Alexandra Schwartz Reads Albertine Prize Finalist ‘The Little Communiste Who Never Smiled’
The Little Communiste Who Never Smiled, a novel by Lola Lafon, translated from the French by Nick Caistor, Seven Stories Press (US), Actes Sud (FR) is long-listed for the Albertine Prize, a reader’s choice award. Albertine booksellers have selected ten of the best French novels translated into English in the past year; US-based readers can vote between March 16 and April 30th on the Albertine site here.
“Maybe the only good thing to come out of 2016 was the Olympic champion Simone Biles, whose grins, on her way to gymnastics gold, were as wide as her backflips were high. The same could not be said of Nadia Comaneci, the subject of one of my favorite novels of the year, “The Little Communist Who Never Smiled,” by the French writer Lola Lafon, translated by Nick Caistor.
Lafon’s book, a metafictional biography tracing Comaneci’s life from her relentless formation by Bela Karoli into the first gymnast to earn a perfect 10, at the ripe old age of fourteen, to her defection to the United States days before the Ceausescu regime collapsed, is a brilliant blend of fact, invention, and creative historiography.
Lafon was raised by French parents in Ceausescu’s Romania; her observations on the hypocrisies of both capitalism and Communism when it comes to sport, and to the lives of women, are sharp and unsparing.
This is a fiercely feminist novel. It’s compulsively readable, too, with descriptions of feats of physical daring to stop your heart.”
« – The New Yorker, December 13, 2016. »
The Little Communiste Who Never Smiled, a novel by Lola Lafon Nick Caistor, Seven Stories Press (US), Actes Sud (FR)
Alexandra Schwartz is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing for 2014.