French Books en force

In Feature Articles by Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije

French publishers have weathered the economic downturn comparatively well, and this fall a total of 659 French and foreign novels were published for the inescapable rentrée littéraire (literary season). Many of the books being presented here at Frankfurt have already made the long or shortlist of the numerous French literary prizes that will be announced at the end of October and the beginning of November.


Gallimard is on a roll this year with its range of fiction and non-fiction books being pitched by foreign rights head Anne-Solange Noble, including Marie NDiaye’s Three Powerful Women (Trois Femmes Puissantes) about three women who struggle to retain their dignity in a life filled with humiliation, Yannick Haenel’s novel Jan Karski, based on the life of the famed Polish resistance fighter during the Second World War, and My Berlin Child (Mon Enfant de Berlin) by Anne Wiazemsky, also about WWII based on the author’s parents’ youth.

The Patagonian Hare (Le Lièvre de Patagonie), august filmmaker Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, is already selling briskly, with editor Ravi Mirchandani of Atlantic Books in London snapping up World English rights.

Noble is quick to point out that while she is talking up Goncourt prize-winner Patrick Modiano’s forthcoming novel, she is also presenting authors who are lesser-known internationally such as Alain Blottière, whose Tommy’s Tomb (le Tombeau de Tommy) about yet another WWII hero, blends history and fiction.

Actes Sud

The flourishing, Arles-based publisher Actes Sud, which recently celebrated its 30th birthday, is at Frankfurt en force says rights director Elisabeth Beyer. Beyer is focusing on her 2009 list with titles such as Swiss author Metin Arditi’s Far From Anyone’s Arms (Loin des Bras) set in a Swiss boarding school, and Haitian author Lyonel Trouillot’s Yanvaloo for Charlie (Yanvalou pour Charlie), a novel about ambition, initiation, despair and redemption set in Haiti. Céline Curiol, who likes to explore the theme of the “outsider”, has written a hommage to New York City in Intermediary Exile (Exil intermédiaire), while Minh Tran Huy evokes Vietnam as she retraces the life of a musician in The Double Life of Anna Song (La Double Vie d’Anna Song).


In non-fiction, Plon editor Muriel Beyer, who last year nabbed the rights for Colombian hostage Clara Rojas’ personal account about her ordeal just did it again by acquiring the world rights to the story of Sudanese journalist Loubna Ahmad al-Hussein. Al-Hussein’s arrest last August for “indecent dress” made world headlines, and in 40 Lashes for Wearing Pants (40 coups de Fouet Pour un Pantalon) she recounts her life as a woman and activist in Sudan. Foreign rights director Rebecca Byers is here at Frankfurt with a first chapter translated into English (proofs are scheduled for November), with rights have already been sold to the Netherlands. Byers is also presenting The Sky is About to Fall (La Chute du Ciel), Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa’s epic tome about his tribe in the Amazon jungle, written with veteran anthropologist Bruce Albert. Plon is also reissuing a four-volume boxed set of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ major works in Les Mythologiques.


One of publisher Stock’s priorities this year, says rights director Fabienne Roussel, is to entice publishers into re-issuing the novels, short stories and plays of Françoise Sagan. Stock will release nine works over three years including Sagan’s journal entitled Toxic (Toxique) about the author’s drug dependency. Five of these titles have been sold to Russian publisher Eksmo. Meanwhile, Justine Lévy’s third novel, A Bad Daughter (Mauvaise Fille) has already sold well in Europe says Roussel, who adds that the subject is universal—a woman who has just had her first child must deal with her mother’s terminal illness. Brigitte Giraud’s A Year Abroad (Une Année Etrange`re), about a 17-year-old girl who spends a year in Germany as an au pair, is also selling well. Stock will also be publishing controversial philosopher Alain Fainkielkraut’s An Intelligent Heart (Un Coeur Intelligent), a study of nine books used to explain how man relates to his surroundings.

Grasset’s Haitian-born, Montreal-based author Dany Laferrière’s new novel, The Enigma of Return (L’énigme du retour) focuses on the themes of exile and identity and is on the shortlist for several French prizes. Another Grasset book getting a lot of attention is the 40-something bad boy Frédéric Beigbeder’s A French Novel (Un roman français), which critics are saying could be his best book to date. In non-fiction, two-time winner of the Tour de France, cyclist Laurent Fignon tells all in We were young and insouciant (Nous étions jeunes et insouciants).

Albin Michel

Albin Michel’s foreign rights manager, Sole`ne Chabanais is here with Jean-Christophe Grangé’s new thriller La Foret des Manes on her list (three of Grangé’s previous novels have been made into films) as well as Jean-Michel Guenassia’s The Club of Incorrigible Optimists (Le club des incorrigibles optimists) about a student in Paris in the late 1950s. Chabanais also draws attention to a new endeavour for Goncourt-winner and author Didier van Cauwelaert, who has written a fantasy novel for young adults entitled Thomas Drimm. In non-fiction, Daniel Cohen’s La prospérité du vice is a “worried” introduction to the world’s economy.


Last but not least, Jennie Dorny of Seuil will be selling rights to What I know of Vera Candida (Ce que je sais de Vera Candida), by Véronique Ovaldé, a tale of three women set on a remote South American island. The late André Schwarz-Bart’s last novel, Morning Star (L’Etoile du matin) describes life in a Jewish town in late 19th century Poland. Dorny will also be handling rights for l’Olivier’s author, Thierry Hesse, whose novel, Demon (Démon), set in Grozny, Chechnya, intertwines late 20th century history and fiction.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.