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2019's Top 10 Best Novels Translated from French

2019 has been a rich year for Francophile readers eager to discover new books in French. According to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United states, no less than 515 books have been published this year. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift, or you are looking for the next title to keep you company on your train rides, dive into our very own top 10 best French novels.

If you like fables…

The Office of Gardens and Ponds, Didier Decoin, MacLehose Press

A remarkably original novel, The Office of Gardens and Ponds tells the story of Miyuki in 12th-Century Japan. A recent widow after the death of her husband Katsuro, the fisherman-in-chief in the country, Miyuki sets on a thousand-mile journey to keep her late husband’s practice alive, and pay a tribute. Perfectly paced, this novel finds the right balance between poetry and character development. Didier Decoin has a gift for depicting the rivers, the smells of Japanese nature, the atmospheres. He also has a great deal of affection for his protagonist: Miyuki is a character you will keep in mind for a longtime, and remember fondly every now and then, like an old friend you’ve always admired.

If you’re tired of your cubicle...

Berezina: From Moscow to Paris Following Napoleon’s Epic Fail, Sylvain Tesson (Europa Editions)

The latest recipient of the Prix Renaudot, one of France’s most prestigious literary award, Sylvain Tesson has long been acclaimed for his work. An explorer, he writes about his adventures. In Berezina, he decides to go on an eccentric journey to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French war in Russia: he gathers a few friends and gets them in sidecars. Berezina is the epic recollection of this trip towards East, in uncharted, ice-cold territories. Throughout the book, Sylvain Tesson asks: what is the definition of a modern-day hero? Through ice storms and muddy roads, he takes us by his side, in his rusty sidecar.

If you are in the mood for a mind-bending story...

Loyalties, Delphine de Vigan (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Delphine de Vigan is often praised by French readers for her complex, suspenseful novels, constantly questioning the sanity of the human mind. Through the eyes of five characters struggling to find their place in society, de Vigan challenges our flaws: how cowardice and lies can affect our relationships, how we never accept who we really are. In a very concise style, she depicts ordinary lives that turn into nightmares in the blink of an eye in Loyalties.

If French food is everything to you...

The Cook, Maylis de Kerangal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Mauro is the new up-and-coming chef of the restaurant scene in Paris in The Cook. Unable to express his feelings through words, he found his place in the kitchen. Through his singular life, we discover the secrets of restaurant nights. Ever wondered what was going on in the kitchen while you were quietly eating dinner? In this short novel, Maylis de Kerangal, author of the poignant Heal the Living, tackles the difficulty of expressing yourself when no one is paying attention, and how people must find meaning to be excellent at what they do.

If you never run out of imagination...

Hear Our Defeats, Laurent Gaudé (Europa Editions)

A philosophical tale, a historical fable, Hear Our Defeats tells two stories. Assem, a French intelligence officer, is tasked with tracking down a former member of the US Special Forces suspected of drug trafficking during the war in Afghanistan. En route to Beirut, he shares a night with Mariam, an Iraqi archaeologist, who is in a race against time to save ancient artifacts across the Middle East from the destruction wreaked by ISIS. Laurent Gaudé has a knack for bringing emotion out of complex narratives, as well as sharing valuable historical knowledge without neglecting his plot.

If you miss the 50 Shades of Grey series...

The Collection, Nina Léger

In The Collection, Jeanne meets men she knows nothing about. She collects intercourses. The stroboscopic composition of the novel feels like hypnosis. Nina Léger writes in series of short flashes, a succession of short half-page, or two or three-page sequences, without transition, so that the temporality remains undetermined. We follow Jeanne through her adventures, but what matters most is the feelings, the thrill. In a remarkable style, she composes a book like musicians composes songs: the beat of her pages is contagious.

If you like transatlantic sagas...

The Age of Reinvention, Karine Tuil (Washington Square Press)

Sam Tahar is a criminal attorney in New York. But none of his colleagues, not even his wife and children, can suspect his secret. Because Sam built his whole brilliant career and his success on a lie. A simple lie, that is about to cost him everything.

The Age of Reinvention is set between France and New York is a real page-turner as well as a very timely tale about ambition, public success and how to deal with your own past. Throughout the novel, it is impossible to take a side, and as the story unfolds, Karine Tuil keeps making it harder for Sam to redeem himself. An excellent Christmas gift for readers who enjoy a consistent story with impactful protagonists.

If we can always find you at the MoMA...

Life of David Hockney, Catherine Cusset (Other Press)

Don’t trust the title: Life of David Hockney is a novel based on the famous painter’s existence. Cusset, a New York resident for several decades and professor of French literature at Yale, pays a beautiful tribute to the iconic artist. Halfway between biography and fiction, this book invites you in Hockey’s galaxy, revisiting decades of art history on the way. There is something inspiring in the way Cusset manages the impossible task of depicting paintings, colors, shapes. Yet, this is much more than a stylistic exercise: she also evokes the emotions of the artist, and manages to move us more than once.

If historical sagas are your jam...

The Colors of the Inferno, Pierre Lemaitre (Quercus Publishing)

A brilliant storyteller, Pierre Lemaitre comes back with a new epic novel. February 1927. After the death of Marcel Péricourt, a business tycoon, his daughter, Madeleine, must take the head of his financial empire. But she has a son, Paul, who with an unexpected and tragic gesture will place her on the path of ruin and decommissioning. Faced with the adversity of men, the corruption of her environment and the ambition of those around her, Madeleine will have to make every effort to survive and rebuild her life. This task is all the more difficult in a France that observes, helplessly, the first colors of the fire that will ravage Europe in the 1930s. Through masterful storytelling, Lemaitre invites us in a journey throughout the roaring twenties, and the extravagance of a society on the edge of the precipice in The Colors of the Inferno.

If you like wandering around Paris...

Family Record, Patrick Modiano (Yale University Press)

From the 2014 Nobel laureate for literature comes a beautiful novel about family, and what to make of it. In a series of vignettes, Modiano skillfully observes family dynamics, and questions our relationship to our relatives in Family Record. Evoking his parents’ encounter in Nazi-Occupied Paris, he takes us to a vanishing world, where nothing is what it seems, ranging from nostalgia to cruelty.


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