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Posts Tagged ‘French’

Meet Me on the Bridge

June 25, 2013 | by

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One afternoon I decided to read Groucho Marx in French, because, well, why not? I had temporarily switched Boston for New York on the larkiest of larks, had accidentally been charged $9,000 for a pulled pork sandwich (where my saying “It’s that much because it comes with a little waiter who grows when you pour water on him, right?” fell unbelievably flat), and—with nothing in the immediate particular to do on that May afternoon—felt the moment was right for a book.

Groucho and Me was translated into French in 1981 as Mémoire capitales, and it begins so: “L’ennui avec une autobiographie, c’est que l’on ne peut pas s’ecarter de la verite. Quand on ecrit sur un autre, on peut se permettre des retouches, voire carrement de la broderie anglaise.” (The trouble with an autobiography is that we cannot depart from the truth. When one writes of another, one is permitted alterations, even downright English embroidery.)

Groucho wrote it like this: “The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can’t fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland.” Read More »

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In Which Philip Roth Announces His Retirement (in English)

November 13, 2012 | by

Last month our friends at the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles reported that Philip Roth has called it a day, and the world took notice. Here is the full interview with Nelly Kaprielian, in English. —Lorin Stein

Out of all your novels, Nemesis seems to be the one where you lay out most clearly your own vision of existence.

That’s true. I think everything in life is a matter of luck. I don’t believe in psychoanalysis, or in a subconscious that guides our choices. All we have is the good luck or the bad luck to meet certain people who will be either good or bad for us. My first wife, for example, turned out to be a criminal—she was always stealing, lying, and so forth—and it’s not as if I chose her for that reason. I hate criminals. But there you are, I had the bad luck to marry a bad person. Psychoanalysts will tell you that I chose her unconsciously—I don’t believe in that, though in a certain way this isn’t far from my own view, which is that, in the face of life, we are innocents. There is a certain innocence in each of us in the way we deal with our lives.

Nemesis belongs to a group of four novels entitled “Nemeses” (including Everyman, Indignation, and The Humbling). How are they connected?

Each one deals with the subject of death from a different point of view. In each of these books, the protagonist has to face his “nemesis,” a word one hears a lot in the United States, and which could be defined as doom, or misfortune, a force that he can’t overcome and that chooses him as its victim. Read More »

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Dreaming in French

July 30, 2012 | by

Saint Cyprien

On the rare occasions when Georges Alain is asked to list his occupation, he simply writes, “Dilettante.” Years ago, he was more comfortable describing his occupation as “surrealist,” but for as long as I’ve known him, more than twenty years, he has stuck with “dilettante.”

In that time, he has published books of his poetry, exhibited paintings and sculptures, produced albums of Madagascan guitar music, designed wine labels for a vineyard near his home in Saint Cyprien, in southwest France, and set up a small and cheerfully primitive recording studio in an old, abandoned schoolhouse outside of Belves.

Some years ago, when I wanted to record in the studio, he offered to let me work there for free if I agreed to dream only in French for the week preceding and the week following the sessions. The contract he presented me was very formal, fourteen pages long, and required multiple signatures.

“What about the week of the sessions?” I asked before signing.

“I don’t want to interfere with your process,” he shrugged. “Though, if you wish…”

It should be no surprise that Georges Alain’s endeavors have gained him more friends than money, although he received a remarkable number of donations when, in 1999, he waged a brief campaign to have coq au vin declared France’s national bird.

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The Fetish

February 16, 2012 | by

The slim novel came my way quite by accident. I had stumbled across a review of the film The Lover and ordered a VHS copy through my movie-of-the-month club. The first Saturday I could secure a house free of hovering parents, my fellow honors English friends and I, as sex obsessed as we were lit geeks, watched, enraptured, Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical depiction of an adolescent girl in French Indochina who embarks on an affair with a wealthy Chinese man. The girl’s family is crass and impoverished, but she is a good student and wants to be a writer. Soon after, I got my hands on a paperback with a cinema-still cover and was not disappointed.

“I’m fifteen and a half,” the unnamed narrator repeats early in the book. “There are no seasons in that part of the world, we have just the one season, hot, monotonous, we’re in the long hot girdle of the earth, with no spring, no renewal.” Nothing suggested sex as much as sensual lyricism, warm, distant places, and anything French.

I was also fifteen and a half, a virgin consumed with the mysteries of sex, of forbidden encounters. I was also going to be a writer. I read the book and watched the film again and again. Just what was The Lover’s appeal? By then I had discovered Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Lolita, but Duras’s novel resonated more acutely, an exotic Lolita tale but told from the woman’s (if she could be called that) point of view.

My favorite section was where the narrator describes herself on the ferry, wearing gold lamé high heels and a man’s fedora: “Going to school in evening shoes decorated with little diamanté flowers. I insist on wearing them. I don’t like myself in any others, and to this day I still like myself in them.” It is the day she is about to meet the “Chinaman” for the first time. She is fixated on this particular, outlandish ensemble, as stubborn as a child playing dress up. But the faint hint of pedophilia, of prostitution, fell so far into the background that it became practically invisible to me then, obscured by the striking imagery and strange, lush atmosphere of colonial Saigon. Read More »

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Aamer Hussein on ‘The Cloud Messenger’

October 18, 2011 | by

Aamer Hussein, courtesy of the writer.

Though The Cloud Messenger is Aamer Hussein’s first novel, it comes after five collections of stories and a novella, Another Gulmohar Tree. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, but a long-time resident of London, Hussein has dramatized the sorts of encounters between and within cultures that reflect his own facility in seven languages. He writes with intelligent restraint about the experience of displacement, but also the indelible richness of wherever we like to think of as home. The Cloud Messenger draws on his own unsentimental education as a student of Farsi to create a romance about language and the unexpected life that reading and translating can take. Last year, we met to discuss the Granta anthology of writing from and about Pakistan at his home in West London.

Could you begin by explaining your background?

I’m from Karachi, third-generation in almost an accidental way, because both my grandfather and father were born there, even though they hadn’t lived there very much until after partition because of certain historical … mishaps, you might say. My mother is from Northern India and from a much more traditional family, although her father was an academic.Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Amélie Nothomb, Writer

May 4, 2011 | by

Photograph by Catherine Cabrol.

DAY ONE

Backstage at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, I meet about a dozen prestigious writers, among them Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi. They seem to have known each other for years, chatting and laughing together. I am so awed that my deep-sea-snail nature gains the upper hand and I hide in the corner with my mouth clamped shut. The proximity of admirable men and women has always had this effect on me: what can I say to them beyond a very sincere “I admire you,” of which they have no need? And so I crawl into my shell and stay quiet. At 7:30, we take our seats for the Opening Night of the PEN World Voices Festival. Each writer steps up to the podium to read a selection from his or her work in front of a full house. I am ninth on the list, which leaves me ample time to panic. The eight writers who precede me are remarkable and read their unforgettable selections with such talent. I am feeling worse and worse by the minute. Then it is time for me to take the stage. I feel like I’m representing Belgium in the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where my country didn’t bring home a single medal. I chose a very short text because I knew that I would read without stopping to breathe, thus very badly. While reading it, though, it still seems too long, and I swallow the majority of my words. It is a test. When it’s finished, I run to hide myself away. Next, we all go to celebrate. I drink lots of wine to forget the reading, and, suddenly, I feel fine, and very happy to be in New York.

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