of our headquarters. The Hôtel Majestic, you know it?” “Avenue Kleber, as I recall …” “Take her away!” Not one glance at my employees; they might see the distress in my eyes. Strong, stay strong. Always. For the legend, the memorable figure I’ve forged year after year. A woman of bronze. An iron lady. The carapace commands respect; a cold demeanor is my armor. Emotion terrifies me. Hold on come what may, chin up, master my fear. Don’t give in to panic. No tears, no sobbing, go straight ahead. As always.
Stéphanie Des Horts
A crowd has gathered on the rue de la Paix. And not to catch a glimpse of Edward VII or the Maharajah of Kapurthala going shopping chez Cartier. No, someone is being arrested: I am. The soldiers shove me unceremoniously into the second car. The engine roars to life and we head up the Champs Élysées in an infernal racket. I arrive at the seat of the German military government with quite an escort. It’s a sinister place. The Third Reich has taken over the premises. Nazi flags wave above each window and swastikas cover the walls. Only a jeweler could still see the hotel as an art deco masterpiece. The clatter of boot heels, the rattle of machineguns, arms thrust forward in the Hitler salute. Heil! My heart is pounding wildly. The other prisoners have lost all composure, and that woman pleading for the release of her son gets only the butt of a gun in her face for an answer. My God, why have you forsaken us? I’ve been brought here to this gloomy cell where I languish interminably with nothing to drink, no cigarettes, only the waiting, and the uncertainty of each passing moment. In the distance, moaning; suddenly, a shattering din. The sound of footsteps approaching, then moving off, muffled noises, sharp bangs, as if the past were about to erupt into the present, and always those words out of the void: “Schnell, vernünftig, still!” No. I will not let all this affect me. Memories, what are memories … Bits of life that create a woman—or else destroy her. But it’s not that time yet; the door opens to admit a few men who know what they want. Soldiers. Officers. Torturers. Germans. Again, the underground passageways of the phantom hotel: screams, shots, then an unsettled silence disturbed by the stomping of boots on the polished parquet. I’m ushered into a paneled room with an old-fashioned air, a faint perfume of bygone days when life was good. Werner Best is there; around him hover two guards and an aide-de-camp. He waves me to a seat. His confederates address him as Obergruppenführer. I gather that he’s the chef of police. Should
I consider that an honor? He’s younger than I am. He has a craggy face, thick black eyebrows, dark eyes. I bear up under his gaze: no animosity or hatred, no arrogance, either, but the slightest touch of boredom. I know that I am not here by chance. If only the whole thing were just a bad joke … The chief of police, however, has no sense of humor. “Who are you?” “My name is Jeanne Toussaint.” “A Jewess?” “No, Belgian and Lorrainese.” “That is for us to determine. Address, phone number, date of birth, continue.” “I was born on January 13, 1887, in Charleroi, to Marie-Louise Elegeer, Flemish, and Édouard Victor Toussaint from Hauvettes, near Domrémy. I live at 1 place d’Iéna in Paris in the sixteenth arrondissement. I have dual French and Belgian citizenship. I work for the firm of Cartier at 13 rue de la Paix. I am the Director of Luxury Jewelry.” Hoarse but firm, my voice seems almost to belong to someone else. My selfconfidence has grown formidable over many years, an exacting discipline that forces me to stifle emotion at any cost. The police chief is intimidating, but any fear remains well in the background. And of course this is not my first battle. The young man at attention just behind Best is staring at me strangely. He’s pale, gripping his machinegun tightly, almost as if he’d just met death in person. Am I that disconcerting? Is my persona so imposing that a modest guard should find me that upsetting? Roles are not interchangeable in wartime. Nor are hierarchies of power. And it’s the guard who holds the gun. So why that imploring look? Just as Werner Best is about to resume his interrogation, there is a sharp rap on the door, which opens to reveal the general in charge of the occupation forces. Otto von Stülpnagel, a man not unknown to me. He is a client of Cartier’s, where André Denet, our principal salesman, takes care of him personally. We’ve sold him one of our “mystery clocks,” a rectangular model with an onyx base and a case of curved crystal glass. We keep precise notes on each of our regular customers: occupation, preferences, “lady friends,” and all those little things that can make the difference between a faceted rubellite and a pale yellow diamond. I’m familiar with the personal information cards of every important Nazi. General von Stülpnagel is in charge of the efforts to win over the French population, a priority of the German high command, but the endeavor is proving far from successful. “Forsaken citizens of France, put your trust in the German soldier!” How can you reassure a captive people when you’re simply enslaving them a little
more every day by encouraging denunciations and other villainy? Massacres, summary executions, reprisals against innocent hostages … In various wellinformed milieux, rumor has it that Otto von Stülpnagel has begun seriously to doubt the wisdom of the Führer’s policies and that were it not for concerns about the safety of his family, left behind in Berlin, he would have long ago resigned his commission. Stéphanie Des Horts
“I heard that you were extending our hospitality to Madame Toussaint. Would you have any objection to my presence, Obergruppenführer?” asks the general, taking a seat without waiting for Best’s reply. “Be my guest,” answers the other man anyway, with a faint sardonic smile.
Werner Best locks eyes with me. A shark, I see him as a shark, and I shudder in spite of the summer heat. He doesn’t know that I’m called The Panther and can strike out of nowhere with my claws. Now, at last, we’ve come to the point. The chief of police is holding one of my creations, a brooch called The Caged Bird, a silenced nightingale behind the bars of a gilded prison, a pin displayed in every one of the shop windows on the rue de la Paix: my ever so discreet participation in the Resistance. “What’s this?” asks Werner Best, tossing the brooch disdainfully onto his desk. “Lapis lazuli, coral, sapphire, rose-cut diamonds in a platinum setting, and yellow gold for the cage,” I reply, picking up the pin. I caress it with my thumb and index finger. So smooth, the coral body of the bird; such a glittering eye, the sapphire en cabochon; and that almost invisible setting … Louis would be proud of me. “A handsome piece, monsieur l’officier, I assure you, very handsome indeed. Perhaps it would have been simpler for you to stop by the store, where I would have … had it wrapped up for you.” “Don’t play games with me, madame,” snaps Best, his anger mounting. “Explain to me why this caged bird appears in all eight windows on the rue de la Paix. Surely I’m imagining things, but I see this as a deliberate insult to the occupation forces. I don’t know what you think of it, mon général; you asked to be present at this interrogation, so give us your opinion on the matter.” Plucking the brooch from my hand, Otto von Stülpnagel turns it this way and that in his fingers. Yes, the general is indeed a man who appreciates fine jewelry. He looks at me, then turns to Best.
Catching Up With Callaghan
Publisher: Librairie Arthème Fayard Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Carole Saudejaud firstname.lastname@example.org
© Christine Tamalet/Librairie Arthème Fayard
Translation: Jordan Stump email@example.com
Dominique Fabre was born in Paris in 1960. He has practiced various trades, in France and in the United States. He published his first novel, Moi aussi un jour j’irai loin, in 1995. He is the author of nine books, novels and collections of short stories, which have been translated into several languages. Publications Among his most recent works, all published by Fayard: J’attends l’extinction des feux, 2008; Les Types comme moi, 2007; La serveuse était nouvelle, 2005 (paperback ed., Pocket, 2007; translated as The Waitress Was New and published by Archipelago Books in 2008); Pour une femme de son âge, short stories, 2004 (paperback ed., Pocket, 2008); Mon quartier, 2003.
This is the story of a guy who’d like to see Jimmy Callaghan again, his old buddy from boarding school who smokes Bensons, who likes to escape through a hole in the fence and into the nearby woods, and who spends his weekends more or less on his own. His parents are divorced. His English father dies in London, and Calla has to leave school for good. After more than twenty years, the guy runs into Callaghan in the Place Daumesnil, with a big suitcase. Jimmy’s just back from Australia, tanned and homeless. What a guy! They swap memories, sort of become friends again, see some other types from the old boarding school.
Jimmy heads off to England, but leaves his suitcase behind with the guy. He’ll come back for it soon … Soon almost ten more years have gone by. The guy goes to see Callaghan and returns his suitcase. Now he’s running a pub, and he has an ugly old English face. Very sad! But there are also women, children, lovers, travels, drunken binges and disappearances, together with advice on not getting ripped off when you’re abroad. But deep down, who is Callaghan? There’s a little Callaghan in us all.
I It still comes over me every now and then. I wouldn’t call it an obsession but I suppose it’s been knocking around in my head for years now all the same. I’d like to see Callaghan again. English, just like his name tells you. He was at school with us. Sometimes I think about that “us.” It doesn’t mean much to me anymore. All the years and decades gone by sort of dragged me away from that “us.” But not from Callaghan, or a few others. That’s kind of a mystery to me. And even though I’ve got no real reason to think so, I’m almost sure he remembers us too, wherever we are. That helps a little, sometimes. Feeling so close to someone you don’t know makes it seem like you’re not just talking to yourself under your breath and you’re going to die soon or someday at least. Not so terribly far away, as he would have said. There were a lot of things he needed, but he didn’t need to say them, most of the time. I’ve often talked about him to guys who knew him, who could have known him. Not who might actually have known him, his name, his address, whatever his occupation is these days, that’s not what I meant. I’m talking about guys whose life is precarious, the kind you meet in places that look like no place and never open before seven at night. And then, more and more as the years went by, I kept asking myself that same question: could it be I might actually see Callaghan again? Could it be I’m not the only one who still thinks we’re friends, and in a way friends forever? After a certain age, the age he must be today, “forever” means more than “for a long time.”
And then the real world takes over again. The real world takes over, with all its things to do, all the crazy stories you tell yourself so you can go on living and dreaming your life at the same time. I find myself rambling on in a bar, and that’s really not like me but that guy’s still me all the same. I’m not in any hurry to see it. Sometimes I’m sure he must be thinking the same thing as me, at the same time. That comforts me, or else, as I stumble out of the café, I feel like I wasn’t completely alone, like a guy, just a shadow I happened to cross paths with, recognized me and smiled at me. Hey, it’s him! Still among us. Hasn’t kicked off yet. And then I had to go home without my scooter, because I was drunk. Just a quick pat of my pockets to make sure I hadn’t blown all my cash in the bar. I’m a man who’s seen better days, I remember telling myself. In the cab I rolled down the window and stuck out my head, not sure if I was really crying or not. The driver was a young guy with taximeter eyes and no sense of life. All the same, he gave me a smile when I rolled up the window. “That do you some good?” I didn’t know how to answer. Yes, that really does do you good. For years and years. The first thing, the one I remember best, is the first time he left. He was living in the suburbs of London and I don’t know how he ended up in a boarding school in the suburbs of Paris. It wasn’t a very expensive school, it wasn’t just rich people who dumped their kids there. There were also the public assistance types, and I was one of them. Callaghan got called Callaghan so often he almost lost his first name, in France. And then even as a kid, I’m pretty sure, I remember him making trips between France and England all on his own, like a kid who always does what he’s told and looks at the ocean and dreams of when he’s grown up, maybe going off for a few years to work as a cabin boy on a freighter. But what I remember best is the first time he left. I don’t think it was his English father’s first divorce. Callaghan could crack you up in his own language, but when he spoke French it didn’t really work, it fell flat, sometimes it came out all wrong. I remember it was a gloomy day, another day full of rain. If we ever do meet up again, Jimmy and I will have a lot to talk about, weather included. Anyway, he had his sunglasses up on his forehead, he always put them on the moment the sun peeked through the clouds, it was always gray over our school A guy came and told him pack up his things. He walked out of the common room where we were listening to a Deep Purple record, “Smoke on the Water,” at ear-splitting volume. We made as much noise as we could so the monitors wouldn’t want to come bother us, that way we could smoke our cigarettes and joints in peace. Calla was with us often. I remember we were together, not talking to each other, but sitting side by side at a table, the kind of nothing table you don’t want to do anything with but make barricades. Which we never made.
We’re listening to Deep Purple and Callaghan smiles at me every now and then, with his blue English eyes, I remember he sometimes let one leg hang limp, casually knocking behind and below the table. He used to wear light beige canvas pants or white 501 jeans. He was a model of elegance for me. We never talked about that sort of thing. He smoked John Player Specials. Mine were Dunhill menthols, I got them from my grandmother. She always had a carton to spare, because she only smoked one cigarette a month, or even, sometimes, in case of a major change in her life or a sore throat, one a year. So I’d swiped them from my grandmother. You want them, take them. And there, for the first time, I remember Jimmy Callaghan perfectly. The monitor came in, scowling, we turned down the volume once we realized he wasn’t planning on searching the place and confiscating our stash. He looked around for Callaghan, who was sitting beside me, his back to the wall, one leg almost hanging in mid air, with pointed ankle boots on his feet. “Callaghan, can you please come with me?” I see my pal smile. I say pal to keep things simple, and true-to-life too. I think I see a quick worried look cross his face, but as he heads off, because he always kept his cool no matter the circumstances, tossing a lock of hair back out of his eyes, I tell myself, without really knowing why, something I still say to myself even today: Jimmy Callaghan is a guy I’ll always see leaving, or coming back, or somewhere between the two. It must be his destiny not to stay in one place, always to have something to do wherever you’re not, where you don’t have any reason to be, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. I don’t remember why he had to leave that time. “Calla, you going somewhere, where you going?” That’s what we asked when he came back down from the dorm, where he’d been getting together his things. He’d packed up his old suitcase. He raised one hand in the air, that was his only answer. I was at the front door, squinting out at him. I think he turned back toward me. “Wait, Calla, I’ll come with you!”
Catching Up With Callaghan
Today I remember my stay in that last boarding school as one endless vacation, the most boring you can imagine. We started down the gravel walkway together. He was walking ahead of me. The sound of those footsteps is still with me, mine and his, it’s not even the ghost of a memory anymore, just the model for a certain number of steps you take, for example, along the walkways of a cemetery. He seemed to have a lot on his mind. At the gate he put his sunglasses back on and turned to face me. He set his suitcase down between his short legs and held out his hand. “I’m going back to London. I have to see my grandmother.” I remember the cold way he said, in English, “She’s dying. See you later.”
That seemed to be weighing on him, I thought. I’m a little ashamed to remember this, but I asked him to chip in a franc or two for a pack of cigarettes I was planning to buy at Le Chiquito, the café across the street from the front gate, where of course we weren’t allowed to go. At the same time, Callaghan’s heart is heavy and I want to take him in my arms. But he hates that, like all English people, and sometimes, even if I’m not his type, he smiles when he sees me looking at him. Except that he’s going away. He headed off down our street. The trees are perfectly green. It must be springtime already, if I can trust that picture I have of him, that first time he left. Callaghan will always be leaving. I’d like to see Callaghan again, but I already know the end. There’s really no end with him, because he’ll always take off again, but when you call him he comes, that’s all.
The Power Station
Publisher: P.O.L Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Vibeke Madsen firstname.lastname@example.org
© Hélène Bamberger/P.O.L
Translation: William J.Cloonan email@example.com
Élisabeth Filhol was born May 1, 1965 at Mende in the Lozère. She studied management at the Dauphine section of the University of Paris. Her professional experience in industry includes corporate cash management, auditing, financial analysis and advisor to staff committees. She lives today in Angers. The Power Station is her first novel.
Nuclear energy in France is produced by fiftyeight reactors spread among nineteen power stations. The sector has 40,000 employees. Half are employed directly by EDF, France’s main utilities company. The others are employed by subcontractors. Living in trailers or in hotels, moving about from one construction site to another as needed, they are united by bonds of solidarity but eventually exhausted by workrelated stress and the lack of job security in a complex environment replete with invisible dangers. One of the aims of this novel is to make these dangers perceptible. To understand the fascination the power station exerts but also the fear it incites, we need to enter a controlled
area, pass through the security door of the reactor building, lift up the hatch and descend into the heart of the uranium fuel assembly, right down to its inner core. We need to follow a character whose destiny will play itself out in the course of an operation that seems to be “like any other” with the usual dangers—only this time, in fact, it will go awry. The simple fact of writing about the nuclear industry can provoke anger. Elizabeth Filhol feels that anger and at the same time channels it free of dogmatism or undue neutrality. This smoldering anger gives force to a text that in other respects is sober, well-documented and merciless.
