Monday April 17, 2017
Catherine Leroux's favourite books in translation
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Catherine Leroux is a journalist and novelist whose book, The Party Wall, was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for translation. Born and raised in Quebec, Leroux took up translating novels to earn money while she was trying to make it as a writer. She fell in love with the fine art of translation and has been championing Francophone novels for mainstream coverage ever since.
Leroux spoke to Shelagh Rogers about her three favourite Francophone picks.
La femme qui fuit (Suzanne) by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette
It came out in French in 2005 and it was immediately a huge hit in Quebec. It's a beautiful book. Well, let's start with Anaïs's family. I usually don't dwell on artistic dynasties and this is one, but it's really the starting point of that novel. So Anaïs is the daughter of documentary filmmaker Manon Barbeau, granddaughter of abstract painter Marcel Barbeau and artist Suzanne Meloche. Marcel and Suzanne were among the famous group, the signers of a manifesto called Le Refus Global — Total Refusal — in 1948. The text rejected the religious conservatism that was pervasive in Quebec at the time. And the couple apparently felt suffocated by the moral order and for that reason and many others, felt that it was very difficult to be parents. So when Anaïs's mother, Manon was three and her little brother one, Suzanne decided to abandon them. What makes the book so poignant and beautiful is her style. It's so passionate. It's harsh. It's sensitive. It's full of powerful images. She has a way of making the reader feel physical sensations that the characters are experiencing. It's amazing. I don't know how she did it.
L'orangeraie (The Orange Grove) by Larry Tremblay
The book deals with a family that owns an orange grove in an unidentified Middle Eastern country. They have twins, Aziz and Amed, who are obviously very close. They are about nine or 10 years old. One of the twins is gravely ill. After a bomb that came from over the hills — we don't really know who dropped the bomb, but it killed the grandparents — a man comes to the orange grove. He's suggesting vengeance. He's asking the parents to sacrifice one of their sons so that he could become a suicide bomber. The mother wants to send the sick child who hasn't much more time to live. But the father believes that God requires a true sacrifice and that you can't give away what you've already lost. Larry Tremblay did such a great job at putting himself in the shoes of the people behind terrorist attacks with a lot of compassion, impact and intelligence. He allows us to see that nothing is very simple and nothing is black and white. That book was a huge hit too. It won the Quebec Booksellers Award and it really stirred a conversation in Quebec when it came out.
Le Christ obèse (The Obese Christ) by Larry Tremblay
A man living alone in a mansion after his mother's death witnesses a brutal attack in a cemetery one night. It's a strange, twisted thriller and it's a wonderful read. I love The Orange Grove but I think I even liked The Obese Christ a little bit more. It didn't have the same kind of success but I like it. I like it a lot.
Catherine Leroux's comments have been edited and condensed.