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Best Translated French Fiction: Announcing the Albertine Prize Finalists

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Update: We are thrilled to announce the winner of the inaugural Albertine Prize: Bardo or Not Bardo, written by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by  J. T. Mahany, and published by Open Letter Books. 

Following two rounds of online voting open to readers across the U.S., Bardo or Not Bardo emerged as the favorite. The author will be awarded at a ceremony by the Albertine Prize co-chairs, Lydia Davis and François Busnel. 

About the winner:

One of Volodine’s funniest books, Bardo or Not Bardo takes place in his universe of failed revolutions, radical shamanism, and off-kilter nomenclature. In each of these seven vignettes, someone dies and has to make his way through the Tibetan afterlife, also known as the Bardo, where souls wander for forty-nine days before being reborn with the help of the Book of the Dead.

Antoine Volodine is the primary pseudonym of a French writer who has published twenty books under this name, several of which are available in English translation. He also publishes under the names Lutz Bassmann and Manuela Draeger. Most of his works take place in a post-apocalyptic world where members of the “post-exoticism” writing movement have all been arrested as subversive elements. Together, these works constitute one of the most inventive, ambitious projects of contemporary writing.

The Albertine Prize, a reader's choice award, recognizes American readers favorite work of contemporary French fiction.

About the Albertine Prize finalists

Aiming to celebrate the best of contemporary French-language literature, Albertine, the bookshop of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, has revealed the shortlist for the inaugural Albertine Prize, an annual award honoring the author and the translator of one Francophone novel published in the U.S. over the past year.

Reflecting the rich diversity of modern French fiction, the ten nominated works range from Ladivine, Marie NDiaye's powerful account of four generations of women haunted by their country of origin, to Eve Out of Her Ruins, Ananda Devi's poetic snapshot of life on the increasingly violent island of Mauritius, to Infidels, Abdellah Taïa's tale of a Moroccan boy's path to jihad. The nominated titles have been chosen by the Albertine booksellers, along with the Prize's Honorary Chairs, American author and translator Lydia Davis and French literary critic and TV and radio host François Busnel.

This year’s finalists and their works are:

Couple Mechanics

Couple Mechanics (Moment d'un couple) by Nelly Alard (Other Press (US), Gallimard (Fr.))

At once sexy and feminist, Couple Mechanics tells the story of a woman who decides to fight for her marriage after her husband confesses to an affair with a noted politician. With intelligence, honesty, and humor, the novel examines the forces at work in a marriage, the effects of the inevitable ebb and flow of desire, and the difficulty of being a man today. The book won the Prix Interallié in 2013, making Alard the first woman to win the prestigious award in more than 20 years.

 

 

 

Constellation

Constellation (Constellation) by Adrien Bosc (Other Press (US), Stock (Fr.))

This best-selling debut novel from one of France’s most exciting young writers is based on the true story of the 1949 disappearance of Air France’s Constellation, a new plane launched by Howard Hughes, and its famous passengers. Tying together the destinies of boxer and fiancé of Edith Piaf Marcel Cerdan, a musical prodigy, and others, the novel gives these thirty-eight men and women a new life by imagining their long-forgotten story.

 

 

 

 

The Heart

The Heart (Réparer les vivants) by Maylis De Kerangal (MacMillan Publishers (US), Verticales (Fr.))

The Heart takes place over the 24 hours surrounding a fatal car crash and the subsequent heart transplant as life is taken from a young man and given to a dying woman. As stylistically audacious as it is emotionally explosive, the book examines the deepest emotions of everyone involved--grieving parents, doctors and nurses--as they navigate decisions of life and death. The book won the 2014 Grand Prix RTL-Lire and the Student Choice Novel of the Year from Prix France Culture/Télérama.

 

Eve Out of Her Ruins

Eve Out of Her Ruins (Ève de Ses Décombres) by Ananda Devi (Deep Vellum Publishing (US), Gallimard (Fr.))

With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend; Saadiq, a gifted would-be poet in love with Eve; and Clélio, a belligerent rebel waiting for his brother to send for him from France.

 

 

 

 

The Little Communist Who Never Smiled

The Little Communist Who Never Smiled (La Petite Communiste qui ne souriait jamais) by (Lola Lafon Seven Stories Press (US), Actes Sud (Fr.))

Lola Lafon's award-winning novel offers a fictionalized account of iconic gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s life, from her rural Romanian childhood to her unprecedented perfect score in the 1976 Olympics and to her 1989 defection to the U.S. The book re-imagines a childhood in the spotlight of history, a woman adored by young girls in the West and appropriated as a political emblem in Communist Romania.

 

 

Suite for Barbara Loden

Suite for Barbara Loden (Supplément à la vie de Barbara Loden) by Nathalie Léger (Dorothy, a publishing project (US), P.O.L (Fr.))

Moving between fact and speculation, film criticism and anecdote, Suite for Barbara Loden came out of Nathalie Léger's obsessive investigation into the mysteries of Wanda, the only film American actress Barbara Loden ever wrote and directed. The product of a journey across continents, into archives, and through mining towns of Pennsylvania, the book is a stunning meditation on how we come to truth not through facts alone, but through acts of the imagination.

 

Ladivine

Ladivine (Ladivine) by Marie NDiaye (Knopf (US), Gallimard (Fr.))

Malinka’s pale beauty helped her rise above her dark-skinned mother’s life of servitude. Ladivine tells the story of Malinka, whose pale beauty helps her to rise above her dark-skinned mother’s life of servitude. The book follows her through years of living a lie, leading up to a shockingly violent act that leaves her own daughter yearning to understand who her mother really was.

 

 

 

Infidels

Infidels (Infidèles) by Abdellah Taïa (Seven Stories Press (US), Le Seuil (Fr.))

Set in Morocco, Infidels follows the life of Jallal, the son of a prostitute witch doctor, fresh out of boyhood and on the path to Jihad. Filled with a cast of supporting characters whose dreams unravel, the book is structured as a series of monologues, an emotionally relentless mix of confession, shouting match, and secret longing.

 

 

 

 

Naked

Naked (Nue) by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (Dalkey Archive (US), Éditions de Minuit (Fr.))

Naked is Jean-Philippe Toussaint's fourth and final novel about one of the most fully realized female characters of contemporary fiction, the haute couturière Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte. With his customary nuanced reflection and nimble wit, Toussaint continues to follow Marie’s relationship with his unnamed narrator, navigating through jealousy and comedy, irony and tenderness, and the meticulous accretion of details that engross and distract us even as life’s larger changes shift the assumptions by which we live.

 

 

Bardo or Not Bardo

Bardo or Not Bardo (Bardo or Not Bardo) by Antoine Volodine (Open Letter Books (US), Le Seuil (Fr.))

One of the funniest installments in Antoine Volodine's acclaimed post-apocalyptic series, Bardo or Not Bardo consists of seven vignettes set in a universe of failed revolutions, radical shamanism, and off-kilter nomenclature. In each one, a newly dead character bungles his way through the Tibetan afterlife, or Bardo, failing to achieve enlightenment, while the living make a similar mess of things.

 

 

 

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

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