3 Water of the Loire flows in its veins. There are three circuits. The primary and secondary circuits are closed. The cooling circuit is open. Here it draws from the Loire. Elsewhere the Seine or the Rhone and, further north, the English Channel. In the inspection reports theses are anonymous, designated as “cooling sources.” The Loire is best in its own river bed and unfrozen. A single circuit is open, the one that sucks in what it needs, then sprays it into the environment through the exhaust duct. Maybe ninety-five percent of its intake goes out through the flume, the rest escapes into the sky as water vapor, a white plume above the installations, the sign of the nuclear reactor in the countryside, visible from a distance long before you arrive. White against blue here in the Touraine, elsewhere over Orleans or the Cher, upstream and downstream: Chinon, Saint-Laurent, Dampierre and Belleville. In total, twelve reactors draw water from the Loire, using American pressurized water technology operated under license from Westinghouse. Three hundred ten degrees is the water temperature in the primary circuit. It is in a liquid state, not vapor. The water circulates. You’d have to descend to fifteen hundred meters at the ocean’s bottom to find such conditions, down at the level of hydrothermal springs. Pressure that strong makes it possible to do what cannot be done on the surface: raising the boiling point of water. Down there, in the depths of the abyss, without a ray of light, life exists under conditions which you would think pressure and temperature would make impossible, and which indeed might considerably increase the hope of finding
life elsewhere. Three hundred ten degrees. A pressurized water installation heated by uranium 235. Not a single germ. Nothing except pure water. It bathes the heart of the reactor, absorbs its energy and modulates its reactions. This is the primary circuit’s water. The machine is perfectly waterproof; the liquid, radioactive. Seen from the outside, there’s nothing to cause concern. The vapor plumes rise above the cooling towers and the installations, spreading out over a hundred and fifty hectares. It looks peaceful. Imposing, yet peaceful. Under control. Starting from that initial perception, you can imagine calm inside, with trained and licensed employees engaged in safe, ongoing production work under rules that haven’t changed since the installations were built. Three workers in six months. The question everyone asks himself, behind the false tranquility: What happens if the system gets out of control and the men who are supposedly managing the machine, themselves under pressure, eventually crack? Where and what is the breaking point? Little is really known about the forces holding the core together, but they are tested and measured by bombarding the atoms at the heart of the reactor. This gives the exact measure of the energy released when the nucleus breaks apart, a breach is opened, and a taboo broken by a single act that starts a chain reaction.
The Power Station
4 Day breaks above the power station at Belleville-sur-Loire in the department of Cher. An unmarked van slows down on the outskirts of the installations, then pulls onto the shoulder of the departmental road, D82. On board are twelve men of eight different nationalities, some of them women, indistinguishable from each other in red suits and white helmets, equipped with ropes, harnesses, clamps, black canvas bags hanging from their belts or on their backs. They are well-equipped and well-trained. One of the cooling towers is their target.. From above they resemble two white rings placed on the ground where the road meets the river’s left bank. In reality, they are two enormous cylindrical constructions one hundred fifty meters in diameter at their base, slightly narrowed toward the middle, each resting on a crown of reinforced concrete stilts. Air from outside enters the tower between the stilts and rises in the absence of any wind—which is the case today—by natural convection. and the hot air plume rises vertically into the atmosphere. The calm, dry weather provides ideal conditions to start the operation. From the side door of the van several squad members have extracted two ladders with double extensions spanning up to eight meters. Here the wire fence is not electrified. This is the non-nuclear part of the installation, reserved for processing water. Entry onto the site takes place rapidly and without resistance in the spring morning under a blue sky.
Shouldering the videocam. With the hum of the cooling towers supplying the ambient noise, to the imperturbable birdsongs of the awakening countryside add the clatter of metal clamps as they move with ladders under their arms, silently and freely once they are past the wire fence, three to a ladder, each carried fully extended to gain time. At the foot of the more readily accessible of the two towers, they regroup. The noise of the refrigerant system covers their voices, and one of them posted a short distance behind, directing the operation, must shout to be heard. Everyone looks up. One hundred sixty-five meters of a perfectly smooth reinforced concrete wall that opens out at the base. At the top, the parapet. You get there by an exterior built-in ladder that hugs the wall’s double curvature. To climb up, how many hundred rungs? And the gradual sensation of moving forward as the noise diminishes—halfway up, you can once again hear yourselves. Once up top, they are all alone. On the roof of the world. Dominating the countryside and the installations. The Loire plunges like an artery toward the foothills of the Massif Central mountains. It is a symbol that touches the heart and soul. Belleville is located at the very center of France’s nuclear installations. Walking round the parapet like a sentry, you feel you own the place. The walkway is narrow, just the thickness of the wall, between two sheer drops, one on the outside and one on the inside of the tower, with churning air flows created by thermal exchanges. At the bottom of the chimney, which looks like the bottom of a well, under the column of water vapor, piping from the cooling circuit, and pumps, sluices, valves, and a holding pond. In the event of a breakdown, accidental or not, hundreds of cubic meters of water will pour out through subterranean galleries right up to the seventy-five-meter shafts in the turboalternator area. It’s already happened in the past. A room full of machines totally flooded in just a few minutes, with at least 20,000 volts coming out of the alternator. Several workers were caught in the water, taken by surprise. They owe their lives to the reliability of the emergency shut-down system. At the top of the tower, a man starts to speak, filmed by a colleague. He crouches, his back wedged against the metal guardrail. To his right, a member of the team leans out over the void, checks the anchorage points and the mooring of the ropes and then disappears, while two others, caught in their turn by the camera, straddle the railing. All of them wear, strung across their red suits, a professional safety harness with weights on the hips and shoulders so they can work while suspended with their hands free. With his back to the countryside, crouching for lack of room, the man says a few words to explain why they are here, without bothering to argue or justify himself, convinced the cause is just. The ambient noise gradually grows louder as the interview progresses, right up to the final close-up of the fuselage of a navy blue police helicopter, hovering overhead.
March 27, 2007: television viewers were treated to six men are roping down the Belleville-Loire cooling tower with great and perfectly choreographed regularity, before leveling off two-thirds of the way down to paint in black letters the word danger, preceded by the three letters of the acronym epr. Visible from afar, the letters are more thantwice a man’s height, about four meters. By this time, the alarm has been sounded. Three army helicopters in camouflage colors have already landed at the foot of the tower, looking like miniature toys, while the police mark off and encircle an exclusion zone, about sixty of them in all, including members of the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, to be joined by a detachment from the Alpine Corps in early afternoon. An image of six men suspended by ropes with pictograms floating in the wind above their heads, showing a black propeller with three blades on a yellow background. The soldiers on the ground have taken up positions but do nothing, having received orders to avoid unnecessary force. I imagine that in other circumstances I would have enjoyed such a large mobilization in prime time for an action intended to be spectacular, under the noses of serried ranks of officials forced look up and make embarrassed responses to journalists’ questions. Certainly in other circumstances, sympathy for their cause and commitment, and the sheer nerve of such an undertaking. But today, I admit, it doesn’t work because yesterday I had enough. I find it hard to spontaneously feel solidarity. Consciousness-raising, alerting public opinion. For those who are constantly asked to work faster and cheaper, to do the job and put up with so much crap, consciousness is already there. They know the time given over to maintenance has been shortened by a half in the past fifteen years. With more and more subcontractors, edf employees are increasingly cut off from the operational side and don’t know what’s going on; the pressure they’re under has no equivalent in other industries. Yes, of course, these are the dangers of nuclear energy. Behind the walls. A pressure cooker. And while we try to figure out a way to get out of this, nineteen power stations are feeding the network so that each and every one of us can,with a simple gesture, consume to his heart’s content, without even thinking about it. Are those of us working on site in solidarity with the people who managed to get inside and are now demonstrating? Are they united with us? By agreement they calmly come down for a live broadcast on prime time evening news, escorted by the Alpine Corps, after having spread out their banner with the colors of their association—the same one they plan to unfurl a month later across the fence of the power station, as they do every year on April 26, the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
The Power Station
Date of Publication: February 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Anna Vateva firstname.lastname@example.org Translation: Alyson Waters email@example.com
© La Table Ronde
The Commissaire Is Not a Poetry Fan
Publisher: La Table Ronde
Georges Flipo is well-known as the writer of the programme Les Petits Polars (Radio France). The Commissaire is Not a Poetry Fan is his sixth work. Publications Le film va faire un malheur, Le Castor Astral, 2009; Qui comme Ulysse, stories, Anne Carrière, 2008; Le Vertige des auteurs, Le Castor Astral, 2007; L’Étage de Dieu, stories, Éditions Le Furet du Nord/ Jordan, 2006 (winner of the “Discovery of a writer from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region” prize); La Diablada, stories, Anne Carrière, 2004 (winner of the Le Scribe “Place aux nouvelles” prize).
Commissaire Viviane Lancier is no poet, but now she finds herself required to be passionate about Baudelaire: a torrid sonnet which he supposedly wrote has turned into a “serial killer,” since everyone who shows any interest in it winds up as a corpse in the morgue. Assisted by her young, naive lieutenant, Viviane Lancier becomes involved in a investigation where the dead, the living, and even ghosts seem to be jeering at her.
Chapter I Monday, 21 January Commissaire Viviane Lancier Criminal Investigation Department, 3rd Division When her office door was closed, the small sign on it could be seen from everywhere in the bullpen. It was meant to mark her territory, to show the chain of command but for Viviane’s men, it didn’t work that way: on the contrary, when the door was closed, they knew it wasn’t an office anymore; it had become her boudoir. When the door was closed, Viviane became a little less commissaire and a little more woman. It only happened in short bursts throughout the day. At lunch hour, for example—an hour that rarely lasted more than twenty minutes. On that Monday, it had lasted fifteen minutes, which was already a lot, considering what was on the menu. Viviane Lancier, Commissaire of the 3rd Division of the Criminal Investigation Department, placed the wrapping of her chicken with cucumber and yogurt sauce deep inside her wastebasket, then covered it with a newspaper: a woman’s lunch was none of the men’s business, and her personal effects even less so. She slid her copy of Beauté Express magazine with its “After the Holidays, Ten Diets that Work!” in the drawer. The low-cal lunch had not suited her; she was still hungry. Luckily, she had Monot to chew out. She picked up her phone. “Monot, I read the witness statement you took Friday morning, the one about the vagrant on Quai Conti. Come see me.” She preferred speaking to her men using the formal vous; calling them tu
was for those made-for-tv movies. To put a detective in his place, nothing was better than a sharp vous, delivered with an icy smile. She scolded her subordinates often. They were all men, and it was a good thing, too: she liked saying “My men” but couldn’t imagine herself saying “My men and my women.” Women? In the name of holy equal opportunity, they had tried to appoint a few to her team. Nice ones, ornery ones, hard-working ones. None of them had lasted long. On her team, equal opportunity equaled Viviane. She was the commissaire, and she was a woman. End of story. She turned away from the window so she wouldn’t have to see her reflection. Why cause yourself pain? Everything she saw needed work. Her short brown hair had been charming a couple of years ago, when she’d weighed about twenty pounds less, but it looked ridiculous on a thirty-seven year old woman, emphasizing the puffiness of her face, where her gray eyes were swallowed up. The whole business measuring barely 5 feet 3 inches, she had trouble resigning herself to that too. Medium heels could have deceived people a little, but as soon as she walked in them for more than a short while, they began to hurt her. Even sitting, even lying down, her body hurt her, her diets hurt her, her life hurt her, starting with the fact that she was single. Only her work didn’t hurt. Everything was related, she was sure: if her job as a commissaire had left her a little more time, she could have lost weight and had a style, like before. Men—even the handsome ones—would have found her attractive. Monot, for example. He had come into her office. He was just too gorgeous, Detective Augustin Monot; she’d take him down a notch. Wearily, she began to read the statement aloud. “ ‘My name is Gérald Tournu, born in Bagneux on 28 February 1980. I’m in charge of deliveries for Hélio 92, a print shop in Malakoff …’ Gérald? You sure your witness’ name isn’t Gérard? You didn’t find it odd that a delivery guy from Bagneux had a fancy name like Gérald?” She finally lifted her eyes from the report, hoping to see him stammer, defeated. But he put on his best scout-leader-in-the-rain smile, swaying his tall body from side to side, and brushing away a long blonde lock of hair to reveal his big green eyes. “No, Commissaire. It is Gérald, I made him repeat it. In fact, I found something interesting on the Web. Gérard and Gérald don’t have the same origin. Gérald is from the German, Ger, meaning spear, and Wald, chief: Ger-Wald, the one who governs with his spear. Whereas Gérard is a name the Normans brought back from England in the 11th century. It was only much later that people thought there was some link between them. Funny, no?” She shrugged, and Monot quickly added: “I’m just saying …” “Well, don’t say it. You’re a cop, not a college professor. And hold on a second, I have a couple of other funny things for you.”
She continued reading aloud: “’Friday, 18 January around 11:00 in the morning I was coming back with my partner from delivering some flyers on Rue de Turbigo.”’ Really? So now they use the word “partner”? Is your Gérald gay by any chance?” She shot a quick, sharp glance his way, just to feel him out, but the Lieutenant shot back an identical glance. “ ‘Partner’ is the brand name of a Peugeot van, you know …” “Oh, ok … ‘I was crossing the Pont Neuf, which was almost deserted, so biting was the cold, to get to the Left Bank when, in front of me, on the sidewalk, my attention was drawn to two individuals whose behavior was suspicious.’ Did he really speak that way, your Gérald? I’ve already told you, you are supposed to take a statement, not rewrite it. It’s a typist’s job, not a writer’s. Understood, Monot?” The detective nodded, humbled. He was just too cute, the poor dear; he made you want to clasp him against you to comfort him. She went on: “ ‘The two of them were heading toward Quai Conti. The first was rather old, and, judging from his gait, seemed to be in a manifest state of inebriation.’ Gait … manifest … Really? ‘He had a kind of messenger bag slung across his shoulder and was holding it against him. He was followed closely by a young man, of average height, decked out in jogging pants.’ Decked out? ‘… in jogging pants and a jacket, its hood covering his head. The young man was walking silently and smoothly, like a predator.’ Predator? The witness said predator?” “No, Commissaire, he imitated the way the man was walking; I just came up with the words to describe it.” Monot decided he should also mime the tiger’s walk to back up his account. Viviane watched, appalled. It was the first time one of her detectives had taken himself for a feline. It suited him, she had to admit. “’They had just passed the Square de Vert-Galant when things happened very quickly: the young man jumped the older one and tried to grab the bag from him. The old man held on tight and the young man dragged him along the sidewalk for several feet. The old guy’s head smacked against the edge of a streetlamp. I pulled over and shouted, “Let him go!’” Are you sure your Gérald didn’t add ‘you worthless scoundrel, you?’ ‘… and the young man fled. I stayed with the old guy, who seemed groggy. He stood up, holding his bag, mumbling, “My hundred smackers! My hundred smackers!” He tottered a few yards and then collapsed at the corner of Quai Conti. I got the rubberneckers to back off and called for help on my cell phone. A policeman who was passing by …’ That would be you, right? ‘… helped me to move him out of the street to facilitate the work of the firemen 1: they came right away from a nearby fire station, and took him to the hospital. The policeman offered to take my statement at the café on the square and … blah, blah, blah, duly witnessed and signed.”
