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Boek-LAB #15 The French bookshops’ February selection from London, Amsterdam and Berlin

Boek-LAB #15 offers you a selection of books carefully chosen by French Bookshops from London, Amsterdam and Berlin to discover Boek-LAB

Each month, the Instituts français from Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom share their book recommendations from prestigious bookstores which promote francophone literature in three major European cities: Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam), Librairie La Page (Londres) et Zadig Buchhandlung (Berlin).


Book cover:  Ceci n’est pas un fait divers by Philippe Besson

Ceci n’est pas un fait divers, Philippe Besson

“Daddy has just killed Mummy" …. These are the words by which this novel begins, words spoken by a 13-year-old girl who has just witnessed this violent act and who phones her brother, who has been away from home for some time, to warn him.

The lives of these two children have just been turned upside down, and it will take courage and incredible strength for them to weather the storm. While protecting his sister as best he can, the brother scours his memories, near and far, in order to understand how his parents came to this point. He is the one who will jump on the first train, take his sister to safety and tell the story. He is the one who will do everything to prove that this story is not just a sensationalised news item, that his family is shattered.

In this new novel, Philippe Besson deals with domestic violence and feminicide. He details precisely how the perpetrator got to this point, from the couple’s first arguments to the first acts of violence, but also all the silent witnesses who did not act. He tells of the long struggle of this brother and sister to regain a taste for life. A brilliantly written, extremely poignant, and truly chilling little novel.

Philippe Francoual
Librairie La Page (Londres)

Book cover: Les mangeurs de nuit by Marie Charrel

Les mangeurs de nuit, Marie Charrel

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Japanese emigrants to Canada struggle to integrate despite their dedication. Thousands of picture brides, women chosen according to their photo, will leave Japan and make the crossing under difficult conditions to join these exiled workers.

Collateral victims of the world conflicts following Japan's involvement on the side of the oppressors, they are ostracized, dispossessed of their meagre possessions and struggle for survival in guarded camps.

The author offers us a dense and breath-taking story, between historical novel and thriller.

Her sensual and witty writing enhances the evocations of nature and indigenous traditions that pepper the book.

This text is also a powerful tribute to the restorative power of words and the strength of stories; those we invent, those we tell, those we listen to and those we write.

Emmanuelle Liebert
Librairie La Page (Londres)

Book cover: Crépuscule by Philippe Claudel

Crépuscule, Philippe Claudel

We are at the beginning of last century, at the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the old Balkan monarchies that will soon be swept away by the fury of the Great War. But for the time being, the old order still reigns and continues to perpetuate the domination of an aristocracy insensitive to the misery and despair of the populations. In a small town in the depths of the empire, the old priest Jan Igor Seïd Pernieg is found dead in the snow, his skull smashed by a stone. Nourio, the policeman, leads the investigation to uncover the murderer. Very quickly, suspicion falls unfairly on the town's small Muslim community. Will Nourio manage to find the murderer? Will the atrocious crimes perpetrated against the Muslim community under the pretext of the priest's murder be punished? Will the horrific mob violence be suppressed and condemned? Will justice be served? Philippe Claudel delivers a novel worthy of the great Russian authors. We are not far from the excesses and madness of "Demons" but also from the ambiance of "The Cloak" (except for the supernatural dimension) or other short stories by Gogol. A strong book, critical of those who administer and govern, Philippe Claudel confronts us with the darkest part of human nature.

Pierre-Pascal Bruneau
Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam)

Book cover: King Kasaï by Christophe Boltanski

King Kasaï, Christophe Boltanski

For his "Nuit au musée”  Christophe Boltanski chose the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Belgium, formerly known as the Museum of the Belgian Congo. The Museum was closed for five years and reopened in 2018. The new museography decisively breaks with the paternalism and racism of colonisation and highlights the wonders of the Kasai civilisation.  Christophe Boltanski therefore chose to spend the night there, facing a majestic elephant. Wandering through the museum's aisles, he wonders about the origin of what he sees and about the violence of colonialism. Is a new museography enough to restore the honour of the peoples of the Congo and erase the ravages of a colonialist policy?

