1 March 2014

What I want to read in March 2014: Francophone and Irish literature

There are so many unread books on my shelf and that often makes it hard for me to pick what to read next. So I decided to come up with a theme every month and read books that tie in with that theme. Since March is 'International Francophone Month,' I picked out some books that where originally written in French. In March we do not only celebrate francophone culture, with St. Patrick's Day on March 17, we also celebrate the culture of the Irish. Thus, I will be reading some Irish literature as well. I have selected six books that span different eras and genres. I don't expect to read all six of them, but am aiming more at reading two francophone and two Irish works. Here is my selection:

The First Man by Albert Camus

Albert Camus (1913 – 1960) was a French author, journalist, and philosopher who grew up in French Algeria. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. Camus was born and grew up in French Algeria. In 1957 Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

"The unfinished manuscript of The First Man was discovered in the wreckage of the car accident in which Camus died in 1960, yet it was not published for over 30 years. The 'first man' of the title is Jacques Cormery, whose poverty stricken childhood is made bearable by his love for his silent and illiterate mother, and by the teacher who transforms his outlooks on the world. The most autobiographical of Camus' novels, The First Man gives insight into his life and the powerful themes underlying his work."

tl;dr: an unfinished semi-autobiographical novel by French Algerian Nobel Prize laureate Albert Camus about childhood in Algeria.

 Paris by Julian Green

Julien Green (1900 Р1998), was born to American parents in Paris. He authored several novels, a four-volume autobiography and a 19(!) volume diary. He wrote primarily in French and was the first non-French national to be elected to the Acad̩mie fran̤aise.

"Paris is an extraordinary lyrical love letter to the city, taking the reader on an imaginative journey around its secret stairways, courtyards, alleys and hidden places. Whether evoking the cool of a deserted church on a hot summer's day, remembering Notre Dame in a winter storm in 1940, describing chestnut trees lit up at night like 'Japanese lanterns' or lamenting the passing of street cries and old buildings, his book is filled with unforgettable imagery. It is a meditation on getting lost and wasting time, and on what it truly means to know a city."

tl;dr: a love letter to Paris by an American writer who apparently had a lot to say (about himself).

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Tatiana de Rosnay (*1961) is a French journalist, writer and screenwriter who grew up in Paris, then Boston. De Rosnay has published twelve novels in French and three in English, her most popular novel being Sarah's Key, which has sold over three million copies in French and almost two million in English and adapted into a film in 2009. De Rosnay is considered one of the top French novelists and most read read French authors.

"Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door to door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah lock him in a bedroom cupboard - their secret hiding place - and promises to come back to him as soon as they are released. Sixty years later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to question about her own romantic future."

tl;dr: Jewish girl Sarah locks her brother in a closet out of fear for the police, and an American journalist discovers this story 60 years later.

Dubliners by James Joyce

James Joyce (1882 – 1941) was born into a middle class family in Dublin. He was a novelist and poet and is considered one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. Joyce is best known for his novels Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegans Wake. He also published three books of poetry, a play, and occasional journalism.

"Joyce's first major work, written when he was only twenty-five, brought his city to the world for the first time. His stories are rooted in the rich detail of Dublin life, portraying ordinary often defeated lives with unflinching realism. He writes of social decline, sexual desire and exploitations, corruption and personal failure, yet creates a brilliantly compelling, unique vision of the world and of human experience."

tl;dr: James Joyce's first work, a collection of short stories, that brings Dublin and its people to life.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt (1930 - 2009) was an Irish-American teacher and author. McCourt was born in Brooklyn, but his family returned to their native Ireland when he was four. He received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1996  and Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for his memoir Angela's Ashes.

"The luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children, since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy - exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling - does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbours - yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness."

tl;dr: Frank McCourt's memoir of a childhood in poverty in the slums of Limerick, Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Paul Murray (*1975) is an Irish novelist. Murray attended Blackrock College in south Dublin, which provided the basis for the school in Skippy Dies. He studied English literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and got his master's in creative writing at the University of East Anglia.

"Why does Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin's venerable Seabrook College, end up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop?  Why Skippy dies and what happens next is the subject of this dazzling and uproarious novel, unraveling a mystery that links the boys of Seabrook College to their parents and teachers in ways nobody could have imagined. With a cast of characters that ranges from hip-hop-loving fourteen-year-old Eoin "MC Sexecutioner" Flynn to basketball playing midget Philip Kilfether, packed with questions and answers on everything from Ritalin, to M-theory, to bungee jumping, to the hidden meaning of the poetry of Robert Frost, "Skippy Dies "is a heartfelt, hilarious portrait of the pain, joy, and occasional beauty of adolescence, and a tragic depiction of a world always happy to sacrifice its weakest members."

tl;dr: Skippy, Catholic boarding school student, dies during a donut eating contest. What happened?

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