The Commissaire Is Not a Poetry Fan
1. In France, firemen are the first responders to emergency calls.
She looked Monot straight in the eyes—those gentle green eyes that made you melt. “Taking a statement in a café is already fairly unusual. But when it’s typed up in Times New Roman 12 and printed on a laser printer, it becomes really something.” “Taking a witness’s statement in a café, Commissaire, is allowed according to the rules of procedure. But because I took it and made him sign it on a paper tablecloth, I didn’t think it would be taken seriously. So, once I got back to the station, I typed it up nice and neat.” “And the witness’s signature? “I kind of scribbled it.” He suddenly stopped speaking for a moment, bothered by the straightforwardness of his words: “Yes, I know, it won’t hold water in front of a judge; that’s why I kept the tablecloth.” “In any event, Monot, what good is this statement? It doesn’t even contain a description of the young man.” Lieutenant Monot hesitated a moment before adding: “According to the witness, the guy was wearing dark glasses. He also thought the guy had brown, curly hair. But he only thought. I didn’t write it down because … seen from the back, with his hood up, it seemed a bit questionable. If I had put it in there, you would have hauled me over the coals.” “Brown, curly hair,” the Commissaire repeated flatly. A chilly silence hung over the room. Viviane was hoping for more; Monot had only been there a week, what was going on in his head? But he said nothing; he was a sly devil, with his naïve air. She sighed and handed him the sheet. “Don’t you see why the entire team is going to be pissed off at you?” The detective grew pale. Poor thing, he did not see. “Procedural error?” She sighed again. With his useless B.A. in literature, Lieutenant Morot would make a lot of procedural errors. Even detectives with law degrees made them. “Worse than that; you were overzealous. You should not have moved the old guy. As long as he was at the corner of the bridge, the case would have belonged to our Right Bank colleagues. But thanks to you, he wound up on Quai Conti, and you are the one who took his statement. So now he’s our man. As if we didn’t already have enough to deal with. And I gather that your bum died?” “Yes, I went to the Pitié-Salpetrière hospital to question him. He had just died from head trauma. I asked for a death certificate, and I had him dropped at the morgue. That’s procedure, right? “If we knew who he was, it would be perfect.” “I found his ID in the bag before I sent him to the morgue: Pascal Mesneux,
fifty-two years old. Domiciled on Rue Diderot in the suburb of Asnières, but he no longer lived there. I went to the address on the ID, and met his ex-wife. He left the house and her eight years ago. He’d become a bum.” “Did you request a photograph from Criminal Records?” Detective Monot bit his lip and Commissaire Lancier sighed and then bit her lip, too. She’d better not get into the habit of sighing every time Monot spoke to her. “So, as far as you’re concerned, my dear Augustin, we act like the case is closed while we just sit around waiting for the murderer to turn up? Is that what you think?” Viviane had let the name “Augustin” slip out. The detective did not notice; he nodded, smiling idiotically. “There’s nothing that bothers you in all this, Monot?” “Yes, of course, a death on our beat is always upsetting.” “Clearly. But let’s imagine that you were scum from the outskirts of the city gone on the prowl in Paris. Who would choose as your prey?” Monot opened his eyes wide. He seemed to panic at the idea of the unthinkable character he was being asked to consider. Viviane felt sorry for him; he needed help: “I mean, would you choose to grab a bum’s bag in the middle of a bridge, rather than the purse of a rich lady coming out of Chanel, or the wallet of a tourist sitting at a sidewalk table at the Deux Magots café?” She looked at him tenderly; the Holy Spirit seemed to be hovering above his blond cherub’s head. Hallelujah, he was coming in for a landing! “It is odd, Commissaire. But there was nothing of interest in the bag. I sent it along to the morgue with the body.” The Commissaire glared at him; the gray was gone, her gaze very dark. “I see. So it is you who gets to decide if an element in the case is interesting or not?” “I’m only saying that because I took the time to search the bag. From what I recall, it contained a book by Victor Hugo, underwear and socks, toiletries, his old wallet with a few euros, some toilet paper. And some sort of cake or cookie.” “And yet someone was trying to steal from him. Are you busy tonight, Lieutenant?” “Yes, a girlfriend and I have plans to …” “Well, you’re going to have to make other plans; you’re going to the morgue. But not alone, don’t worry. I’ll be your girlfriend; we’ll take my car.”
The Commissaire Is Not a Poetry Fan
Publisher: Albin Michel Date of Publication: April 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Solène Chabanais firstname.lastname@example.org
© Denis Chapoullié/Albin Michel
Translation: Tina Kover email@example.com
Michèle Halberstadt has produced over 20 films including those of Benoît Jacquot, Alain Corneau, Laetitia Masson, and François Dupeyron. Publications Among her most recent novels for Albin Michel are L’Incroyable Histoire de mademoiselle Paradis [The Incredible Story of Miss Paradise], 2008, and Café viennois [Viennese Coffee], 2006 (paperback ed., Le Livre de Poche, 2008).
In 1974, Laure leaves her family to wait tables in a bar in Aquitaine. The owner delivers strange packages to locals. One summer day, Laure gets caught. She is 19. Does one ever stop paying for a youthful mistake? Michèle Halberstadt possesses that rare gift of artlessly evoking the guilt that resounds within, the loneliness and unspoken words which clang like prison gates.
1974 Laura The green Renault 4L smelled of gasoline and suntan lotion, as it always did. The thought flitted mechanically through her head as she opened the door, without bringing her the slightest pleasure. Usually sitting in the passenger seat of Didier’s car, with its strong scent of seawater, wet towels, and tuna sandwiches forgotten on the back seat, made her smile. But in the coolness of this early morning, even the indomitable Granny no longer made her feel anything. Fear had blotted out the memories. Didier had found the guy quite disagreeable on the telephone. “He kept saying ‘The blonde’s coming with you, right? At least we know something about her.’ Who the hell does he think he is? I decide where I make the delivery, and with whom.” She just laughed. No one knew anything about her. She had arrived one morning on this bit of Landes beach, gotten a job as a waitress, seduced the bar manager, and played to perfection the role of happy-go-lucky blonde. She had invented a past featuring herself as an only child, misunderstood by elderly parents and fleeing a painful breakup—and everyone had fallen for the clichés, hook, line, and sinker; after all, how could they not believe this tall, natural girl with her childish dimples? How could they not be seduced by her peasant skirts and tan suede ankle-boots, her bohemian allure—which she had acquired after seeing Brigitte Bardot in Les Pétroleuses, a film that, in that summer of 1974, hadn’t yet made it to the Rex cinema in Hossegor. Within a few months she’d been adopted by some close friends of Didier, who was a former surfing champion and now ran a bar that stayed open until
three o’clock in the morning. He was the stereotypical genial host; everyone was always glad to see him, no matter what the season; he was always dressed in black, fake-tanned, muscled from his weighlifting. He took his role as boss very seriously, determined to turn the trendy hotspot into a lasting success. When Laura admired the weathered surf boards decorating the place, he had joked: “The boards may give the place its charm, but the bar’s my lifeline!” He was very careful to keep his activities separate from one another; his daytime customers never came into contact with the nighttime ones. During his career as a professional athlete, Didier had met trainers who had access to doping. Their clients included some local VIPs—retired military men, nostalgic for Indochinese opium, to whom they sold morphine as a substitute. Didier had quickly become part of their racket. They sold to the whole Côte d’Argent now, all the way down to Basque Country. “I’m just discreetly dealing an old-fashioned drug,” he had explained to Laura after a few weeks of testing her, giving her access to information she did not pass to anyone else. He liked her to go with him. If they ran into any trouble, he could always pretend they were out for a lovers’ stroll. And her presence seemed to reassure the buyers. They’d go out at dawn, delivering boxes labeled ‘bicarbonate,’ just like the white powder pharmacies sold to soothe the stomach aches plaguing the elderly—and all opiate users. Going with Didier was like carrying out a mission: no questions asked, no crises of conscience. She loved these early-morning deliveries. She felt she’d been launched into grown-up life, far from the predictable days of adolescence she’d left behind. She was too romantic to look at things as they really were. She preferred to tell herself that Didier was a sort of Peter Pan, and she was Tinkerbell, whose magic fairy-dust had the power to make take away pain. Two years earlier she had been living with her parents in suburban Lille. One March day, her mother had called her into her bedroom. Laura had found her lying in bed, face turned toward her daughter. “Come and kiss me.” Laura had smiled at the childish request. She’d sat down next to her mother, pressing their heads together, holding a lock of her own hair, comparing it, in a familiar gesture. “We’re still the same shade of blonde.” Her mother had avoided her eyes, burying her face in her daughter’s hair as if to muffle the violence of what she had to say next. “Not for much longer.” Three months of treatment did indeed put an end to her blondness. After a year of remission, the pains became permanent. Laura’s mother no longer
wanted anyone to see her. She knew how much her suffering had changed her face. In her last weeks she would only see visitors right after her daily morphine shot. It, and nothing else, would bring a little softness back into her features. Two weeks after scattering her mother’s ashes on a beach at Boulogne-surMer, Laura took off. She’d had enough of her overly strict father, who saw in her the ghost of a woman he had never known how much he needed until illness took her. She’d never felt particularly close to her brothers, either, twins who had successful engineering careers and seemed irritated by her tall blond beauty. “Your whole job is to be pretty. How hard can that be?” She had dropped out of school before getting her diploma. She could earn more in eight days as a stylist’s model than they made in a month, and they resented it, as if the bright light of the family’s good fortune shone on her alone, the little sister who didn’t look like them.
“That’s what I heard. ‘She’s too pretty to be honest.’ ” Those were the first words out of the guy’s mouth. He was forty-something, balding, with a beer gut. He smelled like Gitanes cigarettes and sweat. His face was pushed up against Laura’s. She was immobilized by handcuffs but was still kicking at him with the toes of her espadrilles, never actually hitting his shins. He ignored her agitation, studying the horizon. The sun was coming up, and it was light enough for him to see a car driving toward them along the coast. He slapped the roof of the 4L with his hand. “Too bad, huh? You should have thought of it.” He whispered in her ear. “Did you really think I was bending over to pick up my lighter?” Both tires on the car’s right side were flat as pancakes. “Didn’t even need a gun. We’re working class. We use what’s around.” He wiped his Opinel pocket knife on his sleeve and put it in his back pocket. “Okay. Start talking. Full name, date of birth, or shall we wait for your lawyer?” He regarded her with a look of satisfaction, the revenge of an insecure man on an unattainable girl who for once was at his mercy. Laura didn’t notice. She didn’t react, either to his vulgarity or his provocation. He could have released her. She wouldn’t have moved. She was utterly shattered. It was all her fault. Didier had complained of a stomach ache all evening. He’d spent the evening huddled in bed, swearing that he’d kill that fucking bartender whose rotten cocktails had made him sick, that he felt bad for the client; this was a big delivery, a gram and a half. He couldn’t cancel it.
“You drive. I feel like I’m going to throw up in the car.” “I’ll go by myself.” The words were out of her mouth before her brain could censor what was more bravado than a real decision. She felt ready for anything, like a real adventurer. Like Bardot in the movie—hands on hips, cigarette dangling from her mouth, a gun slung over her shoulder and luck on her side. She’d shivered a little at her own audacity, afraid Didier would laugh in her face. She could already hear him: “Five months, and you think you’re there already?” But he hadn’t said anything. He’d stood up and walked around her, gauging her like a potential buyer looking at a piece of art, analyzing every angle before determining its proper value. Finally he’d sat back down on the bed, nodding as if to give more weight to his decision. “Yeah, I think you’re ready. You saw the spot on the map? Until the guy shows you the money, the trunk stays closed. Let him move the boxes. You’re a princess; you don’t touch anything. Look down on him. Be formal with him. Wait for him to leave before you do. The usual way.” His reaction galvanized her. She was ready; she felt invincible. Tonight would be her baptism of fire. Tinkerbell would become Joan of Arc. She would have burst out laughing if it weren’t so pathetic. She hadn’t seen it coming. Finally, the guy made her sit down in the 4L. He said she didn’t look too steady on her feet. He offered her a cigarette. “Your boyfriend must’ve smelled it. We set him up smooth as can be. A shady client, but a juicy order. Casually asking him to bring the blonde along. Like a good chess player he sacrificed his queen. I’ll bet he’s already in Spain by now. Who cares; he’s a mule. We want the source, and you’re going to tell us.” She was suddenly exhausted. Sober. Lucid. She folded her hands in her lap to keep them from trembling. The handcuffs were twitching. The smell of the unfiltered Gitane turned her stomach. She was done for. At nineteen years old, in this car smelling of mold and summer vacation, she knew she’d just thrown her life away.
Kayro Jacobi, Just Before Forgetting
Publisher: Mercure de France Date of Publication: March 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Catherine Farin firstname.lastname@example.org
© Stéphane Haskell/Mercure de France
Translation: Jane Todd, email@example.com
Born to a Jewish family in Cairo, Paula Jacques, like her coreligionists, was expelled from Egypt in 1957. She spent her childhood in an Israeli kibbutz before moving to France. In Paris, after working at all sorts of odd jobs, she began to promote cultural activities at the Comédie de Saint-Étienne and, in 1971, founded a theatrical company. Since 1975, she has been a print journalist and producer at Radio France. She has hosted “Cosmopolitaine,” a cultural magazine on France Inter since 1999. In 1991 she was awarded the Prix Femina. Publications Among her most recent works, from Mercure de France: Rachel-Rose et l’officier arabe (Rachel Rose and the Arab Officer), 2006 (paperback ed., Gallimard, “Folio” collection, 2007); Gilda Stambouli souffre et se plaint (Gilda Stambouli Suffering and Complaining), 2002 (paperback ed., Gallimard, “Folio” collection, 2003).
Cairo in the 1950s: Kayro Jacobi is a prosperous film producer who owns his own studio. He owes his respectability more to his wife Norma’s money than to his own talent. His first films, however, were fairly successful, thanks especially to his original character, “Bolbol Bey,” a sort of Jewish Charlie Chaplin. Fascinated by American movies, Kayro Jacobi has big ambitions. In 1954, when Howard Hawks arrives in Egypt to shoot Land of the Pharaohs, Jacobi finds a way to become part of the venture. But his participation is cut short when he must return to Cairo: his two sisters, after being summoned by the police, have disappeared. Kayro Jacobi moves heaven and
earth to find them, but in vain. In this time of keen tensions between the state of Israel and Nasser’s regime, many doors are closed to him; it is not a good thing to belong to the Jewish community. And bad luck comes in threes: Norma gives birth to a stillborn baby and then sinks into a deep depression. In 2007, more than fifty years later, a novelist comes asking questions about Jacobi. She locates several friends of the Egyptian filmmaker, who disappeared in 1957, and they provide their respective viewpoints. There gradually emerges the portrait of an engaging personality in 1950s Egypt.
