Albertine Prize Needs Your Help!

Calling all American Francophiles: the Albertine Prize needs your vote! Organized by the Fifth Avenue bookstore, Albertine, and co-presented by jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels  and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the award recognizes American readers’ favorite French-language fiction titles translated into English and distributed in the U.S. within the preceding calendar year.

This year’s nominees are winnowed to five titles covering a range of perspectives and narrative styles; UCLA professor Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses (Petit Piment, 2015) follows a Congoloese boy who escapes a terrifying orphanage and is raised by thieves in Pointe-Noire, and Christine Angot’s controversial story about molestation, Incest (Inceste, 1999) also makes the shortlist.

The Albertine Prize selection committee includes author and translator Lydia Davis, French literary critic and La Grande Librairie host François Busnel, and the staff at the Albertine bookstore in New York City.

Not sure which book to vote for? Albertine will host a springtime Book Battle, where five critics and professors will defend their favorite title.
Anyone can vote, just follow the link here. Ballots close May 1, 2018, with an awards ceremony on June 6. The winner will receive a $10,000 prize, to be split between author and translator. Bonne lecture!  

Reading French Books

Happy 2017! We’re starting the year off with a look at how American Francophiles can satisfy their booklust without breaking the bank.

Whether in digital or print format, procuring classic French literature like Candide and Les Misérables is relatively easy, but for the ravenous bibliophile (or recovering French lit major), finding titles by great modern French and Francophone authors poses a surprising set challenges. A little savoir faire makes those obstacles surmountable.

Recently published French books (and other international titles) can be hard to come by in the U.S.; while they’re often available on e-commerce sites like Amazon.fr or Fnac.com (the Gallic version of Target), shipping fees can sometimes cost more than the book itself.

Yet, stateside Francophiles need not wait until their next trip to France before loading up on coveted volumes. Many major metropolitan cities are home to independent bookstores catering to international tastes. East-coast outposts include Manhattan’s Albertine and Schoenhof’s Foreign Books in Cambridge, MA, while European Books and Media in Oakland, California is another great resource with a robust web presence. Newly released books may still be pricey, however, and others may not be readily available, but independent shops are wonderful for physical browsing and seeking out expert opinions. Some stores also host in-store book talks, signings, and foster an overall sense of joie de lire.

A budget-friendly option is to say bonjour to your local Alliance Française (AF),a global non-profit organization founded by Louis Pasteur and Jules Verne dedicated to promoting French language and culture. Many AF chapters host monthly book clubs based on fluency level, and while fees vary, roughly $120 dollars nets participants ten books and a monthly venue for discussion. I discovered my local chapter a few years ago, and in addition to reading the latest award-winning books, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the material in French among other Francophiles. (Groups are moderated by AF instructors.)

Our book club’s theme this year is “le retour,” or “The Return,” and includes new and recently released books by Pierre Lemaitre, Lola Lafon, Russian-born Andrei Makine, and Leïla Slimani–all prizewinning and internationally acclaimed authors. Slimani’s Chanson Douce just received the prestigious Prix Goncourt in November, and the group moderators swapped out another title so that we could decide for ourselves whether Chanson Douce merited the award. (It does. The story is loosely based on the actual homicide of two Manhattan children at the hands of their nanny. Class divisions, race, and mental instability are deftly explored in this quietly ferocious tale.)

However you satisfy your Gallic booklust, Bonne lecture!