Pierre-Pascal Bruneau
Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam)

Book cover: Courbure de la Terre by Jonas Fortier

Courbure de la Terre, Jonas Fortier

L'Oie de Cravan, founded and run by poet Benoît Chaput, is named after a line from Louis Scutenaire, in homage to the fate of poet-boxer Arthur Cravan, who was lost at sea. Jonas Fortier, a poet from the same port, has penned this dashing volume, produced in Quebec and bearing the title Courbure de la terre, the content and form of which he wrote in Berlin, where he lives. Its generous format and its paper, solid when handled, accentuate the rotundity of this intimate and bewitching collection, with its images of rain, fog and the moon. Set amidst the urban climate of the northern hemisphere in a never-named city,a succession of short snapshots of life in which bodies dressed or undressed in winter elements, often drowsy, are logged.A notebook of relationships in a world perched on the 5th floor, Jonas Fortier's universe evokes a combination of river and city. And when the astronauts' moon suddenly appears in the distance, the scale of which he gauges with his finger, we are overwhelmed by a joyful vertigo. The author writes: J'écoute la pluie qui n'est jamais allée au cinéma (I listen to the rain that has never been to the cinema), in a rodeo of wordsread quickly, taking us away from our chronic anxieties for a moment, and that are to be read repeatedly!

Patrick Suel
Zadig Buchhandlung (Berlin)

Book cover: Pleine et douce by Camille Froidevaux-Metterie

Pleine et douce, Camille Froidevaux-Metterie

Ève is born from Stéphanie’s irrepressible maternal desire, a chef who has made the choice of single motherhood. At a party celebrating the birth of this new child, Stephanie plans to make official the role of "intimate father" that Greg, her closest friend, will play with Ève. In the days leading up to the party, the women invited take turns to explore their lives and their place as women in society. Stephanie's family history is revealed to us by this female choir composed of sisters, friends and relatives, all or almost all of whom are driven by the spirit of emancipation. Leaning over Eve's cradle, these voices oppose and respond to each other in an echo of this new family model, and explore up the role of women, but also the ageing body and reinvented fatherhood. In this luminous first novel, the philosopher Camille Froidevaux-Metterie uses poetic language to paint a portrait of these women who, through their differences, make up today’s new woman.

Mélanie Chanat
Zadig Buchhandlung (Berlin)


About the bookstores

Interior shot of Zadig Buchhandlung bookshop. In the foreground is a selection of comic books on a display table, around the room are floor to ceiling bookshelves and display racks
Zadig Buchhandlung - Berlin

Open since the 15th of September 2003, Libraire Zadig is located at the heart of Berlin Mitte’s historic centre. The name Zadig is a reference to Voltaire's eponymous tales, written at the time of his epistolary exchange with Frederic II, during the Enlightenment century. Between tradition and modernism, Zadig represents seriously and with malice the cosmopolitism and the humanist mind of the author. In the multicultural city that is Berlin, Zadig aims to embody the diversity of French-speaking voices by offering the best and the latest editorial releases. Focusing particularly on French-German themes, this Library aspire to be an open-place for exchanges between the French-speaking and Francophile community of Berlin through public meetings that contribute to shape the French-speaking cultural and literary landscape.

Image of the windows of Le Temps Retrouvé bookshop. A grey shop with books displayed in the window.
Le Temps Retrouvé - Amsterdam

Le Temps Retrouvé has been established in September 2014. The bookstore is located at 529 Keizersgracht, in an old house from the 17th century, at the heart of Amsterdam’s historic centre. Le Temps Retrouvé is a general bookshop and is the only one dedicated to francophone books in the Netherlands. It offers a wide range of novels: new releases and classics, as well as comics and graphic novels, essays and biographies, detective stories and fantasy literature and poetry. It comprises a whole room dedicated to children's literature. Together with the fondation l'Échappée Belle, and with the support of the Institut français of the Netherlands, Le Temps Retrouvé organises numerous meetings with French authors.

Image of the front of Librarie La Page bookshop. The front is painted red and brightly coloured books are displayed in the window
Librairie La Page - Londres

Since 1978, the bookstore Librairie La Page offers to all the London francophiles the opportunity to find books in French in South Kensington. As a haven of culture and stories, the bookstore expanded its activities by opening an online store to meet clients’ needs all over the United Kingdom. Committed to create a strong link between publishers, authors and readers, La Page is working towards a renewed cooperation with local francophone institutions, including the Institut français for the promotion of francophone literature and works translated from English.

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