Tel Aviv, January 2007 Norma Jacobi It’s a story from another world. You think anybody will be interested? No, Madame, the books just pile up. Today you have to kill your father and rape your mother to get on TV. Kayro Jacobi was a first-class artist. That’s a fact. But so what? What place does he hold now in posterity’s ungrateful scheme? None. He’s nowhere. Fini. People today have no idea, especially in Israel, but Egyptian cinema was something magnificent at the time. Hollywood on the Nile. First in the Arab world. And one of a kind. At that time. No other Arab country possessed it all: stars, directors, producers, studios. Anything else? What do you want to know? How he got his start in films? Yes, you’re asking the questions in order, for your novel. That’s logical. Let’s see now, how he got his start … Oh, may I offer you something to drink? Tea, coffee? A little whiskey, why certainly! I’ll have some too, why not? Let’s drink together and make them bust a gut. All those who fleeced him, betrayed him, blacklisted him, kept him from working, obliterated him from the face of the earth. All of them—die! Who are they? The dregs of humanity. Where are they? I don’t know. I know where they aren’t. In jail. No, thank you—no water for me, no ice. I drink it straight and straight down. Don’t write that, for pity’s sake. It’s just too pathetic, a lonely old woman who drinks. How old do you think I am? Thanks for the compliment,
you’re way off. It doesn’t matter. You’re delightful, Madame, but what’s the use? The dead don’t come back to life in books, what a joke … Death always wins in the end. I beg your pardon? Kayro is a nickname, of course. His name was Carlo, Charles in French, but everyone called him Kayro. Kayro, emperor of Egyptian cinema. He possessed a kingdom. A whole lot of people of all kinds, depending on the needs of the film, worked for him. And when a decision had to be made, he said “Let’s do it!” or “Not a chance!” and it was settled. Then, from one day to the next, it was over. They decreed the ruin and destruction of his kingdom. Do you know the Bible? You’ve read the parable of the prince driven out of his kingdom like a beggar? He defended himself, why wouldn’t he? He told them: I’m the one. My hands built this empire. What did you do? You basked in my reflected glory. He said to them: What do you want? What I sowed, you want to take from me. What I reaped, you want to confiscate. Just try, he told them. I know how to defend myself. And that’s what he did. The spiral, you know, one act leading to another, on and on until it can’t be fixed. … He went mad in the end. They drove him stark raving mad. I told him, Let’s leave, Kayro, let’s go away before … Yes, of course, you can smoke, why not? Die of cancer or something else. I don’t care. I should have died a long time ago. My sisters-in-law smoked fifty cigarettes a day, at least. God forgive them. What was I saying? Something … I beg your pardon? How many films did he make? I don’t know anymore. Confused as I am, poverina, tangled in the threads of my memory. An impressive number in any case. He read the jewels of French literature, which contain beautiful stories for films. He served them up à l’égyptienne, and that was it. Nobody could say: those hornets are not from my hive. Kayro Films, that’s right, Madame, maybe not the biggest studio but the most highly regarded. Kayro had his hand on the tiller. He wrote, he directed, he produced. One masterpiece after another. How many exactly? Now what difference does that make to you? Ten, twenty, thirty at least and all of high artistic quality. Not always winners from a financial point of view. Unfortunately. Well, it doesn’t matter. What really mattered to him was work of high artistic quality, in opposition to the sadness of the world. High-quality work is consolation, he said, whereas low quality is desolation. Film is not painting or literature, he said, it’s an art for the masses, an art that brings joy to ordinary people. At first, when Kayro invented “Bolbol Bey,” his hero in three films at least,—after which he was out-of-date—he had wild success. Yes. Bolbol Bey was a combination of Chaplin and our Goha, with his mules and tarboosh, that’s right! Bravo, you’ve seen him then. And I thought all the copies had disappeared. What’s that? An ashtray, of course, all the ashtrays you’d like, look around. There they are, but oh God, she’s taken the ugliest one on purpose, to put me to shame. … I was a princess, too, what do you think? The smaller of our two parlors, if only you could have seen it … It was the size of this room a hundred times over. That
Kayro Jacobi, Just Before Forgetting
landscape of Cairo over there, above my bed, you see it? It’s a Bellini … and signed, worth a fortune, believe me … How many Israelis have wanted to buy my Bellini! … But what do Israelis—with the cities they have here, Jerusalem aside—understand about the beauty of Cairo?. That painting? It’s a watercolor dedicated to yours truly by Hilbert, Yaro Hilbert, the greatest Jewish painter in Egypt. You know of him? He made a thousand and one portraits of me. I was beautiful, you know, I was a princess in a beauty parlor … That makes you laugh? The parlor or the beauty? You’re kind, Madame, but you oughtn’t be and … I’m getting there, are you in such a hurry? Kayro was born in 1921— there, are you happy? Me, not until 1928. Seven years’ difference, but when you love someone the numbers don’t matter. We were a superb couple, everyone said so. Children? No, well, almost …I couldn’t …let’s move on, you want to make me cry? I was expecting a child, it was supposed to be our first and then … I can’t talk about it. Oh please, I beg of you, stop writing. Thank you. My husband so wanted to be the head of a big family. He loved family, you know, it was a religion for him. He was so happy when he learned we were going to have … basta, let’s change the subject. How did I meet him? That’s a long story. Just imagine: one day he comes to Miss Bloom’s dance class. She was the best teacher in Cairo. Kayro was looking for ballerinas for his film The Pasha and the Dancer, have you seen it? It’s the story of a ballerina so sensual that she provokes a bloody fight between two brothers. Amazing. So, Kayro arrives at the class, he sees me and takes note. I was a champion of classical ballet, leaping across the room, as Miss Bloom clapped her hands: “One, two, three, four five, six,” at every half-measure and the end of every measure. … I beg your pardon? I didn’t act in that film or any other, what an idea! An actress, me? You know what Papa called Kayro’s actresses—“the cinematographer’s females,” that’s what he told him. Papa adored Kayro, mind you. Kayro was not the ideal son-in-law. First because of his occupation, where money goes out with no guarantee it’ll come back in. In addition, and this was the most annoying thing, Kayro had an exaggerated sense of family. He still lived at the Villa Venezia with his mother and two sisters, can you imagine! The villa was big, but even so! I was saddled with them all day long. Allégra, my mother-in-law, very nice, but Vivie and Nellie! They weren’t normal, how can I explain it? Madwomen. Fanatics. When Stalin died, they went into mourning. They fought for the total liberation of the human being. While living in the princely villa of Zamalek? What a joke! I told him, “Kayro, rent something for them in town, you have the means, a young couple need their privacy.” But it was out of the question. Take it or leave it. I took it! … I loved him, what can I say, passionately. I was so young when I married, I didn’t even know the difference between girls and boys. Kayro was already a grown man, a beautiful man “with a reputation,” as they say, “that preceded him.” All those women hanging around him. The little women of cinematography. It wasn’t easy for me. You think it’s easy to
live with a man like that? He loved me, that wasn’t the issue, but I’ll explain it to you later, another time perhaps. He was so beautiful. A beauty rare in a man. Tall with beautiful curly hair, black eyes, slightly Chinese—slanted, that is. And elegant! Navy blazer and white flannel trousers, and always wearing a hat, you know? A hat made in London at a time when imitating Humphrey Bogart was all the rage. He was so stylish. At the sight of him, women felt themselves go weak, more or less secretly, even those who were not expecting anything, not even a bit part, not even a little push in the direction of fame. They fell madly in love with him. That’s a fact. They wanted to get their start, he could open the studio door for them. He had launched one star after another, Nadia Youssef, Leila Mourad, Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal, Om Kalsoum, Camélia—that poor woman burned alive in her airplane—and Zeinat Sedki, the hilarious comedian. So why not them? They came to eat from his hand, ready for anything and everything … Did he take advantage? Of what? His power, his social rank, his money? Excuse me, Madame, that kind of cliché irritates me. Are you a Communist too? But you’re an intelligent woman, you don’t seem like a nut. I’m going to ask you for a cigarette after all. It’s my nerves. Memories, the past, all that. I like you in spite of everything. So long ago, yet you remember! What’s the use? You can forgive and forget or you can just forget. Basically, everything we’ve talked about is nothing but ruins now. Don’t attach too much importance to it in what you write, it’s not worth the trouble. Write: Kayro Jacobi was born, he disappeared, and all his problems disappeared with him. You’re not eating? You’re not eating at all? The raspberries in the tart were frozen because of the season, but they’re good all the same. It’s delicious, please, for my sake. Later, whenever you like! Work first. Very well. What else do you want to know?
Kayro Jacobi, Just Before Forgetting
Olympus of the Unfortunate
Publisher: Julliard Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Benita Edzard, firstname.lastname@example.org
© Emmanuel Robert-Espalieu/Julliard
Translation: Donald Nicholson-Smith email@example.com
Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of the writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, an Algerian novelist who writes in French, born on 10 January 1955 at Kenadsa in the wilayah of Bechar in the Algerian Sahara. Yasmina Khadra is a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, an Officier des Arts et des Lettres, and a winner of the Créateur sans Frontières trophy. Recognized around the world as a major writer, he has seen his work translated and published in thirty-nine countries. Publications Among more recent titles, all originally published by Julliard: Ce que le jour doit à la nuit, 2008 (paperback ed., Pocket, 2009); Les Sirènes de Bagdad, 2006 (Prix des Libraires, 2006) (paperback ed., Pocket, 2007), translated by John Cullen as The Sirens of Baghdad (New York: Nan A. Talese at Doubleday, 2007); L’Attentat, 2005 (paperback ed., Pocket, 2006), translated by John Cullen as The Attack (New York: Nan A. Talese at Doubleday, 2006); La Part du mort, 2004 (Prix du Meilleur Polar Francophone) (Gallimard, “Folio Policier” collection, 2005); Cousine K, 2003, (Prix de la Société des gens de lettres) (paperback ed., Pocket, 2005); Les Hirondelles de Kaboul, 2002 (Newsweek Award; Prix des Libraires Algériens) (paperback ed., Pocket, 2004), translated by John Cullen as The Swallows of Kabul (New York: Nan A. Talese at Doubleday, 2007).
Sandwiched between a public garbage dump and the sea, out of time and beyond geography, Hard Luck Olympus is a piece of waste ground inhabited by bums and derelicts who have chosen to turn their back on society. Junior is a tattered young innocent who under the tutelage of One-Eye Ach is being initiated into the philosophy of the “Horrs.” A Horr is a voluntary transient who has opted to live on the outskirts of the city and reject all its values. Refusing even to beg, Horrs believe themselves to be free of all attachments. But when a kind of affection emerges among the members of this community, such detachment turns out to be
quite illusory. There is a symbolic dimension to this gallery of colorful characters, in which the spirit of solidarity and fellow-feeling that prevails among the Horrs contrasts sharply with the violence and individualism of modern society. Hard Luck Olympus serves metaphorically as a powerful denunciation of a decadent culture. Yasmina Khadra has established himself as a moralist of our time, and the portrait he paints here is not a flattering one: today’s lost souls are not the ones we might imagine; as for hell, it is never where one expects to find it.
1. “Don’t look!” Junior started, swiveling on his heels. One-Eye Ach was standing behind him on a pile of refuse with his hands on his hips and a look of outrage on his face. The light breeze was riffling his great beard. Junior lowered his head like a little kid caught in a guilty act. With a distracted finger he scratched the top of his scalp. “Dunno how I got here.” “Oh, really?” “It’s true, Ach. I was just walking. I was worrying. And I don’t know how I ended up here.” “Liar!” Ach’s whole body was quivering. “You’re a shameless liar, Junior, that’s all there is to it. If you stuck your tongue in holy water, you would make it stink like a sewer.” “But I’m telling you …” “You’d better shut up. Skunks don’t claim to smell good.. It’s a question of self-respect.” Whenever Ach became really agitated, the white scar on his bad eye would blend into the white proper, making his good eye even more arresting. “Admit it! You never get tired of checking out those cars!” “That’s not true,” moaned Junior. “I tell you the only thing on my mind was my problems.”
“Nonsense. I can read you like a book. What’s so fascinating about those crates racing up and down? If you keep on looking left and right like that, you’ll end up wrecking your neck and we’ll have to put splints on either side of your head just to keep you looking straight ahead!” “I’m not a damn weathervane!” muttered Junior. “What are you burbling about?” “Nothing.” “Not true—you said something.” Junior prudently let it go. He was a dried-up little man with a chalky Pierrot’s face and a few stray whiskers on the end of his chin, and shoulders so narrow that his arms were hard to distinguish from his upper body. His blurred eyes did not reveal what was in his head, and seemed to skim the world without lingering anywhere in particular. He must have been at least thirty years old, his adolescent body and bird-size brain notwithstanding. He came down now from the platform where he had been stationed, exaggerating the careful steps he was taking to avoid falling off, hoping to mollify One-Eye. Once down on solid ground, he avoided Ach’s furious look by pretending to rebutton his shirt. Ach stuck his fists into the hollows of his hips. Exasperated, he still felt a stirring of indulgence. As much as he wanted to show his disapproval, Junior’s contrite attitude affected him deeply, and his intended sternness began to erode. “How many times,” he sighed, spreading his arms wide, “must I tell you that this place is cursed?” “But I told you I didn’t come here on purpose.” “I don’t have to take your word for that. Beware, Junior. Don’t let yourself be led astray. I can’t warn you often enough. To begin with, you think it’s just a little game, a distraction, but one evening you’ll find yourself following those cars into the city, and before you know it it’ll be too late. Do you really want to end your days in the city, Junior?” Junior shook his head vigorously, his eyebrows bulging out as much as his lips. Ach persisted, one arm outsretched disdainfully towards the city. “Do you really want to end your days over there? “I’ll never go into a city,” replied Junior, still shaking his head. “I’m not crazy.” “So come back over here then, you idiot.” Junior sprang erect, then started toward One-Eye. “Whatever you do,” Ach urged, wagging a finger at Junior, “don’t look back. As the Good Lord told Lot, ‘I’m going to blow Sodom to smithereens. Grab your tribe and get the hell out of here. When you hear me blowing up the joint, don’t turn round, that’s all.’ Lot gathered his tribe and told everyone explicitly
not to turn around when they heard God blasting Sodom to hell. But Lot’s wife, she turned around to look, and do you know what happened to Mrs. Lot?” “You already told me.” “But perhaps you have forgotten the prophecy?” “I haven’t forgotten.” “So tell me what happened to Mrs. Lot.” Junior began to wring his hands. His shoulders fell. “She was turned into a pillar of salt,” he replied in a small voice. “Would you like to be turned into a pillar of salt, Junior?” “Doesn’t sound so great.” “All right, so get your ass over here and make damn sure you don’t look behind you. The city bewitches people, Junior. When you slam the door on it, you have to mean it.” Junior came up to One-Eye, stumbling over the trash strewn across the dump. He was not at all happy to have been caught on the far side of the waste ground and he felt quite guilty about it. Ach grabbed his elbow and hustled him along ahead of him. “The Good Lord warned me too,” said Ach. “’Pack up your goods and chattels,’ he told me, and vamoose. The city is no place for you. Get out of here and don’t look back.’ I waited for hours by the roadside, hitchhiking. I was just dying to glance over my shoulder, but I held out. In the end a truck pulled over. I jumped into the cab. At that moment I thought I could get away with looking back one last time at the city through the rearview mirror. Well, the Good Lord doesn’t just give orders, he keeps a weather eye out too. And wham! at that very moment the rearview mirror exploded right into my face. That’s how I lost my eye.” Junior was not a little irritated. “He missed his calling,” he groused, nodding. “Who do you mean?” “God, who else?” Ach halted, folding his arms across his hairy bear’s chest. His crooked teeth thrust forward, coated in saliva. “You know how I hate blasphemy, Junior,” he said. Junior shrugged and continued wading through the piles of rubbish. Ach puffed out his cheeks and hurried after him. Dunes lay stretched out before them along the Mediterranean, and the horizon beyond covered its retreat behind curtains of spray. The sun was setting like an overripe orange and the elongated shadows presaged the night. “Hey, where’s the fire?” complained Ach. Junior slowed down, then stopped, his chin on his chest, snot slipping surreptitiously from his nose. He was not proud of himself, but at the same time his lack of a good pretext aggravated him.
Olympus of the Unfortunate
“That’s why I sometimes tell myself,” warned Ach, “that the best thing would be to stop talking to you altogether, Junior. You are too touchy. And people who are too touchy refuse to acknowledge their faults. In the end you lose patience, and then they have no one to rely on when things go bad. A guy who wants to make it shouldn’t be pissed off when people try to straighten him out. He shouldn’t take suggestions for orders, or reasonable warnings for insults. A guy who really wants to educate himself must keep his ears wide open and follow the advice he is given to the letter. It’s because I love you that I get on your case, Junior. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” Junior lowered his head even further and pouted even more. Ach slapped his knee. “The moment I call you on something, bam! you start to sulk. But if I leave you alone you think I’m abandoning you. I just don’t know how to act toward you. I need to get this straightened out once and for all.” Junior wiped his nose on his wrist. Each pronouncement his protector made sharpened his remorse. He was ashamed to be angering the person he most cherished in the world. It was not One-Eye’s voice alone roaring in his simple mind—he fancied that the gods themselves were dressing him down. He tried another tack. “I tell you I ended up on the road by mistake, and all you do is bawl me out like I was a criminal. Was I stealing? Or bothering someone? Offending the Good Lord in some way? No, I was just stretching my legs and thinking about nothing special. Is that a crime now? So why do you wag your finger at me and scowl?” There was such wretchedness in Junior’s tone that Ach’s heart began melting like a block of ice under a blowtorch. When he swallowed he felt a painful lump in his throat. “It’s for your own good, Junior,” he said, “and you know it.” Junior went on sulking for a few moments. He sensed he was gaining the upper hand and laid it on a bit thick. His pout threatened to envelop his entire chin and his lopsided glance contorted his neck. “I didn’t say it wasn’t for my own good,” he conceded at last. “But if you have to twist my ear, you could at least do it nicely. I hate to see you angry,” he added sanctimoniously. “You are so good to me, it makes me feel guilty.” At this Ach was overwhelmed by pity. He put his arm around his protégé’s shoulders and smoothed his hair with great tenderness. Junior, who was small and thin, nestled into the larger man’s tutelary armpit, closing his eyes and enjoying the perfection of this refuge to the full. “You little brat,” Ach said affectionately. “I’m not a brat,” simpered Junior. “You’re as stubborn as a mule, Junior. You know why?” “Because I have to be shoved before I’ll go forward.”
“Exactly.” Ach pushed Junior away from him slightly, the better to look him in the eye. “You’re a very lucky man, Junior. Very, very lucky to be one of us. You don’t have any idea how fortunate you are. You’d never get such breaks anywhere else.” “I know.” “The heck you do!” Gently, Ach moved Junior aside, then with a grandiose sweep of the arm he indicated the beach, the dunes stretching endlessly into the distance, the dump with its incredible hordes of roosting birds and, finally, the promised land that was Hard Luck Olympus, with its wrecked cars, piles of debris and twisted metal. “This is your village, Junior. This is your home. You don’t have to wander the streets. Or sleep in doorways. You don’t eat swill at soup kitchens. And nobody treats you like garbage.” Junior listened, screwing his eyes up. Little by little, as One-Eye relaxed, Junior’s smile widened - widened until it seemed his face would split in two. “Here, Junior, you are not a homeless person.” Junior shook his head. “No one demands your papers just because they know you have none. You don’t give a shit about their papers, Junior. You don’t have to account for yourself to anyone. You are a Free Man, Junior. You are a Horr.” Junior took a breath fit to burst his lungs, raised his head, and tried to put on a brave face. “And what is a Horr, Junior?” “A bum with self-respect, Ach.”
Olympus of the Unfortunate
Publisher: Éditions du Seuil Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Martine Heissat, firstname.lastname@example.org
© DR/Éditions du Seuil
Translation: Susan Emmanuel email@example.com
Cloé Korman was born in Paris in 1983. She studied literature at the École normale supérieure, particularly English literature, as well as cinema and the history of art. Landscape and still-life painting, the birth of Hollywood cinema, and the early arts of North and South America were among her subjects. She spent two years in New York and traveled the American West from California to the Arizona desert. She discovered Mexico, where the plot of this novel is set, during a stay in 2005 in the central states of Oaxaca and Zacatecas. Today she works in the Ministry of Culture, in the areas of Internet-based media economics and culture. Colour-Men is her first novel.
