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Book of the Week: Balco Atlantico by Jérôme Ferrari

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

"A novelist whose concern with how we should live and what we can believe puts him in the tradition of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus" - Scotsman




Balco Atlantico starts with the description of two bodies. That of Stéphane Campana, a nationalist and independence supporter, shot dead on the village square. That of his girlfriend Virginie, left in hysterics after she witnessed the death of her childhood love. From this moment, the narrative is fragmented into three threads: the narrative, chronologically trying to make sense of and explain the genesis of this violent action. The voice of an ethnology professor battling schizophrenia. And finally the more naive Hayet, a young Moroccan girl whose life flashes in snippets inserted in the space that the other events leave for her. The polyphony of voice is made harmonious by the empathy that the reader and narrator both feel for the characters.


Critics and readers alike have insisted on the particularities of Ferrari's writing, underlining its sensual nature and the fluidity with which he shifts from one point of view to another, from a character's psyche to that of another, and from place to place. This fluidity mirrors the theme of identity prevalent in the novel, always put in relation with memory and the sense of alterity, and often bordering on the mystical. The fact that the novel should fold upon itself, with Stéphane's death being at once the opening and the end of the narrative, its alpha and its omega, contributes to this feeling of reconciliation and general interconnection.


The playful title, alluding to the name of a cliff in Tangier, the town where Khaled and Hayet are from, exudes a feeling of yearning for the past - a deep nostalgia that lies in the inbertweeness of the situation of most characters, stuck in the past, or attempting to move forward.


Balco Atlantico is published by MacLehose Press and it was translated by David Homel.


"Blackly playful and serious, this is an earthly, philosophical tract drawing on history and human experience; the tiny hopes, the immense failures and, above all, th ambivalence. Ferrari pursues his story with the delicacy and skill of a musician reaching the final note" - Irish Times



Born in Paris in 1968, Jérôme Ferrari obtained his agrégation in philosophie and taught in Algeria for four years before moving to Corsica, where his parents are from. Between 2012 and 2015, he taught in Abu Dhabi, before moving back to Bastia. He has written several novels including Dans le secret (2007), Balco Atlantico (2008), Un dieu un animal (2009,

Prix Landerneau 2009) and Où j'ai laissé mon âme (2010, Grand Prix Poncetton SGDL 2010 and Prix Roman France Télévisions 2010), translated into English as Where I left my soul (Maclehose Press 2012). Le Sermon sur la chute de Rome (The Sermon on the Fall of Rome) was awarded the 2012 Prix Goncourt. He also translated several works by Corsican writer Marcu Biancarelli.


Chicago-born David Homel is a writer, journalist, film maker and translator. He has written five adult novels and two children's books). He has transated several works from the French (notably works by Daniel Pennac), receiving two Governor General's Literary Awards for translation. David is a regular contributor to the literary festival Metropolis bleu.


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