Tag Archives: france

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad Title: The Parisian
Author: Isabella Hammad
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 9780802129437
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 576
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Hands down, The Parisian is one of the best books I’ve read this year and its only mid-March. But I can say this with utmost assurance. I do not normally read historical novels but The Parisian is an exception I am glad I made. It would have been a lost opportunity had I decided not to read this book. Plus this book is not only historical, but also psychological in nature, which makes you want to read it even more.

This is a debut and I couldn’t believe it. Hammad writes with such assurance and elegance, that no reader can believe that this is her first work. Anyhow, now to the plot. The book opens at the time of the First World War. Midhat Kamal, a young Palestinian from Nablus is forced by his autocratic father to study medicine in Montpellier, France. There, he stays at the home of a professor at the college, Docteur Molineu, who is extremely warm to him. While studying, Midhat falls head over heels in love with Molineu’s daughter, Jeannette. And this is where all troubles begin.

When the war is over, he returns to Nablus and begins to rediscover his homeland, deciding to work for his family’s clothing business. He focuses then on the old, and forgets France, as though it was just something that occurred in a different lifetime. He marries someone he doesn’t even know, has children, and his life is pretty much on track, till something occurs and his world blows apart.

This is where the political and personal merge in the novel and from hereon are my favourite parts of the novel. Hammad’s writing is lucid, and yet complex. She doesn’t spoon-feed the reader. She throws crumbs – you have to follow it, and learn more about the time, the conflict, and some resolutions concerning the timeline in which the book is set.

The Parisian deals with so many issues that one time that sometimes it becomes difficult to follow everything at once, but if you persist and read back and forth, the book is a treasure. There is the question of personal identity,  cultural identity, again given the time it is set in the idea of politics and the self, family to be placed at the helm or not, and a nation on the brink of struggling for independence. Phew! There is needed a lot going on, but not once does Hammad stray from what she wants the reader to feel while reading the book. The element of suspense and intrigue also makes you want to turn the page sooner than you know.

The writing is indeed of top-form. Yes, there are a lot of colloquialisms  but that helps you learn something new and that worked for me. And all of this is told with such clarity and well-constructed prose that it is nothing short of joy to read this novel. The Parisian is a novel that questions, gives answers as well, makes you think beyond your comfort zone, and does all of this with great warmth and tenderness.

Little Culinary Triumphs by Pascale Pujol. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

Little Culinary Triumphs Title: Little Culinary Triumphs
Author: Pascale Pujol
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454906
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Little Culinary Triumphs is a book that will delight you. It is funny, and will leave you with the feeling of wanting to get up and hug someone. At least, I felt that way at the end of it. It is a whimsical book, it is also profound at times (rarely though), all in all it is the perfect book to be read when feeling down and about.

The story takes place in Montmartre – multi-ethnic neighbourhood, where cultures meet, mingle, and sometimes collide as well. It is the place perfect for the senses – all of them actually, but more so when it comes to the taste buds. Sandrine, one of the central characters, works in an employment office, helping people find jobs. Under this surface is a world-class cook waiting to blossom and realize her dream of opening a restaurant. A bunch of weird and eccentric characters come together, thanks to Sandrine to open the restaurant – Antoine, an unemployed professor; the giant Senegalese, a magical chef, a psychologist, and a Kama Sutra expert as well. In all of this, is a newspaper magnate, upto no good at all.

Pujol’s prose is hilarious. It sneaks up quite cleverly on you. Till I reached page 75, I was of the opinion that this book isn’t going anywhere at all. I was proved so wrong after that and I am so glad I was. The writing is crisp, delicious, and leaves you with this aftertaste that I just cannot describe. Yes, I used food adjectives, but that’s what the book is all about anyway – food, food, and more food.

I am a fan of Alison Anderson’s translations. From Muriel Barbery to J.M.G. Le Clézio, her translations are spot-on. It is as though she gets the pulse of the original to the very last detail and as a reader, I am never left wanting more or wondering how it would’ve read in the original language. Little Culinary Triumphs is a novel that will make you laugh, chuckle, and understand a minuscule bubble of a universe of oddballs, who eventually grow to understand and sometimes even like each other.

 

 

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain Title: The Red Notebook
Author: Antoine Laurain
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1908313867
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You watch a romantic movie about two people meeting in the strangest of ways and wish it were a book so you could savour the words and get more of it, page by page. And then you do chance on such a book, you read it; you actually devour it and love it to the hilt! You talk about it to everyone you meet and cannot stop talking more. You wish that someone would make a film out of it so you can see the magic appear on screen. “The Red Notebook” by Antoine Laurain is one such book.

The book is a delight. It is whimsical, it is hopeful, it is the kind of book that makes you want to fall in love and stay there. Laurent, a bookseller (I was already sold on the book) finds an abandoned handbag. He doesn’t know anything about the owner. Paris a big city and he cannot even find her.