A couple employed by a multinational corporation is directing the work on a tunnel designed to deliver Mexican petroleum to the U.S., flouting that country’s laws. A long-term project, the tunnel becomes a route for Mexicans crossing the border, and over the years the husband and wife become accomplices in illegal immigration. The operation endures because the chief engineer at the New Yorkbased multinational is a lover of (and trafficker in) archeological objects that the workers are discovering (and even starting to fabricate). Combined with this background is a domestic story: the couple had adopted a small Mexican
boy before giving birth to a girl, then to twins. At aged fifteen, in love with his sister, the Mexican boy disappears into the tunnel. His sister will later join him in a vagabond life as illegal immigrants. The novel is enlivened by sensual writing and documentary-like background elements— the oil industry, corruption, and clandestine operations—in addition to an intimate knowledge of the Mexican desert. The singular characters are both colorful and sympathetic. In short, Colour-Men is an exceptional debut for a young author.
1 Under the Pyramid in Mexico—1945 She does not know this spot is called the Avenue of the Dead. Instead of sacrificial garb, she has put on her baseball cap and jeans; she advances fearlessly. Florence was never to know what happened to time as she crossed the two thousand meters of loose gravel that separated her from the pyramid. She often stops because she is hot; she has rested more than an hour in the shelter of a canopy where a very young girl in a mauve apron is selling beer, and when she emerges her last thoughts are distilled by the heat as she continues with a lightheaded step, greeting in passing the long-necked agave plants whose heads have burst up into the sky with their black and curly flowers. Shortly after reaching the path, she turned around as someone called her; it was the chauffeur who had brought her from her downtown hotel as far as Teotihuacán, and who was running after her because she had forgotten her cap in the taxi. The Boston Red Sox cap, dark blue with a red “B”, only comes back to her a hundred yards along the path: bareheaded, she gives the chauffeur a few more coins, and for the first time since they left Mexico City, she stares at this mask of anger, at someone who does not understand what a young American in blue jeans is doing in the Avenue of the Dead. As he clutches the cap in his hands, she takes in his hollow cheeks, brown and smooth as leather, and white eyes that by contrast seem almost calcified in their blood-rimmed hollows, as are teeth inside an open mouth without lips. Perhaps a special fee is required to enter this place, she thinks, reaching into her pocket for more change, but
he doesn’t want to tell me, it’s for me to guess. And since it is not like her to find in men the look of a killer, she gently stretches out her hand toward the blue cap with a red B, puts it back on her head, smiles, and with his gaze at her back, starts to walk again. At the end of the path, the Pyramid of the Moon breathes, its flanks in the dust. The stones bristling on its slopes project unstable shadows, swelled by traces of cement. When Florence arrives at the foot of the embankment, the pyramid is already smudged red, stones thickened and humid, sweating. Perhaps a sickness or fever, thinks Florence, while she vainly scans its inaccessible heights in search of an opening. And yet it breathes, she tells herself, so there must be a mouth or passage into the interior—and if there is a tunnel, where does it lead? She has just decided to undertake the ascent when she perceives gentle quivering on the façade; like a drop of ink spreading in a glass of water, something swelling and stretching along the pink steps. The form slowly detaches itself from its shadow and while growing produces two arms and two legs, and then starts to walk. Florence now watches its precariously balanced descent, shadow retaining body like a buoy passing through light. At the slope by the central stairway, the pyramid offers passage to this tiny creature that advances by putting two feet on each step and extending its arms to each side as if supported by the air. A square shade-brown silhouette, small even if to the little guy was added his own shadow; she realized he could no bigger than a bean plant: “A child,” she thinks, “and he is going to break his neck.” She has already climbed the first three steps when a man rises up covered in dust, livid and breathless. Head upturned, he shouts in a language she does not know, so that she cannot tell if he is being insulting or muttering funny stories intended for the little guy perched on the stairs: “I’ve been looking for you everywhere! You rascal, get down!” and in the same breath: “No, don’t move, I forbid you to move. Don’t come down, I will come up to get you, I’m coming. You rascal, I’m coming.” Before rushing up the stairs, he turns toward Florence and for the first time speaks a word in Spanish, a stupid “gracias” with unwiped tears and an immense smile; then he says something quite unlikely though it would take Florence many days to realize as much. “Wait for me here, I’m going to get him.” And she says okay and starts quite naturally to wait at the foot of the stairs as the man rushes up; she waits for him to come back, pick up the runaway and fold him in his arms, for both to come back—him and the little guy, beanplant tall and brown as his shadow. She waits for them impatiently as if she had known them forever. The man touches the ground first, then the child whom he deposits carefully on the ground without releasing his hand. Without saying anything, they stare at each other. The father takes out a red drinking gourd made of iron, pours a
little water over his head as his son grimaces without protesting; he seems to be waiting for a reprimand or word that does not come, for with his free hand, the man is content to adjust his shirt collar. Then he crouches, wets his thumb in his mouth and with his saliva starts to wipe off a smudge of dust from the child’s right cheek, and he arranges cowlicks that immediately stand up again; he contemplates the result and appears satisfied. Only then does he turn to Florence. He speaks Spanish with a heavy foreign accent: “Since he learned to walk, he’s always running off.” Florence doesn’t answer; she sees the child’s face, his very brown skin, his slanting eyes that look up at her, winking a bit, as if only one of them wanted to smile, “Nice but not easy-going,” she thinks, then she looks at the father, a tall swarthy guy that makes her think of the men in Boston’s Italian neighborhood. “They look no more alike than a stray cat and a coyote”—which she avoids saying aloud. Looking at Florence, the big man seems to forget his hand, still firmly holding the child’s while paying no attention to the tugging on his arm. He says his name: “George Bernache” and adds, voice flagging, “I am an engineer in Mexico”— like a man trying to protect himself from the sun by holding up a screwdriver. They gaze at each other and, in a tone she wants also to sound competent, says, “That’s convenient”—but stops before saying, “I’m an architect.” She doubts that would be any help in getting out of there. Without budging or asking permission he starts to inspect her, and while appraising her face and throat she realizes she must be red around the sleeves and collar of her shirt, and feels sweat in the crook of her arms, behind her knees and under her cap. Again he seems concerned and says, “You’re completely burned.” She answers, “I’m fine, thanks, I’m OK.” He doesn’t seem convinced and adds politely in English “You must pay attention here, the sun … You are going to fall into the apples,” and when she laughs he is vexed, drops his English, goes on in Spanish while the three of them go back up the Avenue of the Dead—Florence and George, and, at the end of George’s arm, the child who came down from the pyramid, who is now starting to talk and gives his name as Niño. They walk among the stony hillocks of the small pyramids surrounding the big one, which resemble children; sometimes they leave the central avenue to touch or climb them. Finally, after it is dark they rejoin the living at the exit from Teotihuacán. They look for a place to eat and find a kind of restaurant, a place of tortillas and cactus alcohol with a cement terrace and curtains made of pearls of painted wood. While Florence talks about her journey, George says nothing about his life before Mexico, but at least he knows the city, as he tells it, “down to its guts” And regularly he returns to Florence’s sunburn, asking if she shouldn’t take special care of her sunburned throat and arms; she tries to reassure him, to draw his attention instead to the baroque Churrigueresque buildings, to be admired to the north, and when his gaze becomes too embarrassing she grabs her backpack and digs inside while asking the time, without
knowing what she is looking for or what she wants to put on the table: a roadmap, a lipstick, or the bloody heart of Frida. Later, in the car that George drives through the suburbs of the ever-expanding city, Florence asks him: “Engineer of what? What do you do here? Agronomist?” He says no, unfortunately, not that: “Metronome engineer. I dig in the earth, dig tunnels to put rails through. A contract I have with the city, to take care of the interior.” That pleases her, she smiles. The car passes a row of cypress trees surrounding the garden and stops in front of the house. He is deserving, as a specialist of the interior. They discover the not-so-easygoing kid sleeping in the back seat and carry him to his room. Metronome engineer, specialist of the interior, that’s interesting, she says as he takes off her cap, blue with a red “B.” She tosses it on top of her jeans, which are already in a ball at the foot of the bed. That’s interesting and surely enjoyable.
The Unexpected Book
Publisher: La Différence Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Parcidio Gonçalves firstname.lastname@example.org
© DR/La Différence
Translation: Pascale Torracinta email@example.com
Abdellatif Laâbi was born in 1942 in Fez, Morocco. He spent eight years in prison in the seventies because of his intellectual opposition to the regime. He was released in 1980 and forced into exile in France. Since 1985, he has been living outside of Paris, although his heart remains in Morocco. A poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, and translator, Laâbi draws on his own life to produce a multifaceted body of work, set at the confluence of cultures, rooted in a socially-engaged humanism, full of humor and tenderness. Publications His latest books of poetry published by Éditions de La Différence include: Œuvre poétique, vol. II, 2010; Tribulations d’un rêveur attitré, 2008; Mon cher double, 2007; Œuvre poétique vol. I, 2006; Écris la vie, 2005; L’automne promet, 2003.
Abdellatif Laâbi is not a predictable writer. His motto, perfectly illustrated by this book, could be: “Never be where the reader expects you to be.” Is it a memoir? A journal? A travelogue? A clever mix of autobiography and fiction? Unless it belongs to the confessional genre, in the footsteps of Saint Augustine or Rousseau? These are some of the trails, misleading or not, that Laâbi, with a half smile, lays for his readers. His aim? To make sure that they follow in his footsteps
and become both witness and party to this new literary and human adventure. Unexpected is the word the author uses to describe his book, a book that challenges, often with mordant humor, our ways of perceiving, reading, and questioning. A vibrant journey through life’s seasons, a spiritual quest, raw, on-the-spot testimony, this book throws us back into the convulsions of our time and its salutary battles.
Good Morning, Jerusalem Third and last frame-freeze. The beginning of March. My stay in Jerusalem and my tour through the Palestinian territories. Visits to Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem. The shock I received, even though I thought there was nothing I didn’t know about the situation I was going to find. I still feel bruised. But my silence about this has lasted too long. And it’s another long love story, a tragic one this time, that I will have to revisit. But where shall I start? How can I avoid the excess inherent in too intimate a relationship, one in which I got involved at an age when choices and passions are absolute? The fact that my political conscience was born with my support for the Palestinian cause, and that it is what has shaped my commitment to all the battles that have followed—including the ones I have waged in my own country—is nothing new. Furthermore, what will be the place, in this account, of the relationship that goes back to my childhood and that I have inherited from the age-old presence of Jews in Morocco? Will the longing for such intimacy be able to alter my vision of what the core of the problem is, namely, the denial of justice and the suppression of national identity that Palestinians have to endure? How can I ignore the fact that some of my former Jewish compatriots and their descendants in Israel also participate in this politics of brutality? And should these cruel acts blind me to the unspeakable nature of the Shoah and the traumas it has branded on Jewish consciousness? I prefer to lay my cards on the table from the outset, knowing that the narrative that follows will deviate from the analytic path to delve into the folds of
memory and the scars of experience. And never mind if I play the part of guinea pig in this exploration. Good Morning, Jerusalem! How many times has your name appeared in my poems? And here you are, inÂ flesh and blood, the ballerina of a sacred dance into which you lure me. As soon as I arrive, I run like a madman and feverishly take notes in my head. Strange witness, wishing to be at one with the object of his testimony and for it in return to attest to his passage. You dance faster and faster, and all I see of your body now is a whirl of images. In the accompanying music, I only catch the chords of an unknown instrument. I remember everything that you offer in a jumble and at this point, without worrying about its meaning. At first, you are nothing but an enigma, or rather a rosary of enigmas that IÂ am telling: white banner dragged in the mud, cenotaph for the wandering, olive branch deprived of water and light, sesame allowing hearts to open and the Just to recognize one another, sun rising at dusk, flagstones whose patina comes from the ardor of faith rather than feet, walls of the absurd and satanic pebbles, bitter oranges, fruit of enslaved hands, Tower of Babel rising from its ashes, mournful festival of black clothes, tender slits of the eyes of young girls, half-saints, half-courtesans, weathered faces of women selling radishes at the entrance of Bab el-Amoud, antediluvian chichas, swallows mistaken about the season, true and false alarms, echoes of salvos and defiant genuflections down on the asphalt, forced smiles out of modesty, smothered laughs to avoid arousing suspicion, fragile havens where arak and chich taouk are of great help, thyme and cardamom for fragrant siestas, pristine museum of the Palestinian prisoner (smuggled letters written on onionskin paper, thousands of collections of poems on the same obsessive topic, photos of living martyrs), the bed in the hotel room squeaking, waking up at dawn to catch a unique moment of peace, Turkish-Greek-Arabic coffee served by Christian hands, tabouna bread and its toasted alter-ego, sweet and sour lime juice, the to and fro of small buses serving ghost villages, the paradoxically strict bilingualism of sign posts, newspapers swamped with local news, kids with mischievous eyes bending like gentle donkeys beneath the weight of their school bags, the pompous palaces of consular missions, squares of French sovereignty dating back to the crusades, streets suddenly deserted near religious borders, a city like and unlike any other, panic stricken or mad, not knowing where it starts or ends, octopus contracting and expanding in accord with nightmare-laden insomnias, under a sky riddled with constellations more legible here than elsewhere, Esplanade abandoned by an unreal mosque, jealously guarded, gloomy golden tints of the Dome, the Rock wrapped in plastic tarp soiled by pigeons, hair of the Prophet hidden from sight, bitter tears of the female guard begging for help, souvenir snapshots of which loss, which glory?, the Mount of Olives overlooking the
The Unexpected Book
vast terraces of tombs tolerated for the time being or reserved by right for all eternity, bell towers screwed on their thrones of exiled monarchs; each bit of rampart, each crack in the walls, each stone standing or lying, each tree has a highly contentious history, and to understand anything of what one sees or hears, one would need to be a peerless scholar, versed in a multitude of sciences, hard and soft—and let’s not forget the occult—because ignorance is unforgivable here, it can cost you your house, your field, and, with one thing leading to another, your homeland, the battle for legitimacy, they say, Yurashalim, Al Quds, are we talking about the same thing?, of course, the comparison is far from obvious, but the notes of music are universal, even if the performers have their own style or sense of rhythm, against all odds we are able to lift and join our souls, some young Israelis and Palestinians have managed, but miracles are soon forgotten, perhaps because we are in a corner of the world where history has supplied miracles in such profusion that people have had enough of them, some prefer to find an answer in archeological excavations or in concrete walls, while others, for lack of mechanical shovels or authorization to build their prisons, have only death as an option, death in every possible form as proof of life, or of existence I should say, the squaring of the circle, this cursed geometrical figure that nothing can ever shake, O Jerusalem, now asleep, what do your children, those who don’t believe in anything yet, dream about?, angels truer than those with wings, sucking their thumb, holding tight to their cuddly toy, whispering their first words of Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Russian … and I don’t know how many other languages in which the adults always express joy or pain spontaneously and keep alive the remnants of scattered memories, and I, what will I dream about during this first night, if I manage to fall asleep at all, once I have fed the ravenous swarm that has lodged itself in my head? Good night, Jerusalem!
Publisher: Héloïse d’Ormesson Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Sarah Hirsch firstname.lastname@example.org
© Sandrine Roudeix/Héloïse d’Ormesson
Translation: Tegan Raleigh email@example.com
Born in Paris in 1978, Damien Luce is a pianist, composer, and actor. He studied music at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris and at the Juilliard School in New York. Last fall, he appeared in a production that is devoted to the Fables of La Fontaine and for which he wrote the original score. Luxemburglar (Le Chambrioleur) is his first novel.
This is the story of a sad little girl named Jeanne. Her parents love her, of course, but the amount of attention they give to their work leaves little time for her. One evening while they are at the opera, an intruder makes his way into their apartment. He starts to visit Jeanne every night, and the girl becomes fond of the young stranger, whom she calls Paulin. Before long she’s thinking of going away with him.
Damien Luce cunningly plays with our sense of orientation and our ability to distinguish dreams from reality. Is the mysterious Paulin truly a burglar, or is he really just a character devised by Jeanne’s fertile imagination to keep her company? In a style that is deliciously original, this short novel tenderly and poetically grapples with the themes of solitude and of using the imagination as a form of escape.
