By Erin Waks
A note from the Books editors: This year, we’re starting a series of editors’ choices of books they enjoy. Twice a month, members of the editorial board will recommend some of their favourite reads. Spanning novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, we hope this series inspires you to pick up something new.
In the English-speaking world, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to great literature. Though this encompasses some of the world’s most famous writers, in reading only literature from the Anglo-Saxon world, we are missing out on a breadth and depth of cultures and knowledge.
As a language student studying French and Arabic, I have had the privilege of being introduced to a wide range of texts from a whole host of backgrounds. There is so much French literature that is available both in the original French and in translation. By ignoring authors who do not write in our native tongue, we are missing out on a wealth of literature that can expand our horizons. All the more appealing this year when travel and true international experiences are much harder to come by!
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
One of the first novels I ever read in French, Sagan recounts the tale of a young girl and her tumultuous relationship with her father, and her father’s partners. Equal parts bildungsroman and stormy romance novel and, the text is beautifully written. I’d highly recommend reading this if you’re looking to be transported to a beach somewhere in the South of France. Think sunbathing, lounging about doing nothing, and all the drama that comes with being a bored and conflicted adolescent.
“A Strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today it envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.”
Un Secret by Philippe Grimbert
This autobiographical novel is a real page turner – I couldn’t put it down myself and read the whole thing in one go. Without spilling too many details, it tells of a young boy’s imaginary stories, which then turn out to be based on a real secret family history. The protagonist delves deep into the German Nazi occupation of France, and the story of his family throughout the war. The secret that is revealed at the end is quite unforgettable.
“The vigor I lacked for physical activities became incandescent when, pen in hand, I filled those pages with invented stories. Sometimes they were intimately about me – family tales, parental exploits – sometimes they became horrific stories sprinkled with torture, death, and reunion: crazy games and tear-soaked sagas.”
Une bouteille dans la mer de Gaza by Valérie Zenatti
Israeli teenager Tal writes a letter and throws it into the sea in a bottle. Later, she receives the response from a Palestinian boy living in Gaza. The novel explores their friendship, communication and understanding. Its politically charged context renders the plot even more prevalent today. Reading this text is sure to make you think deeper about human connection across borders, and perhaps learn more about intercultural communication and exchange.
“I’m full of fear and full of hope writing to you like this. I’ve never written to someone I didn’t know. It feels strange. I don’t know if what I’m doing is good or bad, crazy or just eccentric, useful or pointless.”
For me, reading has been a true highlight of the lockdown period. Being able to access different cultures, different minds and different stories has been a true pleasure. I hope some of these texts will make you think, pause and reflect – even if just for a second.
Image: Thought Catalog via Unsplash