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Contemporary French Literature in Translation

James Sherman, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
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If you are a fan of contemporary French fiction, we hope you can take part in selecting the Albertine Prize, a reader's choice award for best contemporary French fiction in translation. The Albertine Prize is a project of Albertine Books, a book store run by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, which aims to raise awareness of contemporary French literature in translation and to encourage people across the country to read books translated and published in the US in the past year.

May 1st is the deadline to vote in support of one of the five nominated titles listed below, all of which are in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.


Mabanckou, Alain, 1966-

Translated by Helen Stevenson

Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko, or to many, simply Moses, is an orphan who navigates Pointe-Noire in the 1970s and ’80s. Mabanckou is described as “a novelist of exuberant originality” by the Guardian and was shortlisted for the prize in 2015.


Enard, Mathias, 1972-

Translated by Charlotte Mandell

As night falls over Vienna, Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist, takes to his sickbed with an unspecified illness and spends a restless night drifting between dreams and memories, revisiting the important chapters of his life: his ongoing fascination with the Middle East and his numerous travels to Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, and Tehran, as well as the various writers, artists, musicians, academics, Orientalists, and explorers who populate this vast dreamscape. At the center of these memories is his elusive, unrequited love, Sarah, a fiercely intelligent French scholar caught in the intricate tension between Europe and the Middle East. An immersive, nocturnal, musical novel, full of generous erudition and bittersweet humor, Compass is a journey and a declaration of admiration, a quest for the otherness inside us all and a hand reaching out—like a bridge between West and East, yesterday and tomorrow. Winner of the 2015 Prix Goncourt, this is Mathias Enard's most ambitious novel since Zone.


Translated by Michael Lucey

'Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me. In truth, confronting my parents, my social class, its poverty, racism, and brutality came second. From early on I provoked shame and even disgust from my family and others around me. The only option I had was to get away somehow. This book is an effort to understand all that.' Edouard Louis grew up in Hallencourt, a village in northern France where many live below the poverty line. His bestselling debut novel about life there, The End of Eddy, has sparked debate on social inequality, sexuality, and violence. It is an extraordinary portrait of escaping from an unbearable childhood, inspired by the author's own. Written with an openness and compassionate intelligence, ultimately, it asks, how can we create our own freedom?


Angot, Christine,

Translated by Tess Lewis

A daring novel that made Christine Angot one of the most controversial figures in contemporary France recounts the narrator's incestuous relationship with her father. Tess Lewis's forceful translation brings into English this audacious novel of taboo. The narrator is falling out from a torrential relationship with another woman. Delirious with love and yearning, her thoughts grow increasingly cyclical and wild, until exposing the trauma lying behind her pain. With the intimacy offered by a confession, the narrator embarks on a psychoanalysis of herself, giving the reader entry into her tangled experiences with homosexuality, paranoia, and, at the core of it all, incest. In a masterful translation from the French by Tess Lewis, Christine Angot's Incest audaciously confronts its readers with one of our greatest taboos.


Garreta, Anne, author, translator.

Translated by Emma Ramadan

Not One Day begins with a maxim: "Not one day without a woman." What follows is an intimate, erotic, and sometimes bitter recounting of loves and lovers past, breathtakingly written, exploring the interplay between memory, fantasy, and desire. "For life is too short to submit to reading poorly written books and sleeping with women one does not love." Anne Garreta, author of the groundbreaking novel Sphinx, is a member of the renowned Oulipo literary group. Not One Day won the Prix Medicis in 2002, recognizing Garreta as an author "whose fame does not yet match their talent."


A series of interviews with the nominated authors has been published by Lit Hub.

“Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good.”—Etgar Keret

Translation is magic at work and this prize really values the efforts of those who make it possible to read the literature of the world over. A series of interviews with the translators of the five nominees has been published by Bookwitty.

Here are some other recent works of contemporary French fiction in translation worth checking out from the Los Angeles Public Library.


Slimani, Leila, 1981-

Translated by Sam Taylor

When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family's chic apartment in Paris's upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. Building tension with every page, The Perfect Nanny is a compulsive, riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, and motherhood—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.