1 There was a sparrow thrashing about on the sidewalk, one of its wings striking at the pavement like a whip. The other wing was spread out, an inert fan collecting dust and cigarette butts. Like so many others, the bird must have veered into a window. Some pull through miraculously, just a little dazed, while others, as though Icarus inverted, are condemned to fall for having wanted to fly as low as people. Heartbreakingly silent, its beak half-open, the bird was pitiful to behold. Jeanne Chemin set down her miniature sailboat and took the fallen angel between her fingers in a manner that was unhurried and devoid of tenderness, as a peasant would. Two elderly women were sitting on an old bench nearby and the first said to the second, “Look at that cute little girl. See her picking up the bird?” And her friend replied, “How sweet. In my day …” Jeanne ended the bird’s life with a brisk jerk of its neck. The two women, their mouths agape, put aside their tender comments and resumed their regular topics of conversation: the weather and the passage of time. Jeanne had frightened herself somewhat and now wasn’t sure what to do with this mass of feathers. There were a few scarlet droplets that escaped from the body, and the first thing that occurred to her was that the blood of a bird was strangely similar to that of a human. Her Cartesian mind delighted in the discovery (even though only ten years old, she prided herself on her knowledge of science). Then there was the question of the corpse. Should she bring it back home as an object of study? Or give it a proper burial in the Jardin du
Luxembourg? Jeanne was fussy and had a heightened sense of cleanliness, and the prospect of keeping a dead bird in her room disgusted her. She would have to be satisfied with the blood on her fingers—her microscope would be ready and waiting. And as for burying the bird and all the pomp involved? She’d leave it to the children who’d learned about the significance of symbols and who’d been coddled enough to coddle others in their turn. Those who’d bury Zouzou the frog and Jojo the bunny and make little cemeteries especially for pets—they were idiots. In one grand arc, Jeanne flung her little victim over the fence of the public garden and, by the same token, out of reach of her conscience. For just a second she expected to see it fly off swiftly, resuscitated by her assistance. But it just fell on the grass with a muted thud, and Jeanne hurried back home.
Home, a large duplex apartment facing the greenhouses of the Jardin du Luxembourg, was two hundred twenty square meters of silence and parquet flooring. It had more doors than Paris had “portes” around its periphery. (She had named each of them after those gateways leading into and out of the city: Porte de Pantin for the game room, Porte Maillot for the bathroom, Porte des Lilas for the winter garden, and so on.) There was the requisite living room, kitchen, dining room, and two bedrooms, but also a number of “guest rooms.” In his youth, Papa Chemin would have friends visiting by the dozens when he lived in a studio on the Rue du Cherche-Midi. Now that he owned a little urban castle, people only stayed over occasionally. Everyone he knew also owned an urban castle, it seemed, or at least Papa Chemin stuck to that excuse. In light of how infrequently they were used, Jeanne called these “enemy rooms,” even though children of her age prefer to believe their parents don’t have enemies. Just like her father, her mother had changed, too. When she had been young and penniless, Mama Chemin would go out every night—to see a movie or a show, eat in a restaurant, or walk amidst the glittering sights of Paris at night. Now that she was rich, her outings were limited to boring weekly nights at the Opéra de la Bastille in the company of her husband. After all, it was important to make the most of their season tickets. From her bedroom Jeanne could see the dome of Les Invalides, the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle, the towers of Saint-Sulpice, and practically all of the Right Bank’s best-known monuments, and she could watch the regattas children held in the pond at the Jardin du Luxembourg. A large zinc drainpipe descended the wall like a waterfall, and on rainy days Jeanne would put her ear to it for the gentle lapping of the ocean, and what she heard was better than the real thing. On this late Saturday afternoon, she opened the door to find singularly listless parents. Apathetic, they spoke little and exhibited scant volition; they were, to use Papa Chemin’s humorous term, “on standby” meaning they were doing nothing but waiting for the end of the day. Saturday afternoons
would inch by in the Chemin household. Reclining on a sofa, Mama Chemin would be flipping lazily through something, not really reading. After the customary, enthusiastic, “Hi there! It’s me!” from the entryway (the response was always “Shut the door behind you!” and it was funny how to her it almost sounded like, “Shut up, why don’t you?”), she launched an attack on her parents. Since becoming a conscious being, she had been perpetually striving to scale the steep slope of their affections. If their chests housed the merest stone, it would be an easy thing, for the angels of love and tenderness are mysterious alchemists and can easily create hearts from rock. But what rose up before the little girl was an emotional Everest which, regardless of the angle of attack, was unsurmountable. “What are you reading, Mama?” “A biography.” Mama Chemin would never dare admit to her daughter that she was actually reading an article in a celebrity magazine loaded with details about the private life of some superstar, substantiated and accompanied by indecent photos. “What about you, Papa?” “Mmmm …” His eyes closed and hands tucked under his head, feet propped up on the armrest, Papa “was watching a documentary about the Galápagos Islands: how typically paternal, this ability to learn while taking a snooze. Why doesn’t he just tell me he’s sleeping? Why? Because fathers are absolutely convinced that it’s more respectable to watch a documentary on the Galápagos Islands than it is to take a nap. These are the vestiges of a Judeo-Christian education that makes a capital sin out of that fine thing called laziness … Jeanne was quick to detect fallout from that morning’s argument. Papa Chemin (who was colorblind) was wearing a green shirt, blue pants, and brown socks. Usually, Maman Chemin would match his clothes for him so he could avoid the tacit mockery of his employees, neighbors, and passersby. But when they had a disagreement, she would leave her husband to his disability. For him, dressing was a game of chance. He would try in vain to recognize colors by their intensity and contrasts. Today he hadn’t had much luck and the outfit he wore was an insult to good taste. Fortunately, it was the weekend and the Galápagos iguanas couldn’t care less. For Jeanne, Papa Chemin’s dyschromatopsia was a source of amusement and all sorts of practical jokes. She’d get her father to wear bright pink ties and peony-red socks with his dinner jacket and tell him the light was red when it was green (“Liar! The light on the bottom is the green one!” “Not on this one, Papa.” When in doubt, he would stop the car until the honk of a horn belied her deception.) One day, in a fit of pity, Jeanne labeled all
of her father’s clothes. She wrote “blue,” “red,” “green,” etc. on pieces of paper and, attached with safety pins, they dangled from the collars of his shirts. Here intentions had been good but the results disastrous. They still snickered about it at the office in the hallways. Jeanne had gotten off with a sound spanking and a few days without her microscope. Night would fall especially quickly on the buildings of the rue Auguste-Comte, which all faced north. At the hour when the horizon as seen from the Chemin apartment darkened to a shade of melancholy, it was still reddish for those living on la Rue de Médicis. In this urban castle, the nocturnal feeling was accentuated by the darkness of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Jeanne knew that any time now, her father would put on his burgundy tie, the only one he didn’t wear to work, and Maman would slip on her pointy shoes. These were the signs of their weekly departure for the opera. Jeanne resigned herself to returning to her laboratory and passed her parents, her hands hidden behind her back because of the sparrow blood. Time slipped by, forgotten.
Here, then, is an ordinary family, where everyone loves everyone else with just the right amount of indifference. The insidious and terrible alibi: propriety …
Publisher: Grasset & Fasquelle Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Heidi Warneke, firstname.lastname@example.org
© Rosensthiel/Grasset & Fasquelle
Translation: Edward Gauvin email@example.com
Born in 1962, Véronique Olmi has published three novels and a play with Grasset. Publications With Grasset: La Promenade des Russes [Promenade des Russes], 2008; Sa passion [Her Passion], 2007; Je nous aime beaucoup [I Love Us Very Much], theatre, 2006; La pluie ne change rien au désir [Rain Doesn’t Change Desire a Bit], 2005.
“Émilie, Aix 1976. Come join me in Genoa ASAP. Dario.” Émilie is convinced this message is meant for her, and that it’s from her first love, Dario Contadino, the boy all the girls at her high school had a crush on … Without knowing exactly why, Émilie abruptly drops her wellordered life as a wife and mother and hits the road for Genoa. Whom will she find? What will she prove? Alone at the wheel, scenes of her childhood come vividly to mind. Her small-
minded family, the lack of love between her parents, her sister Christine, karaoke fan and Down’s syndrome child, their relationship— loving and painful all at once. And of course, Dario … In this moving novel, a kind of nostalgic road movie, Véronique Olmi remixes themes close to her heart: love, madness, song, the faithfulness of feelings, the indelible imprint of early heartbreak.
Sometimes the smallest thing can change a life completely. A careless moment at a crosswalk. A transit strike. A new neighbor. A malfunctioning elevator. A letter. A call in the night. My life changed on June 23, 2008, at 8:34 pm, the very moment I pulled the newspaper wrapping from the Pommard meant to go with the shoulder of lamb that had already been roasting in the oven for twenty-six minutes. The Pommard, freed of its paper, was never uncorked. The shoulder of lamb was never finished; I had the presence of mind to turn off the oven before fleeing to Italy. And to blow out the candles I’d lit around the living room, too. * When I woke up the morning of June 23, 2008, I knew what awaited me. It was the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Marc, and I’d decided to take charge of everything, so the evening would be perfect—of course, had I listened to Marc and taken him up on his offer of dinner at Le Grand Colbert, none of this would have happened, but going out to eat was so conventional, and the idea so wanting, that I decided to plan an intimate dinner instead, one better suited to our tastes and wishes. I resented Marc a bit for not having dared suggest celebrating the event in some European capital: if not New York, which I’d dreamed of forever and where, by the way, we were supposed to have spent our honeymoon, instead of where we wound up, that pitiful Venetian hotel, already much too pricey for us at the time.
I didn’t have to work that day—Wednesday—a bit of luck, since organizing the anniversary had really taken up the whole day; Marc, who’d called me twice that afternoon, sounded without daring to say so like he thought I was making mountains out of molehills, but from his speaking to me as if I were an incorrigible, endearing child, I knew perfectly well what he thought of me. It annoyed me, and I’d banished my annoyance as quickly as I could, for fear of holding it against him and being on edge all evening. Several times that day—while in line for the third time at Monoprix, having forgotten for the third time an essential condiment or ingredient; while wavering over the choice of wine and surfing the web for what went best with different dishes lest the wine guy roll his eyes at my ineptitude—several times that day I’d said to myself I’d rather be in Marc’s shoes, the shoes of someone who worked and then did you the favor of not coming home too late to sit down to dinner, hiding his exhaustion behind a paternal smile. I know quite well other women pull this off better than I do. The ones who throw impromptu dinners for fifteen in a matter of minutes, and everything’s perfect, and they aren’t edgy or annoyed, simply delighted and relaxed; the ones who come home from work at 7 and, an hour later, have whipped up their miracle recipes, which they never mess up, which all their friends envy, and when they open the door to let you in, hair still damp from the shower, not wearing any make-up, their skin is smooth as if they’ve just slept twelve hours straight, etc. I’d gone back and forth all day between joy over preparing for the event and fear of ruining it. As it happened, I was wrong to be afraid. It could’ve been perfect. Much better than Le Grand Colbert. I’d picked out an assortment of Marc’s favorite music, and the order they’d play in, starting out with jazz of course, Duke Ellington and Chet Baker for the aperitif and the presents, Schubert arias for the appetizers, Chopin sonatas and Bach cantatas for the shoulder of lamb, and then the Gipsy Kings with the cheese platter so I could follow up with Janis Joplin for dessert, and we’d be completely awake to go into our bedroom where a muted Maria Callas would accompany our embrace. I’d bought silk sheets for the occasion: the ones from the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville cost a fortune, and I’d dug up deep in the 12th arrondissement a wan Chinese boutique caving in beneath the weight of dust and “Made in Shanghai” linens in sad colors, streaked by the sun. After forty-five minutes of having them open half the sheet packages, I’d wound up finding pearl–colored sheets quite decent for a night, at least, after which they’d no doubt fray the minute one of us forgot to clip our toenails for more than two days. It’d been much more complicated choosing what to wear in order to take it off later. It was clearly impossible to skip the sexy underwear and also impossible not to see how conventional it all was; it’d been a long time since I’d shown myself naked to Marc, I was forty-eight, so I envisioned dimming the lights,
slipping into the “Made in Shanghai” sheets in a bustier, not taking it off for lovemaking any more than I would my stockings. A decent compromise. Sexy, but not visible. Not exposed. Not too embarrassed. My blue chiffon dress could not have been easier to take off: all you had to do was undo the thin zipper along the side, and down it would fall to the floor. As for my gray stiletto heels, I thought I’d keep them on for lovemaking—shredding the single-use silk sheets could seem magnificently bold, a sweet erotic trespass.
It could’ve been perfect, really. If only. If only I hadn’t argued with the wine guy. Hadn’t left his shop without buying a thing, and wound up grabbing the bottle of Pommard Marc had brought back from Burgundy the previous weekend, wrapped up in the classifieds from Libération. * “Émilie, Aix 1976. Come join me in Genoa asap. Dario.” I didn’t think a single thought. I didn’t ask myself a single question. I did what I did without wanting to. I turned off the oven. I blew out the candles. I left a note for Marc on the kitchen table: “Just don’t worry.” I slipped a thin jacket over my thin dress. I grabbed my car keys. My purse. Forgot my phone. And I walked out. My name is Émilie. In 1976, I lived in Aix-en-Provence. The year I met Dario. He was from Genoa. He was my first love. * That was back when my sister Christine would sing “This Is My Prayer” and “Monday in the Sun” while staring at herself in the mirror for hours. She’d grip the handle of the jump rope tightly in her hand, pretending it was a microphone. She thought she was lip-syncing but couldn’t keep her voice from coming out, and the songs of Mike Brant and Claude François were partly muffled by her faint voice, like a slightly raspy whimper, a final breath. She’d sway her hips slowly from right to left, and drool a bit. “This is my praaaayyer, I’m coming back to you—ouu! This is my praaayyeerrrr!”
For whole afternoons at a time. Then she’d say, “Sad, isn’t it, Mimile, it’s sad he’s dead, right?” “Yes, but we’ll always have his songs, see?” “You think I’m a good singer?” “Yes, you’re a very good singer.” “You think I’ll be a singer later, Mimile?” “Do you think you’ll be a singer?” “I’m pretty. Am I pretty? Am I pretty without these glasses? I can be a singer I’m pretty!” I always wound up lying before she got all worked up. “You’re pretty, you’ll be a singer and you’ll marry Ringo.” She was mad about Ringo, Sheila’s husband; he was her kind of guy, or so she said. Often, when I’m sad, I think about Christine and her jump rope. The seriousness with which she’d swing her heavy hips. The amazement in her eyes when she’d sing “We could spend our Mondays in the sun loving each other!” Often, when I lose hope, I think about Christine, who’d get all worked up if you didn’t tell her everything was possible. Often I think of that big sister who had a little something more than I did, a chromosome—21—that wasn’t very nice. She’d provided the soundtrack to my childhood. * When I met Dario, I was 16, but as innocent as a child of 13. So everything that came to pass came upon me by surprise. Everything seemed new and important to me; I felt a joyous astonishment that things seemed to be more than they really were. Certain feelings that were plainly very slight carried in them, I knew, promises of profound upheavals. Nothing was simple, and in life’s complexity I sensed delights full of apprehension, of marvelous jitters, and my expectations pleased me; everything would set me dreaming, I knew I was capable of feelings vast as the sea, I was a giant locked up in a confining family, an old high school, a little provincial town that knew it was picturesque but already suffered from not being Paris. All through school I felt like I was trying to step through a door. It would never open all the way. It forced me to wriggle by sideways, sucking my stomach in, on tiptoe, with held breath: the precautions an obese person takes when walking on a paper floor. But that night, the night of my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, when I exited the bypass and merged onto Route A6, I knew that during the year 1976, many things had been beautiful. And that I’d often missed them.
A Trip to Japan
Publisher: Éditions du Rouergue Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: David Letscher/Élisabeth Beyer firstname.lastname@example.org
DR/Éditions du Rouergue
Translation: Ariana Reines email@example.com
Born in 1957, Antoine Piazza lives in Sète, where he is a teacher. By Éditions du Rouergue, in its “La Brune” collection: La Route de Tassiga (Tassiga Road), 2008 (paperback ed., Actes Sud, “Babel” collection, 2010); Les Ronces (The Brambles), 2006 (paperback ed., Actes Sud, “Babel” collection, 2008); Mougaburu, 2001 (paperback ed., Le Livre de Poche, 2004); Roman fleuve (Roman River/River Novel), 1999 (paperback ed., Gallimard, “Folio” collection, 2001).
Antoine Piazza’s fifth book, A Trip to Japan, is free of any notion of genre. It is an account of a journey, certainly, but is also much more than this. It is in the singularity of his writing that Piazza makes his difference heard. February 2007: Antoine Piazza sets off for Japan, with two saddlebags and his bicycle. Objective: to cross the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four large islands of the archipelago, but also the wildest. Piazza doesn’t know Japan, but immediately discovers there an intimacy with the sky, the villages, the rain, and the mountains of this rural island, with its wild coastlines. The journey is marked by all sorts of constraints. Japan is a faraway place,
its winters are cold, its inhabitants speak scarcely any English, and communication is almost impossible. But “something happens.” This journey invokes in the author the memory of his earlier, equally extreme journeys through Ireland, Finland, Scotland, and the Pyrenees. At the other end of the world, the previous journeys take on new meaning, and, like other events of the past, they are revealed by the writing. These bicycle expeditions, which are more about wandering than sport, more interior adventure than tourism, find their uniqueness in the remarkably classical scope of Antoine Piazza’s language.
