Staff Picks

Found in Translation: Branch out with these French to English Novels

You know how you’re just wandering along, minding your own business when certain types of books start finding you? 

Like a magnet you attract them, whether you mean to or not. 

You just keep seeing these authors or titles over and over in different places. 

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No matter where you look, they are there, waiting.  Intrigued, you finally give in and put the book(s) on hold. (Then they all arrive at once, but that’s a different story.)

That happened to me recently, and it took me awhile to realize the common thread of the particular books that had been stalking me. 

All of them were English translations of stories printed originally in French. 

And all are books that I now recommend often, as they represent great examples of their particular genres.  

So what books have been stalking YOU lately?

Happy Reading

The White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume

White Leopard

by Laurent Guillaume

After a tragedy takes the lives of his wife and young son, Solo Camara leaves his police job in France to start his own P.I. office in the African country of Mali. With an “uncle” as a high ranking police officer in Bamako, Solo has protection and freedom in a country rife with corruption, making him very effective at closing cases.

Then his world is upended when a beautiful attorney asks for Solo’s help in getting her sister’s drug charges dropped. Solo succeeds only to have the drug mule turn up dead with her throat slit. Now the attorney wants revenge, and Solo is just the man to deliver.

In the noir tradition of The Maltese Falcon, this gritty tale is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.  It is fast-paced, brutally violent, and an altogether thrilling ride.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

The Red Notebook

by Antoine Laurain

Parisian bookstore owner Laurent Letellier takes an abandoned burgundy purse to the police, realizing that it was probably dumped after a robbery. The police are underwhelmed.  Certain that the woman would like her belongings back, Laurent gingerly opens the purse and begins his own investigation.

In an effort to locate the mystery woman, an intrigued Laurent reads from a red notebook found in the handbag.  Who is she?  What happened to her?  Snippets from the journal allow the bookseller to get to know the owner of the purse, and forces him to think about his own relationships and confront issues in his own life.

In this elegant and charming tale of lost and found, you will grow to root for these characters and you can’t help yourself when you hope for their happiness.

The Lady Ages Mystery Vol 1 by Andrea Japp

The Lady Agnes Mystery Vol 1.

by Andrea Japp

There are dark forces at work in this gripping tale set in 1304 in France.  The Pope is in danger, and the cruelty of the Inquisition has been unleashed on the powerless, setting the stage for battles between the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitallers.

Against this violent backdrop, the recently widowed and fiercely independent Lady Agnes de Souarcy fights to maintain control over her small farm.  She uses her wits to cleverly navigate around her sinister half-brother, and to protect her young daughter and adopted son from all who would seek to harm them.  But is it enough?  Who is friend and who is foe?

This fast-paced historical mystery will keep you guessing until the last page, and then leave you eagerly anticipating Volume 2.  If you enjoy court intrigue, and intricate plots in historical settings, you might also enjoy Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano

Dora Bruder

by Patrick Modiano

In 1988, novelist Patrick Modiano notices an ad from a 1941 French newspaper about a missing 15 year-old girl and investigates to see if he can determine her fate. Dora Bruder, a French citizen born of Hungarian immigrant parents, runs away from a boarding school as the net closes around all Jewish people in Europe. What happened to her? Was she ever found?

Using spare prose, Modiano intertwines his life in Paris with Mademoiselle Bruder's, as he walks streets she surely walked, and tries to fill in the many blanks between the occasional official records where her name appears.  This book is heartbreaking in its simplicity, and devastating in its sparseness. There is so much we can never know about Dora Bruder, but we do learn how her story ends.

This slim, non-fiction book is a good counterpoint to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a historical novel, as they are both about Jewish teenage girls  in France during WWII.

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