Translated by Alison Anderson

It is the year 2084. In the kingdom of Abistan—named after the prophet Abi, earthly messenger of the god Yolah—citizens submit to a single god, demonstrating their devotion by kneeling in prayer nine times a day. Autonomous thought has been banned, remembering is forbidden, and an omnipresent surveillance system instantly informs the authorities of every deviant act, thought, or idea. The kingdom is blessed and its citizens are happy, filled with a sense of purpose and piety. Those who are not—the heretics—are put to death by stoning or beheading in city squares. But Ati has met people who think differently; in ghettos and caves, hidden from the authorities, exist the last living heretics and free-thinkers of Abistan. Under their influence, Ati begins to doubt. He begins to think. Now, he will have to defend his thoughts with his life.


Djian, Philippe, 1949-

Translated by Michael Katims

This psychological thriller recounts thirty days in the life of its heroine, Michèle. A few weeks before Christmas, Michèle picks herself up from her living room floor. She has been raped. She has almost no recollection of her attacker, but she senses his presence—he is never far away—and this uncanny feeling triggers a whirlwind of events and memories. She begins to fear she is losing her grip on a life already complicated by a demanding job, an ex-husband with a new girlfriend, a jealous lover, and a son trapped in a relationship with his girlfriend pregnant by another man. Hardened by the consequences of her father's violent past, Michèle—nearing fifty, fiercely independent and unsentimental—refuses to be reduced to a victim. When her rapist begins taunting her with messages, she takes measures to protect herself—until she discovers his identity. Through the bitingly sarcastic and unflinchingly realist voice of its heroine, Elle paints a striking portrait of one woman's experience that challenges our notions of masculinity and femininity, weakness and strength."


Translated by John Cullen

This response to Camus's The Stranger is at once a love story and a political manifesto about post-colonial Algeria, Islam, and the irrelevance of Arab lives. He was the brother of "the Arab" killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus's classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling's memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: he gives his brother a story and a name—Musa—and describes the events that led to Musa's casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach. Harun is an old man tormented by frustration. In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him. A stranger among his own people, he wants to be granted, finally, the right to die. The Stranger is, of course, central to Daoud's novel, in which he both endorses and criticizes one of the most famous novels in the world. A worthy complement to its great predecessor, The Mersault Investigation is not only a profound meditation on Arab identity and the disastrous effects of colonialism in Algeria, but also a stunning work of literature in its own right, told in a unique and affecting voice.


Kerangal, Maylis de.

Translated by Sam Taylor

Just before dawn on a Sunday morning, three teenage boys go surfing. Returning home, exhausted, the driver lets the car drift off the road into a tree. Two of the boys are wearing seat belts; one is sent through the windshield. He is declared brain-dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. His heart is still beating. The Heart takes place over the twenty-four hours surrounding a fatal accident and a resulting heart transplant as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death. In gorgeous, ruminative prose it examines the deepest feelings of everyone involved—grieving parents, hardworking doctors and nurses—as they navigate decisions of life and death. As stylistically audacious as it is emotionally explosive, Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart has mesmerized readers in France, where it has been hailed as the breakthrough work of a new literary star.


Fabre, Dominique, 1960-

Translated by Howard Curtis

In this quiet, subdued tale, a middle-aged office worker, divorced and alienated from his only son, meets up with two childhood friends who are similarly adrift, without passions or prospects. He's looking for a second act to his mournful life, seeking the harbor of love and a true connection with his son. Set in palpably real Paris streets that feel miles away from the City of Light, Guys Like Me is a stirring novel of regret and absence, yet not without a glimmer of hope.


Blondel, Jean-Philippe, 1964-

Translated by Alison Anderson

Cécile, a stylish forty-seven-year-old, has spent the weekend visiting her parents in a provincial town southeast of Paris. By early Monday morning, she's exhausted. These trips back home are always stressful and she settles into a train compartment with an empty seat beside her. But it's soon occupied by a man she instantly recognizes: Philippe Leduc, with whom she had a passionate affair that ended in her brutal humiliation thirty years ago. In the fraught hour and a half that ensues, their express train hurtles towards the French capital. Cécile and Philippe undertake their own face to face journey—in silence? What could they possibly say to one another?—with the reader gaining entrée to the most private of thoughts. This is a psychological thriller about past romance, with all its pain and promise.


Bussi, Michel, 1965-

Translated by Shaun Whiteside

In the summer of 2016, Clotilde is spending her vacation in Corsica with her husband Franck and her teenage daughter Valentine. It is the first time she has been back to the island since the car accident in which her parents and her brother were killed decades earlier. She was in the car too, but miraculously escaped with her life ... When a mysterious letter signed "Palma"—Clotilde's mother—arrives, the truth about her family, her parents' death, and her childhood is called into question.


Annotations provided by publishers.


 

 

 

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