1 I knew that in Japan I could leave my bicycle in front of a store for an hour, or at the door of a hotel for a night, because thieves did not exist, or they were elsewhere, in the enormous cities where I had no intention of going and where, in any case, people did not steal such insignificant things. I had bought the bicycle four years earlier, to ride through Scotland, Finland, Ireland, and the Pyrenees. For weeks, summer after summer, I had crossed forests and fields, I had exhausted my strength to the point of finding myself frozen in the middle of a hill, my muscles straining in a final effort, before stopping, returning to my place on earth, where I would become dishonest and feeble once again, overwhelmed by the wind, the rain, the weight of the saddlebags, the bicycle itself. The day before a flight, I would dismantle the seat, take the air out of the tires, and tie the wheels to the front of the frame. With huge lengths of bubble wrap removed from cartons from a furniture store, I would erase the image of a bicycle, doubling and redoubling the layers of wrapping, applying meters of adhesive tape like a corset, managing to work in a discreet opening near the frame which would serve as a carrier handle. My bicycle had become a suitcase, a burden. I carried it before it would carry me. It was the first time that I had traveled so far, and the first time that I traveled in the middle of winter. At the airport, in Air France’s luxurious magazine, I had read the portrait of a renowned French chef, who once a year would travel on
foot through the Far East, in search of new flavors and solitude. He would walk along opaque streams and through monsoon rains, noting down the names of ingredients and sampling herbs and spices. He employed the term “bundle” to designate the trifling piece of baggage that he would bring with him, and found refuge in lost villages where nobody asked him to speak. Directing myself toward the ticket counter, I looked at my saddlebags and carry-on luggage and thought of the bicycle, in pieces, which I would retrieve upon arrival, and the slow reconstruction session awaiting me outside the arrival hall. I felt clumsy and embarrassed. I didn’t know anybody in Japan. I didn’t even have a name, an address, a telephone number. The toll bridges, the highway intersections, the cars, the crowds, would keep me from getting on my bicycle at my arrival in Osaka, would prevent me from immediately immersing myself in the country, the way I had done in Dublin, in Helsinki. Although I had found my way through Donegal or Carelie by reading a bit of Gaelic or Finnish on the road signs, I had renounced learning even the rudiments of the Japanese language, which was an indecipherable algebra, and I set off with the sensation of being paralyzed or blind, with the certitude of having forgotten something. But at the moment of departure, letting myself be carried by the peaceful flow of passengers, who in any case were paying no attention to me, I understood that I was a traveler like any other. Japan, winter, the bicycle, all was well, I thought; all that remained for me was to get lost.
A Trip to Japan
2 As soon as the plane, which had just landed at the Osaka airport after a night flight without stopover, hooked up to the telescoping jetway, all the French passengers bound for New Caledonia rushed toward the exit, following directions to Nouméa indicated on rudimentary panels, and disappearing down a corridor. For them, Japan was only a simple stopover between France and a French territory, and the Osaka airport just an artificial island that had been constructed ten thousand kilometers from Paris, at the exact end of the jumbo jets’ flying range. Impatient to be done with the paperwork, to get my bicycle, to get going, I followed the other passengers into the almost empty arrival hall. To get to Shikoku, which I had chosen because it was the smallest of the four large islands of the archipelago, and because, wild and mountainous, but more southerly, its winters were less rigorous than those of Honshu or Hokkaido, I wouldn’t need to board a train or a ‘limousine’ bus, but a shuttle that would take me to a pier at the far end of the airport, where a rust-eaten ferry waited. The ferry promised modest transit to the peninsula of Awaji, holding its course through thick and current-riven waters. The engines turned at full tilt, as much to keep the boat going forward as to keep it from sinking to the depths,
where it had perhaps navigated long ago, and the racket that preceded the boat no longer frightened the fishermen, upright on immobile rowboats. In order to make the passengers forget the constant threat of shipwreck, the company had installed a sumptuous flat-screen television in the cabin, which showed a report on the macaques of the island of Hokkaido.Gathered in a parking lot, the monkeys went from one car to another, opening trunks, gluing themselves to windshields, tearing food from the hands of tourists. Some of them would stop to pose for the camera with a stolen sandwich, held in their fist like a scepter. When land appeared through the worn portholes, after a brief twohour cruise, I realized that Awaji was not as small as it had seemed on the maps and that Shikoku was further from the airport than I had thought. On the pier, I made sure to deposit the plastic wrappings and adhesive tape that I had torn from my bicycle into a garbage receptacle, to reattach the wheels to the frame, the seat to the seat post, the saddlebags to the baggage rack, and to put a bit of air in the tires. Journey after journey, I had become used to all these manipulations, but I still wasn’t patient enough to get six bars of air pressure with a hand pump, and, having siphoned a gust of furtive and violent air from a gas-station machine, air which generally would allow me to ride for two weeks, I was eager to ride a hundred kilometers, in order to get far from everything on the very first day, but I couldn’t get beyond the Sumoto bicycle store. Crushed by tons of baggage in the hold, the bicycle’s wheels had buckled and it was weaving like the old boat I had just left behind. The repairs having given me a free hour, I went into the supermarket adjacent to the cycling store, following a woman of a certain age who was doing her shopping at that moment of the day, during which the store was nearly empty. She was encumbered by her aged parents, whom she abandoned in an aisle of the store where furniture and electronics were sold. The old man and woman, small and stooped, but agile as animals off the leash, had stopped in front of two living-room armchairs on display near the main aisle, and, had climbed into them, not without difficulty, due to the large bases concealing their reclining and turning mechanisms. Once they had seated themselves, they made so much noise that a salesman, followed by their daughter, rushed toward them. What followed was a debate whose outcome, as I understood it, was that the daughter had gotten the salesman to let her parents, now calm, sit on the chairs while she finished her shopping. The salesman looked around in panic, fearing the irruption of one of his bosses, but he had nothing to fear, the old woman having nodded off while her husband lay in a horizontal position, his belly cinched, had his eyes fixed on the ceiling of the supermarket. An hour later, my repaired bicycle was riding straight through the streets of Sumoto, in the wake of a few rare cyclists. One of them stopped me to ask me where I was going. A few words of English came to him, one after the other,
as his gaze moved down the length of my bicycle. I learned that the only passage for Shikoku was far from this place, on the bridge that crossed the famous whirlpools of Naruto, which was forbidden to pedestrians and cyclists. AtÂ the exit of the city, I recognized the cliff road that my map had designated as the only route to the south and, even though I was sure I had set off on the right road, I had the crazy idea to show my itinerary to the laborers working on the roadway, who hastened to send me back to the other end of the city, to which it took me a long time to return. At the south of Sumoto, the ocean no longer resembled a maritime route crowded with tankers, smelling of sludge and gasoline, but a vacation setting with beaches of fine sand, bars, shops and awnings. Hotel employees were assembled at a shed, installing a replacement window, nailing a panel to the top of a wall where they were dismantling a ventilation duct, adding a concert of clickity-clacks to a popular song playing on a radio somewhere. I had wedged myself onto the left side of the roadway, where the occasional car would swerve widely to overtake me. I felt neither hunger, thirst, nor fatigue, and I had the curious feeling of having been there for eternity, alone on that country road. The little agglomeration of Sumoto was already far away and the isolated houses along the road had disappeared. The sun, hemmed in by a wall of mountains, shone in another direction, for another world, that of Osaka and the overpopulated region of Kansai, where the cars run single-file around concrete chicanes. Thirty kilometers further to the south, where a rectangular island added itself to the horizon, I was stunned not to see the roadway bridge in the distance and to find myself completely alone. The fishermen who had set their lines atop long seawalls like concrete tetrapods were too far from the road to see me. The road had detached itself from the ocean and was beginning to climb. I had ridden forty kilometers with the intention of doing forty more and the first hill had left me exhausted. After the pass, the road opened out into an empty backcountry, buried under a cold night. I trusted it. Nothing suggested that the landscape could change, that villages might soon appear by the roadside, with lights, smells, silhouettes. In reality, I was in a territory equipped with a road and nothing else, where IÂ was neither abandoned nor lost, but simply attached to a machine and forced to pedal, and I had not forgotten that my long wanderings through Scotland, through Ireland, through Finland, had begun in unbearable rides through glacial rain showers, waiting under country bus shelters or on long suburban avenues, nocturnal and lined with vindictive drunks.
A Trip toÂ Japan
The Last Days of Stefan Zweig
Publisher: Flammarion Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Patricia Stansfield firstname.lastname@example.org
© Sandrine Roudeix/Flammarion
Translation: Vivian Folkenflik email@example.com
Laurent Seksik was born in 1962, and is a doctor and writer. By Éditions jc Lattès: La Consultation, 2006 (paperback ed., Pocket, 2009); La Folle Histoire, 2004; Les Mauvaises Pensées, 1999 (paperback ed., Pocket, 2001).
On May 13 1940, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wrote: “We never escape our demons. They never leave us in peace: it is some consolation to believe that the ultimate flight always remains a possibility.” This flight, that exile, Zweig lived one last time with his wife Charlotte. In Brazil, at 34 Gonçalves Dias Street, Petropolis. Here are the writer’s last days, from September 1941 to February 1942, when the couple committed suicide.
In this ground-breaking fictional evocation of Stefan Zweig’s Brazilian exile, Laurent Seksik describes with restrained emotion the couple’s hopes, illusions, time lost—in Vienna, when people spoke of literature instead of Nazi domination, of beauty rather than the destruction of European humanism. Vienna/Rio, back and forth between past and present. And that magnificent display of nature, which in any case cannot save anyone.
He cast a glance at the leather trunk set in the corridor with the other baggage. He turned his face towards Mrs. Banfield, nice Margarida Banfield, and reached out a hand to take the glass of water she was offering. He thanked her, and drank it down. He declined her invitation to tour the apartment. He was well acquainted with the place. He quite liked its three tiny rooms and simple rustic furniture, the strident passionate singing of the birds outside, the immensity of the valley facing the veranda. The Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountains, perhaps thirty kilometers away, loomed like monoliths above the islands rising out of the sea: landscapes carrying the heart of the world. Farewell to the misty Alpine peaks, the chilly motionless dusk descending on the Danube, the pomp of Vienna hotels, evening promenades under the tall chestnut trees of the Waldstein Palace garden, beautiful women wafting by in silken gowns, torch-lit parades of men in black, greedy for blood and dead meat. Petropolis would be a place for new beginnings, of origins, where man was born of dust and would return to dust: the primitive, unexplored, virgin world, guaranteeing order and certitude, the garden of eternal springtime. He was standing immobilized before the trunk, in a sort of hypnotic calm, riveted to the spot as if under a spell. It was his first carefree moment in months. He dug into his inner jacket pocket for the key to the trunk, the key he had always kept on his person, that his fingertips would occasionally caress lightly like a precious talisman—in the middle of an eager crowd at a railway station or on a jetty, waiting for a train or boat whose arrival time was unsure. And its magic had always worked. Contact with that key would lead him back into the past. Caressing that cold metal would evoke a carriage ride around the Ring,
a seat for a premiere at the Burgtheater, Schnitzler’s company at the Meissl & Schadn restaurant, a conversation with Rilke at the Nollendorfplatz brasserie. Those times would never return. No more strolls across the Elisabeth bridge or walks along the Prater Grande Allee, no gilt gleaming from the Schonbrunn Palace, no sunset spreading its reddish glow on the banks of the Danube. Night had fallen for the last time. He turned the key in the lock. Some kind of clarity emanated from the trunk. Day was dawning for the second time in this corner of Brazil. His mind, so long dulled in dreamless sleep, was filled with quiet exaltation, his heart pounding so hard it echoed. It was beating again. He turned, sensing a presence behind him—a breath, sure that Lotte was there observing the scene, a moment of calm in the storm: serene, still, able to share this solemn moment in the same calm and slightly fatalistic way she had agreed to days and weeks of infinite terror, flight, perpetual motion, an uncertain wait for visas, the interminable lines of people with tearful faces, pleading in vain. No sacred asylum, no settled place to live. From now on, life would be a place of permanent wandering. Of exodus immemorial. He contemplated her face. And in the grace it gave off, he wondered by what right he was dimming the brightness of her gaze, consigning her youth to a distressed beauty. Their voyage would be endless. Mrs. Banfield had prepared tea: would he care for a cup? He shook his head, but his refusal was different from the solemn rejection with which he usually declined any invitation. A feverish, impatient, hopeful “no.” They had finally found a place to put down their bags, in the autumn of 1941. For week after week, they could watch the sunset from the same spot. They could write to those who loved them with a return address on the back of the envelope, an ordinary address—34 Gonçalves Dias Street, Petropolis, Brazil—something they had not had since leaving London. They had gotten tired of London. Lotte began to speak, in her gentle voice, on some days gasping because of her illness—her incurable asthma, made worse by traveling, would occasionally bring her to the brink of suffocation. This particular morning, her voice showed no discomfort. She said calmly: “I believe this will be fine for us. A splendid location. I am quite sure you will recover from all this traveling, get into your writing again … Maybe we will live out our old age here?” His gaze swept the space. The apartment was immersed in shadow. To the right, a narrow corridor led to a square bedroom, its floor covered with an old carpet. Two twin beds with iron frames, pushed together, took up the back of the room. On the night table, a Bible and an ashtray. Plain white curtains, tacked above the window. The bedroom opened onto
a bathroom, with a chipped enamel slipper bath on whose edge two towels were placed. The kitchen seemed to provide everything necessary. The dining room contained an oak dining table in the center, four straw-bottomed chairs, a worn dark leather armchair, and a bookcase. On the walls, a few still life paintings. He was to inhabit a three-room maisonnette, a bungalow that came with only a six-month lease. In a semester, he would need to pack his bags and find somewhere else. He counted on his fingers. They would be put out around March 1942. Raus! Into the street, you Zweigs! Six months in the middle of nowhere. A place of incandescent desolation. But had he any right to feel sorry for himself? His closest friends, drowning in the blood-soaked present, were hunting for night’s shelter, begging for a hundred dollars to survive the winter, pleading for a visa from anyone with the right name. They had all become beggars, these People of the Book, the writers’ tribe. He must accept this Petropolis maisonnette as the grandest of palaces. He must forget his home in Salzburg, his majestic house on the Kapuzinerberg, the old eighteenth-century hunting pavilion where Emperor Franz-Josef had once played as a child, whose façade evoked a wing of the Neuschwanstein chateau. That domain was where he had always felt at his best, behind its thick walls, keepers of his solitude, whether he was writing or was driven by his black bile. The noble building where he had lived so happily. Forget Salzburg. Salzburg was no more; Salzburg was German. Vienna was German: Vienna, a province of the Greater Reich. Austria was no longer the name of a country. Austria, a ghost adrift in wandering minds. A dead body. The burial had taken place on the Heldenplatz, to the hurrahs of a people acclaiming their Führer. The man had come to re-gild the dreams of grandeur, restore the luster and purity of a too-Jewish Vienna. And Austria had offered herself up to him. Vienna, a fairytale pageant, with its crystal boulevards opening all hearts, now wallowed in filth, air-drying in crime. Vienna danced Witches’ Sabbaths, arms outstretched to welcome its prodigal son returning to his native land through Branau am Inn where he had been born, coming home, King of Berlin, Emperor of Europe crowned by Cardinal Innitzer, acclaimed by a joyful city. Three years had gone by since the Anschluss. People still managing to flee testified to things they had witnessed. They told of hunger, pain, misery. How the Jews of Vienna had been put to death. In the little capital where he had spent his happiest hours, the spectacle of horror that had played throughout Germany took place even faster. They plundered shops, burned synagogues, beat men in the street, exposed pious old men in caftans to public abuse. Books were burned—his own, but also Roth’s, and Hofmannsthal’s, and Heine’s … Jewish children were expelled from schools, Jewish lawyers and journalists deported to Dachau. They passed laws: laws forbidding Jews to exercise their professions, laws banning Jews
The Last Days of Stefan Zweig
from public gardens and theaters, laws forbidding Jews from walking in the street for most of the day and night, laws forbidding Jews to sit on benches, laws ordering them to identify themselves to authorities, laws depriving them of their nationality, laws extorting their money, laws expelling them from their homes, laws regrouping them, laws confining Jewish families outside the city walls. The German was a man of law. This drama was staged in his birthplace. He had prophesied “the greatest mass murder in History.” No one wanted to believe him. He was called crazy. Even before he packed his bags, back in 1934, four years before the Anschluss, they had called him a coward. He had exiled himself—he, the foremost Viennese, became the first fugitive. “You suffer from psychotic imaginary exile,” his ex-wife, Frederike, had claimed. He could have remained there another four years, stayed on as Freud had done, under the illusion that the evil would pass. But he had left in 1934, after the Austrian police searched his house for hidden firearms—guns in his home, he who had championed pacifism! He had felt the wind shift very soon, the evil wind blowing from Germany. The spoken rage, the physical brutality announcing the Apocalypse to anyone who had eyes to see, or made sense of the words. He belonged to a race on the road to perdition: “Homo austrico-judaicus.” He had developed an instinct for these things, studying History. He had written on so many eras, on Mary Stuart and Marie-Antoinette, Fouché and Bonaparte, Calvin and Erasmus. With the tragedies of the past as his measure, he could predict the future of dramas to come. This particular war would have nothing in common with any of the ones preceding it. His cousins and friends—those who had remained behind, not wanted to understand, not wanted to listen—now knew hunger and grief. Though he had heard tell that occasionally one of these outlaws, seized by a moment’s intrepidity, thirsting for fresh air and the scent of the past, invited by sunshine, ventured out on the avenues of Vienna, walking down the Alserstrasse in the hope of gathering a thousand shining moments. But then, it was said, passersby would recognize his haggard manner, the terror on his face—they would accost him, mobilize a mob, call him to order, the new order. Someone there would throw a stone, someone else would slap him; others, encouraged, fell upon him; blows rained down, blood flowed, everyone hounding him; and if perhaps an SS, strolling on the Ring, turning onto the Floriangasse, alerted by the tumult, happened on the scene, there would be a confused clamor from the crowd, the circle would widen, in total silence; the SS would draw a pistol from his holster, the gun gleaming in the Vienna sunshine. The man in black would take aim, adjust his shot, a bullet would whistle, and death would catch up with this outlaw of the open air.
