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Boek-LAB #19 The French bookshops’ June selection from London, Amsterdam and Berlin

Boek-LAB #19 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:  L’allègement des vernis by Paul Saint Bris

L’allègement des vernis, Paul Saint Bris

For over five hundred years, the Mona Lisa has fascinated the world.

Aurélien, a disillusioned middle-aged man and Director of Paintings at the Louvre, conscientiously watches over her. His boss, who oversees the venerable institution, calls in a consultancy firm to identify ways of increasing the number of visitors to the museum. Despite Aurélien and the old guard of curators’ fierce opposition, the suggestion to restore the painting is approved.

Who will accept the onerous responsibility of cleaning the Mona Lisa, and at what cost? Aurelien was asked to recruit a rare gem in utmost secrecy. But when the project is revealed, tempers flare: do we have the right to touch the painting, a work of international importance? Under popular pressure, the Italian government gets involved and demands that the "stolen" painting be returned to the mother country.

A fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of a major museum, and a pertinent reflection on the art world and the criteria used to define beauty. A delightful read!

Emma Liebert
Librairie La Page (Londres)

Book cover: La ballade du feu by Olivier Mak-Bouchard

La ballade du feu, Olivier Mak-Bouchard

A first-person novel about a young man who has always dreamed of being a potter, but who has never achieved his dream. His friends and family always encouraged him to follow the traditional route, to take his baccalaureate and to study, which is exactly what he does. He was then taken on as a floor manager at Mr Bricolage, only to be sacked because of the economic crisis. He lives in a flat bequeathed to him by his parents with his brother, a postman and trade unionist, who does him no favours. So much so that the young man finds it hard to admit to his brother that he has been made redundant. Then one day, a black and white cat turns up on his doorstep. The two men decide to adopt it and go to a random vet whom the young man knows well. A story begins between them. Through this story, the young man comes to terms with himself, accepts his mistakes and acknowledges his doubts.

It is also the story of a Bonelli eagle, found electrocuted and nursed back to health by the same vet, tracked across Europe by GPS; the story of a fire healer who fears losing his gift if he accepts any form of payment; ultimately it is a book about the mistakes we can make, both personal and professional, and the means we use to put them right.

Following on from "Le dit du Mistral" and "Le temps des grêlons", this book is an opportunity to rediscover the atmosphere of Provence and the ancestral customs that make its people so rich.

Philippe Francoual
Librairie La Page (Londres)

Book :  Comment le féminisme peut sauver le monde by Lauren Bastide :  Comment le féminisme peut sauver le monde, Lauren Bastide

Lauren Bastide has produced an important and fascinating piece of research on the history of feminism and its many currents of thought. Drawing on solid sources, she analyses why women are doomed to silence and denigration in a society that has always been dominated by men. Mental burdens, double jeopardy, feminicide - these are still the lot of many women around the world today. Only a minority of women, from privileged white backgrounds, have managed to break out of the patriarchal mould. It must be said that the record of centuries of male domination is appalling, to say the least. What I found particularly interesting in her plea, something Virginie Despentes also touched on this in her latest book Cher Connard, was the desire to listen to and engage in dialogue with men. But beyond relations between men and women, for the author, most of the world's problems stem from the abuse of the dominant over the dominated, and this abuse affects both men and women. For Lauren Bastide, only feminism can save the world. But this feminism would be a new kind of feminism that would include men in the process, and whose efforts, combined with those of women, would make it possible to break out of the dominant-dominated pattern.

Pierre-Pascal Bruneau
Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam)

Book cover: Les neuf vies de Sappho:  le premier écrivain est une écrivaine by Laure de Chantal 

Les neuf vies de Sappho: le premier écrivain est une écrivaine, Laure de Chantal 

When you open a book by Laure de Chantal, you know you're in for a treat. In her books, she brilliantly exposes the way in which a patriarchal interpretation of Antiquity has hijacked, distorted and distorted the contribution of Greek civilisation to our modern world. Laure de Chantal offers us a (re)reading of the life and work of Sappho, the great Greek poetess: Les neuf vies de Sappho: le premier écrivain est une écrivaine. Here we discover a young woman who was the first to dare to write "I", but whose work has unfortunately been largely lost. Socrates called her "the tenth muse", and she invented a new metre, a new voice, which has been admired, copied, condemned, erased and rediscovered over and over again. Laure de Chantal offers us these "nine lives", the various facets of Sappho that have been passed down through history. Finally, all these "metamorphoses" imposed on the poetess, about whom we know with certainty very little, say a great deal about the eras through which they have passed... right up to our own!

Véronique Fouminet
Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam)

Book cover: Cerveaux augmentés (humanité diminuée ?), by Miguel Benasayag et Thierry Murat

Cerveaux augmentés (humanité diminuée ?), Miguel Benasayag et Thierry Murat

This remarkable comic book is the first instalment in a new series launched by Delcourt under the "graphic essay" label, based here on an essay by Miguel Benasayag published in 2016 under the title Cerveauaugmenté, homme diminué. The aim of this book is to popularise that work by bringing to our attention the question of an 'improved' brain, which advances in neuroscience are now tending to make conceivable. The author shows precisely how the search for a flawless brain is a perilous undertaking. Miguel Benasayag and cartoonist Thierry Murat take time out from this wide-ranging and fascinating reflection to engage in a dialogue, a dialogue that Murat has chosen to transcribe in a refined, uncluttered style. Alongside Benasayag's pedagogical demonstration, Murat offers his own vision of this erudite text, illustrating it with magnificent two-tone landscapes that our still imperfect brains will be able to recognise and easily associate with the ideas put forward in counterpoint. And to really help the reader get into the discussion, Murat injects a few pages of entertainment that humorously demonstrate the dangers of digital omnipresence and, like Benasayag's script, give us the intellectual weapons to grasp them without dramatizing. A real success in every respect.

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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