Laure on the other hand has been mugged and hit on the hand. Her handbag is stolen and she is now in a coma. Laurent of course doesn’t know that it is Laure’s bag he’s found. That is where the story begins. Through a series of objects and clues that are there in the handbag, Laurent makes sense of the woman Laure could be. One of the items is a red notebook where Laure has written her thoughts and innermost confessions are penned there. He gets to know her. She is in a hospital, unaware of what is going on. Will they meet? What will happen after all? How will Laure react when she is out of her coma and gets to know of Laurent?

Laurain’s (love the wordplay of the author’s name throughout the book and love how the author has used it to his advantage) writing is playful, melancholic (in most places) and uplifting in so many other places as the book progresses. You see what a short book can do in terms of impact and how one incident can change lives for the worse and sometimes pleasantly for the better. I love the writing. It is short, crisp and full of humanity and life. These are the kind of books that we need, the kind of books that can uplift the spirit and make hearts sing.

The translation by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce for sure have hit the spot (I don’t know French but the book worked with me on so many levels). What works for the book the most is that it is set in Paris – the city of love, the clichés, the extraordinary amidst the ordinary and the chance that each of us must get – of finding love.

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest & Translated by Heather Lloyd

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest Title: Sagan, Paris 1954
Author: Anne Berest
Translated by: Heather Lloyd
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1908313898
Genre: Memoirs, Literary Fiction, Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Some books have an age for it. You just cannot read Catcher in the Rye at 30. You will not get it. No matter how hard you try. The same goes for a beautiful well-known book called “Bonjour Tristesse” whose author Francoise Sagan was only eighteen when she wrote it.

I was eighteen when I read. That was the time I came out to my family and this book was one of those read that year, after I came out, that helped me see myself better and clearer for sure. There is no other way to put it and no better way to pay homage to it than read a book about how “Bonjour Tristesse” became what it did and that’s what I did when I read “Sagan, Paris 1954” by Anne Berest and translated by Heather Lloyd from French.

“Sagan, Paris 1954” traces the life of Francoise Quoirez, before she became a literary sensation. It is of the months in 1954 that led to the publication of her legendary novel. Berest writes the book in the form of a paean – a poetic-prose meditation on the young author’s life – the atmosphere in which she grew, her friends, her parents, her brother and her life in Paris. The book reads like a journal – a journal of Sagan (in some bits – some fabricated) as written by Berest. The reader sometimes doesn’t know whose perspective or whose life is being talked about – I liked the intermingling. It worked for me for sure.

If you are looking for writing tips or how it is to be a writer at eighteen, then this book is not for you at all. This book is for lovers of literature who want to know more about Sagan and how she became what she did. Berest’s writing will keep you turning the pages and leave you hungering for more. Lloyd’s translation is precise and cuts clean through the book.

As a reader, I loved how Berest took me through the journey of a confident writer who knew that the only way she would be was in writing and getting a book published. She was never short on confidence. Sagan’s life in these couple of months was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride which Berest intricately and with great brevity takes us through. I love this book – it is a great mix – a take on real life and life that is closely reimagined – taking some liberties but which could very well be true.

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 by Riad Sattouf

The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf Title: The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984
Author: Riad Sattouf
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
ISBN: 978-1627793445
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had chanced upon this graphic novel, just by surfing, as I chance upon most of my reads. I read stuff on the internet and then pick and choose by reads. Like most reads that I come across this way and read it this year – the first book of 2016 and what a way to kick-start the year!

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“The Arab of the Future” is a graphic memoir of Riad Sattouf and is the first in the two part series. It is about his childhood spent in Libya, France and Syria – and how he and his family kept shuffling between these three places. It is about the confusion that Riad goes through as a child, given the different cultures and perspectives. It is almost as if it is the miseducation of a child in an Arab world. It is world where little boys defecate on streets, women have no voice, stray dogs are killed with pitchforks and where religion is of supreme importance and you are definitely in for trouble if you aren’t Muslim.

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Riad Sattouf, a French-Syrian cartoonist has drawn just more than what seems to be a graphic memoir on the surface. It is a juxtaposition of values and how each culture is and what they stand for. Riad’s Arabic father believes in a lot things that his French born and raised mother does not and in all of this there is Riad, trying to make sense of the worlds he has been thrown into – where his relatives on both sides seem to be very different and act differently as well. He cannot figure what is going on and is forever confused as he makes his way and understands the world a little better.

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For me while reading this book, a new world opened – that of Sunnis and Shias (though the discussion points about this aspect are few), about Israel and Palestine and what is the conflict all about (again this is briefly touched upon) and how even family members deal with each other sometimes in the most brutal manner.

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The graphic memoir is beautifully illustrated with a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments and indications as you go along. It is done in sepia tones, which you get used to as you turn the pages. I was fascinated with how Riad’s education took place right at home amidst his cousins and their fascination for his toys to how religion politics even affect childhood to a very large extent in these areas – may be that is just how it is with them – catch them young and watch them grow.

The book in a graphic form touches on so many issues that it is difficult at a point to treat it as a graphic novel. You wish he had written a non-fiction text which had more details. “The Arab of the Future” also has a sequel to it which I am most eagerly awaiting – it will take some time given that it will be a translation just like this one. To all graphic novel enthusiasts: Do not skip this one. A must read.

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