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Boek-LAB #8 The French bookshops’ June selection from London, Amsterdam and Berlin

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Boek-LAB #8 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: Minuit dans la ville des songes by René Frégni

Minuit dans la ville des songes, René Frégni

Young René was born in Marseille in the aftermath of the Second World War, a rebellious child with a love of adventure. This thirst for independence and discovery will push him into a life of nomadism as soon as he reaches adulthood, to the great despair of his mother whom he adores.

Improbable but major encounters will feed his curiosity, most notably with the priest of the barracks in Northern France where he will serve a term following a series of misdemeanours, who will introduce him to the world of literature. René will owe his redemption to reading, and later to writing.

René Frégni is often compared to Giono, with whom he shares a geographical proximity (he now lives in Manosque), as well as the art of sublimating nature through his very sensual writing. In this moving autobiography, the author retraces his eventful journey, evoking with gratitude the memories of the people who helped and loved him, as well as the memories of the literature that shaped him. This luminous text where the reader feels Frégni’s humanity shine through each page is a vibrant tribute to literature.

Librairie la Page (London)

Book cover: Le café suspendu by Amanda Sthers

Le café suspendu, Amanda Sthers

A pending coffee, or “caffè sospeso” in Italian, is a tradition that was born in Naples at the cafe Grambinus in the 1950s. The concept is simple- you order an espresso for yourself, and one for an anonymous customer in a more precarious situation, who wouldn’t be able to afford it. You then drink one coffee, whilst paying for two!

Jacques Madelin, a French caricaturist, who finds himself in Naples following an unhappy love affair, spends the bulk of his time at the cafe Nube. He is the tenant of the little apartment directly above the cafe. He has a routine of always sitting at the same table, listening to customers tell their stories, and making notes. It must be said that Neapolitans talk loudly and love to be listened to! This is how Jacques Madelin paints the portraits of 7 characters, whose life stories he has collected over 42 years of visting the Nube cafe: clients who meet or miss each other, who hide or seek each other, love and leave one another. Seven stories that are all linked by the invisible thread of the practice of “caffe sospeso”.

A novel both sensitive and delicate, and as warm as the Neapolitans themselves.

Librairie la Page (London)

Book cover: Conter les moutons by Marc Dugain

Conter les moutons, Marc Dugain

The sheep, a fine observer, is full of wisdom and common sense. The first pages of Conter les moutons  are particularly delightful and would be funny if they weren't directed at us. Although born the least gifted of species, the human being compensates for his physical deficiencies through his intelligence, in particular his skill for creating advanced technology. However, the human being persists in hating, and even destroying his neighbour. Mutton headed (oh yes!), he conforms to the fashions and trends imposed upon him by gurus and other visionaries. The human being, like the pig (who has no other option), eats anything; and soils and destroys the planet through the overproduction all sorts of items, which for the large part he could live without. In short, the human being is a complete crackpot.

Pierre-Pascal Bruneau
Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam)

Book cover: Le gosse by Véronique Olmi

Le gosse, Véronique Olmi

The Mettray agricultural colony and penitentiary really existed, and thousands of children, orphans for the most part, delinquents or presumed to be, were monstrously mistreated there in full view of society. It was only in 1939, after the abuses of the prison guards and other civil servants were finally denounced by a journalist, that Mettray was finally closed. Exploited, mistreated, tortured, raped, abandoned by society- all these children, when they didn’t die, remained bruised and traumatised for life. Created in 1839, this colony, far from the utopia envisioned by its creators, quickly turned into a forced labour camp for children.

But Le gosse is not just denunciation of these horrors. It is also a very beautiful book about childhood and adolescence, its loves, its dreams, its beliefs. Véronique Olmi, with great sensitivity, describes the fragility as well as the strength of childhood friendships and loves. A powerful book that will leave no one unmoved.

Pierre-Pascal Bruneau
Le Temps Retrouvé (Amsterdam)

Book cover: Haute mer by Cécile Wajsbrot

Haute mer, Cécile Wajsbrot

Éditions Le Bruit Du Temps have chosen to honour the sum of a life’s work: that of Cécile Wajsbrot. Born in Paris in 1954, language has always been at the heart of what she has done, first as a professor of literature, then as a writer and translator. A 700-page volume, enigmatically titled Haute mer, is the sum of this work. In 2007 Cécile Wajsbrot announced her work on a cycle of five novels, whose central themes would be human invention and art. She announced this upon the publication of her novel Conversations avec le maitre (her very own Master and Margarita), which was selected for the Renaudot prize, whose plot centred around a meeting with a master of music who confronts his creation with words. There then followed four novels filled stories of love and its related agonies, as well as feelings of loneliness. But also, the mischief and humour of life, a theme which is often overlooked when talking about her work and the universes her works inhabit, filled as they are with soul and rays of hope. We could hardly have seen this work coming what with its evocative titles: Conversations avec le maître, L’île aux musées, Sentinelles, Totale éclipse, Destruction. Five works addressing in turn the themes of musical ecstasy, Berlin after the fall of the wall, the world of contemporary art, anglophone pop music and the decline of language in our often-dystopic society. Can art save us, can it make us vibrate with the echo of contemporary disasters? A question that is more essential than ever in the face of a century tormented by doubt.

Patrick Suel
ZADIG Buchhandlung (Berlin)

Book cover: Meta Carpenter by John Jefferson Selve

Meta Carpenter, John Jefferson Selve

In his new novel, John Jefferson Selve paints intimate and interlinked portraits of three users of the same webcamming site. In the first part, we follow Meta Carpenter, a source of fascination for so many internauts who deep down, despite her digital fantasy, cannot explain how she got there. Evolving in an artificial world, she mimics social network algorithms, gradually heading towards certain destruction. It is the body of a dead child that she masterfully animates in her shows, during which she makes her clients lose money, time or even their minds. In the second part of the novel, the perspective shifts to that of Corsair-Satan, a figure lost in his own past, marked by his father’s hatred, and the disgust of a society which he has given up fighting. Raised solely by single women, Corsaire-Satan projects onto Meta Carpenter a feeling of comfort and solitude, and quickly becomes her favourite client. Terribly similar, these two protagonists strangely echo the aggressiveness and despair of author Nelly Arcan, the destruction no longer passing through prostitution but virtual sex. At this juncture, a new character enters the scene: Hafsia, another camgirl who works with Meta in her spare time. Enthusiastic and cultured, she will be quickly overwhelmed by the events of the novel, just like the other two. The trio will try to find an escape from the darkness of their existences. The depth of the characters ensures a delightfully heavy atmosphere, and elicits our deepest sympathies as readers. Meta Carpenter is a cry for help deeply rooted in contemporary culture and our ultra-connected society; with the heroine's name borrowed from a real woman, with whom William Faulkner was very much in love. A promising first novel!

Claire Roy
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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