Publisher: Éditions de l’Olivier Date of Publication: January 2010 Foreign Rights Manager: Martine Heissat firstname.lastname@example.org
© Patrice Normand/Éditions de l’Olivier
Translation: Mary Ann Caws email@example.com
Valérie Zenatti was born in Nice in 1970 and today lives in Paris. She has translated Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld and is also the author of several novels for young people, including A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (Bloomsbury 2008). Publications En retard pour la guerre (Aux Éditions de l’Oliver 2006; Points 2009), a novel that was adapted for the cinema under the title Ultimatum.
One morning Emmanuelle decides not to go to work but to take the day off. She’ll use the time to read the novel she’s just begun but also to distance herself from her everyday world. Emmanuelle has no idea of the upheaval her sudden decision will provoke, recalling the past and liberating her memory. Wandering in Paris becomes an interior journey, its way
marked by echoes aroused by the “confessions” of Lila Kovner, the heroine of the absorbing novel she’s reading which touches, in a most intimate way, her own silent suffering and disappointments in love. This “stolen day” brings to mind Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a novel (and film) inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
Like a Leonard Cohen song at a neo-nazi rally. The sentence stopped her cold, left her stunned, as if she’d suddenly come upon her double. It was just how she too might describe the bizarre estrangement from the world she felt so much of the time. She turned on her heel and blood rushed to her head. Her body was suddenly drenched in perspiration, intensifying the feel of cool morning air on her skin. She dialed Adenxia Research, heart beating wildly, tense from head to toe, and asked the receptionist to convey the message that, with her son running a fever of 102, she couldn’t take him to day care but had no one to stay with him. So, alas, she would not be in. As if on the border of a country in which everything would be hers for the asking, she stands at the brink of day. Where to start? The earth itself seemed to open up before her, revealing paths acutely missed since she began thinking it wise to give up her dreams. She’d like to be borne off on wings of the grand word she feels spreading all around her: Freedom! And the gift of time—she wanted to run and embrace it. Proudly, she rejoiced: Look, I’ve done it, I’ve dared. Fled the office and coffee machine, the smiles and sidelong glances, faces turned solemn at the word “meeting” and all the hubbub of so-called Big Days at work. They’ll gossip, slander and detest me because I‘m leaving them high and dry just today when they’re about to launch that study about the ecological expectations of consumers. I can hear them now. Anyway, with her three children. And since she circulated that regulation
about part-time work and insisted on taking off every second Wednesday. Can’t you see? She just can’t take it any more, that’s clear. She comes into work in a sweat, rushes off to school in the evening. Sometimes doesn’t even go out to lunch. Some days she gets here not even made up, hair scarcely combed. When that starts happening you have to stop working, you don’t do things halfway. You have to be honest with yourself and others. You don’t make your colleagues suffer because of your children. She’s got three already and might do it again. Are they are devout Catholics in that family or what? She shrugs off those hostile whispers the way you might chase away so many chattering birds. The day is opening like a rare and fragile flower, and nothing can be allowed to spoil it. Precious time is slipping away, second by second. 9:05. A thousand ideas run through her mind as she seeks the most exciting way to go. Finish her book, go to the movies, to a café or bookstore, take a walk and turn men’s heads, follow people, take a train. For some cities far off the train takes just two hours. She could cross a border somewhere, have lunch in another country and get back in time for the assembly at Gary’s school, give Sarah her bath, see to the homework, put Tim in his highchair and sing nursery songs while his puree cools. The giddiness was that of a child playing hooky or home sick but not really, yet with a few aches and touch of fever, a tickle in the throat or runny nose— enough for a sick day, so the doctor says, writing a note, only half-convinced. You need a rest. The contrite expression of the conscientious worker, a slight nod and murmur of agreement. A rest. Yes. Three days of cold chills and shivering, keeping warm and plenty of liquids, reading and watching TV, attending to the body with its soreness and longing to be hugged, cradled, made once again the center of attention. Some relaxation, some down time—a break.
[…] Though she needs to eat, with the day going by so fast, that would be a waste of time. The bus passes café terraces, crowded with women wearing sunglasses on this Indian summer’s morning. Coffee before the check on almost every table. She thinks of maybe just getting something from one of those places where you hurry in for a quick sandwich or salad, but Emmanuel can’t stand the idea of behaving like her everyday self. With the movement of the bus, slow behind a garbage truck stopping every few meters, she feels her chest tighten, the place of hunger and impatience. Like trying to find the right position to sleep she wants to discover the right way to live, and so asks the driver to let her off at the next stop. With a pale sharp face, small blank triangular eyes, going bald though still young—he says nothing. I’m so sorry, she feels she must add, it’s urgent. Please. Without answering or even a nod, he presses a
button that opens the automatic door with a whoosh. Why does he do it if he’s so unfriendly? In search of shade, she walks along and would love a cool grotto or air-conditioned cinema but doubts there’s a chance of either nearby. A few more steps down this meaningless street and she’d decide how to reach the summit of the day, to reach the place or person calling her. There must be some amazing event in store, to apprehend by logic or instinct. By which? Perhaps neither. Walking faster she is startled when suddenly, a few yards away she spies a pair of blue-green pants and a blue shirt with thin mauve stripes. At first astonished because Elias has exactly the same outfit, she sees herself ironing it yesterday in the living room, standing next to Gary and Sarah, watching a cartoon. She’d sent him off to the market with Tim rather than iron when the little one was around, worried he might crawl under the ironing board and get tangled in the wires. She’d ironed all the pleats almost, thinking of the book she’d bought a couple of days before in her favorite bookstore near the office, yet not even knowing why she’d chosen it. Lila Kovner in the World. She liked the title, perhaps not the whole title but the name. Lila Kovner. She found it chic and intriguing. According to the back cover, the heroine was a photographer. That was what interested her, thinking about it, the name and the fact that the heroine was a photographer. If her name was Maryse Dugoin she wouldn’t have been so drawn to it. And if Maryse Dugoin was working in a place like Adnexia Research, Emmanuelle would have just put the book back. But Lila Kovner— photographer. Goodness, how lovely! That’s what she had been thinking about while ironing Elias’s shirts. Mostly his shirts in the big pile of laundry, she was always calling “Elias’s shirts” as if they were a litter of kittens and she had to take care of them. She made an effort to remember what clothes Elias wore that morning, to form a mental picture of her husband to whom she’d said goodbye just a few hours earlier. Nothing. She tried again, and in her mind’s eye she roved through the apartment, invisible and light as a feather, looking for him drinking coffee in the kitchen already dressed but there didn’t see him, so in their bedroom where he would splash on eau de cologne, the signal of his departure for work every morning—the cologne that she had given him on his first birthday after they met—before taking his keys and bag and helmet. But she didn’t see him in the bedroom and lost sight of him in the elevator which was too crowded with everybody pressed against everybody else, and then she was distracted, at once thinking of the plan she suddenly hatched that morning in the bathroom and of the questions Sarah was asking about death. She recalls, in casting a glance at the mirror in the elevator, Tim’s sleepy little babyface behind her then Elias on the way to the nursery school with Tim in his arms. Wearing those pants and that shirt. Strange to see two men dressed alike the same day in the same city. Actually very disconcerting because the slender nape of the man’s neck a few yards in front of her had the same graceful outline as that of Elias, the same curly chestnut chair, same height and relaxed confident
carriage … But it’s not so strange after all. Because the man Emmanuelle might just have to jostle past if she started running the way she feels like doing is none other than her husband and father of her children. Elias. She’d forgotten but how could she that he worked two blocks away? He must’ve had lunch with an office buddy—she prefers buddy to colleague, a word she loathes—and they had to have just come out of the same bistro she ducks into, only to have the owner say he’s no longer serving, the kitchen’s closed. He utters this in a tone at once equivocal and confrontational, and she responds by saying that she’d be happy to have a little bread and cheese with a glass of wine. He nods to the tables and booths and she sinks into one, heart pounding at having almost run into Elias in the street, panicked by the idea that he might have turned around and seen her. She’d have blushed like a child caught in the act and not have known or wanted to explain to him why she was there.
Foreign Rights Here are the titles presented in the previous issues of Fiction France whose foreign rights have since been sold or are currently under negociation.
u Albanian [Buzuku, Kosovo] u German
u Castilian [Alianza] u Chinese (complex characters) [Ten Points] u English [The Lilliput Press, Ireland] u Italian [Mondadori]
Éd. de l’Olivier
[Klett-Cotta] u Italian [Bompiani] u Polish [Nasza Ksiegamia] Arditi Metin
Grasset & Fasquelle
The Louganis Girl
u German [Hoffmann & Campe]
Grasset & Fasquelle
u Greek [Livanis] u Russian [Ripol]
Quai des Orfèvres Gallimard
u Italian [Bompiani]
My Name Is François u Arabic (world rights) [Arab Scientific
The Black Sea Sabine Wespieser
u German [Fischer] u Italian [Rizzoli]
Is This the Way Women Die?
u Russian [Gelos]
u Castilian [Alianza] u German [Arche Literatur Verlag] u Italian [Rizzoli] u Korean [Golden Bough Publishing]
u Greek [Polis] u Italian [Fazi Editore]
A Heart Outside Grasset & Fasquelle
u Chinese (simplified characters)
[Shanghai 99 Readers] u Dutch [Arena ; Meulenhoff] u German [Aufbau Verlag] u Hebrew [Keter Publishing House] u Korean [Munhakdongne Publishing] Berton Benjamin
Grasset & Fasquelle
The Shoe on the Roof Gallimard
u German [Ullstein] u Greek [Govostis] u Italian [Excelsior 1881] u Korean
[Changbi] u Rumanian [RAO] u Russian [Fluid] u Spanish [Lengua de Trapo]
Alain Delon, Japanese Superstar
Caïn & Adèle
u Italian [Nottetempo] u Vietnamese
Éd. JC Lattès
Our Lives, Unfulfilled
u German [Diogenes]
The Accidental Man u German [Deutscher Taschenbuch
Verlag] u Korean [Woongjin] u Polish [Muza] u Portuguese [Editora Novo Seculo, Brazil]
The World’s Beauty
u Bulgarian [Fakel Express] u Catalan
u Italian [Fazi Editore]
[Pages] u Dutch [De Geus] u Greek [Kedros] u Hebrew [Kinneret] u Italian [Bompiani] u Japanese [Kawade Shobo] u Polish [Sic !] u Portuguese [Ambav; Record, Brazil] u Rumanian [RAO] Énard Mathias
Grasset & Fasquelle Lindon Mathieu
My Heart Alone Is Not Enough P.O.L
u Dutch [Ailantus]
u Castilian [Belacqva/La Otra Orilla,
u Catalan [La Campana] u German
Spain] u Catalan [Columna, Spain] u English [Open Letter, United States] u German [Berlin Verlag] u Greek [Ellinika Grammata] u Italian [Rizzoli] u Lebanese for the Arabic language [La Librairie Orientale] u Portuguese [Dom Quixote] Faye Éric
The Man With No Prints Stock
u Bulgarian [Pulsio] u Slovak [Ed. VSSS]
The Unnoticed Albin Michel
u English [Dedalus Limited, Great
Éd. du Seuil
[Knaus/Random] u Greek [Scripta]
u Italian [Giunti]
Garden of Love Zulma
u Italian [Piemme] u Polish [Albatros] u Spanish [Paidos] u Turkish [Pupa]
u Vietnamese [Les Éditions littéraires
Our Second Life Flammarion
u German [Ullstein]
Britain] u Korean [Munhakdongne Publishing]
Who Killed Ayatollah Kanuni?
u Swedish [Sekwa]
Mercure de France
u Dutch [Querido] u Spanish [Alianza]
u English [Semiotexte, United States]
u Italian [Piemme]
u Italian [Medusa] u Russian [Société
And My Transparent Heart
u Castilian [Duomo, Spain] u Hebrew
u English [Portobello, Great Britain]
Éd. de l’Olivier
[Modan, Israel] u Italian [Fazi Editore] Joncour Serge
Éd. de l’Olivier
u Italian [Minimum Fax]
How Many Ways I Love You
Perhaps a Love Affair
u Chinese [Phoenix Publishing] u Korean
u English [Viking, United States]
[Wisdom House] u Russian [Riopl]
u German [Amman]
Le Bris Michel
An Ordinary Execution
Éd. de l’Olivier
u German [Thiele] u Greek [Patakis]
u Italian [Garzanti] u Korean [Yolimwom] u Portuguese [Rocco, Brazil] u Romanian
[Humanitas] u Russian [Astrel/Ast]
u Serbian [Nolit]
The Slow Tortoise Waltz u Castilian [La Esfera de los libros] u Chinese (traditional characters)
[Business weekly] u Chinese (simplified characters) [Thnkingdom] u Italian [Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore] u Korean [Munhakdongne Publishing] u Polish [Sonia Draga] u Russian [Astrel] u Turkish [Pegasus Yayinlari] Ravey Yves
The German’s Village u Bosnian [B.T.C Sahinpasic] u Catalan
[Columna] u Danish [Turbine] u Dutch [De Geus] u English [Europe Editions, United States ; Bloomsbury, United Kingdom] u German [Merlin] u Greek [Polis] u Hebrew [Kinneret] u Italian [Einaudi] u Polish [Dialog] u Serbian [IPS Media II] u Spanish [El Aleph] Toussaint Jean-Philippe
The Truth About Marie
u Greek [Agra] u Romanian [Bastion
u Chinese [Éd. d’Art et de littérature
Éd. de Minuit Editura]
u Italian [Il Saggiatore] u Korean [Agora] u Turk [Altin Bilek Yayincilik]
All the Dreams of the World Belfond
u German [Der Club Bertelsmann ;
Goldmann] u Hungarian [Athenaeum] u Polish [Swiat Ksiazki] u Portuguese [Circulo de Leitores] u Russian [Family Leisure Club] u Serbian [Alnari] u Spanish [Circulo de Lectores] Rolin Olivier
A Lion Hunter Éd. du Seuil
u Chinese (simplified characters)
[Shanghai 99 Readers] u German [Berlin Verlag] u Italian [Barbès] u Portuguese [Sextante] u Spanish [Matalamanga, Peru and Chile]
Éd. de Minuit
du Hunan] u Dutch [Prometheus/Bert Bakker] u English [Dalkey Archive Press, United Kingdom] u German [Frankfurter Verlaganstalt] u Spanish [Anagrama editorial] Varenne Antonin
u English [MacLehose Press, United
Kingdom] u German [Ullstein] u Italian [Einaudi] u Turkish [Dogˇan Kitap]
Paris-Brest Éd. de Minuit
u Dutch [De Arbeiderspers] u German [Wagenbach] u Italian [Neri Pozza] u Spanish [Acantilado]
The Women’s Chorus P.O.L
u Spanish [Akal]
A Dead Dog After Him P.O.L
u German [Berlin Verlag] u Polish
[Czarne] u Russian [Text] Roux Frédéric
The Indian Winter Grasset & Fasquelle
u Chinese (complex characters) [Ye-ren,
Taiwan] u Greek [Papyros]