9 contemporary French books you should have on your summer reading list


A French summer getaway doesn’t require an extravagant trip to Aix-en-Provence or all the boroughs in Paris. Sometimes all you need is a contemporary French novel or memoir to transport you to a new world of diverse perspectives and French or Francophone culture. These are 9 contemporary French books that are perfect for summer lounging on a beach, long train rides to work, or sparking your imagination before bed.

1. The silence of the stars by Sanaa K. (Marabulles, 2019)

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Sanäa K is an author and illustrator, best known for her inclusive and realistic drawings of women and the spaces they create for themselves. The silence of the stars is both a memoir and K’s first graphic novel, but its themes continue in a similar feminist vein. This memoir tells the story of a young woman who learns to love and deal with grief from an artistic perspective. The protagonist lives for her twenties alongside a group of women who bring solidarity and distinct care into her life.

2. divine by Marie Ndiaye (Gallimard Editions, 2013)

Ladivine is a captivating and poetic work fantastic novel. This novel navigates two generations of complex mother-daughter relationships and examines intergenerational dynamics from a provocative psychological perspective. Ultimately, NDiaye portrays a poetic femininity weakened by shame and secrecy, and leaves her reader on the edge of her seat. (An English translation is also available.)

3. Little country by Gael Faye (Editions Grasset, 2016)

Faye, a Franco-Rwandan rapper turned author, takes the reader into the life of Gabriel, a young boy living in Burundi in 1992 during the civil war and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His book, which won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2016, references his song “Petit Pays” and his previous albums which tell his story of growing up as a mixed-race child in Burundi. Faye said her process of intentionally including everyday sensory details of Gabriel’s life was meant to “bring to life a forgotten world, to talk about our discreet and happy moments” – aspects that are often missing in French literature on Burundi. . (An English translation is also available.)

4. The real life by Adeline Dieudonne (Iconoclast, 2016)

The real life, winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2018, takes place in a house that is unlike any other. But it’s a thrilling depiction of an unnamed young girl, her younger brother, Gilles, and a tragic incident that interrupts their seemingly normal lives. Raised by a virtually silent mother and a father more devoted to hunting and television than his children, the duo grow up in an uncanny closeness to death and disappearance, playing in wrecked old cars and with their father’s dead animals. kept in a side room. After the tragedy, Gilles changes dramatically and we follow his older sister’s resilient efforts to bring back the brother she knew.

5. Lightness by Catherine Meurisse (French and European Publications Inc, 2016)

As a cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo, Meurisse’s life changed dramatically after surviving the 2015 attack in which she lost dear mentors and friends. This graphic novel is about his afterlife and shows his return to drawing focusing on the beauty and lightness of the world. Meurisse’s book offers its readers a story of loss and resilience through fluid, confusing memories woven with the author’s dry humor and stunning artwork.

6. Daraya’s book smugglers by Delphine Minoui (Threshold, 2017)

This novel, which takes place between 2012 and 2016, is an intimate account of a rebel group in Daraya, Syria, which created a library with books recovered from under the ruins of the city. The story is inspired by the correspondence maintained by Minoui as a journalist with these activists, making the story as personal and intimate as it is specific. The novel addresses the critical role of literature in asserting agency in the face of violence, resisting domination, and strengthening beleaguered communities.

seven. The Unfinished Manuscript by Franck Thilliez (Black River, 2018)

If you’re looking for a good crime thriller, Thilliez’s novel offers exactly that. The author intersperses his captivating story with meaningful clues and creates a puzzle for the reader to solve. The plot is split between a mother whose marriage crumbles after her daughter is kidnapped and the mysterious story of a high-speed car crash where a woman’s severed body is found in the trunk. Thilliez continues to ask his reader questions, make connections, and wonder how all the pieces fit together until the last page.

8. Vernon Subutex 1, 2, & 3 by Virginie Despente (Grasset, 2015)

After publishing the first two books in this series in 2015, the first of which was shortlisted for the International Man Booker Prize, Despentes released the final novel in the Vernon Subutex trilogy in 2018. The novels begin in Paris with Vernon, a broke , a middle aged record store owner. His life changes dramatically when his old pop star friend (and earner) dies of an overdose, cutting off Vernon’s access to stability. The touching and crazy stories of Vernon who became homeless and of the people he meets show the social inequalities and the forgotten in contemporary Paris. Despentes challenges current stigmas around the city’s displaced residents, drug use, gender and sexuality. (An English translation is available for Book 1 and Book 2.)

9. soul brother by David Diop (Threshold, 2018)

Childhood friends, Alfa Ndiaye and Mademba Diop are two Senegalese snipers in the ranks of the French army during the First World War. After Mademba is shot in front of Alfa, the book revolves around Alfa’s gradual dissociation with the world – eventually even with himself – and the methods he uses to process his trauma. Haunted by the violent death of his close friend, Diop’s character questions his role as a Senegalese farmer waging a European war that is not his own.

The featured image: Image bank by Jose AS Reyes / Shutterstock


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