4 French Women in Translation to Read This Month

How many books in translation written by women have you read this month? As Women in Translation Month comes to a close, here’s a selection of French novels that will help you improve your record!


Reading List

Life with Picassoby Françoise Gilot & Carlton Lake

To this day, Life with Picasso remains the most intimate and revealing portrait of Pablo Picasso. For nearly a decade, Françoise Gilot was his muse and coach–as well as the mother of two of his children (Claude and Paloma). Their marriage would not survive Picasso’s infidelities, which increased dramatically after the painter turned 70. Gilot left him; and a decade later, when she started writing this memoir, Picasso sued her no less than 3 times with the support of a cohort of friends and fans who were convinced that it was unacceptable that she represented him in her memoir even though he painted her repeatedly throughout his career.

Far from being a resentful and bitter account of a rocky conjugal life, Life with Picasso is an astute description of her ten frantic and extraordinary years with the artist: a time not just full of exceptional people, surprises, and creativity; but also rich in political activism, love, and tenderness. A wonderful foray into the art world of the time, its pages offer an abundance of scintillating anecdotes about Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Eluard, Gide, Cocteau, Miró, and Chaplin– as well as a delicate and subtle portrait of Georges Braque.

Life with Picasso, a novel by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, New York Review Books Classics.

Happeningby Annie Ernaux

Happening is a very honest and blunt account of a clandestine abortion that both threatened and transformed the author’s life.
Within its condensed pages, Annie Ernaux describes this life and death experience and how it deeply changed her vision of the world and of herself.
With her characteristic insight and lucidity, she minutely analyzes the silence that surrounds this experience; the sense of guilt, the social shame (in 60’s France), and the difficulty to articulate any experience that remains exclusively feminine, even today after the so-called women’s liberation.

As usual, reading Annie Ernaux is both an eye-opening experience and a literary delight!

Happening, a novel by Annie Ernaux, translated from the French by Tanya Leslie, Seven Stories Press.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteenby Camille Laurens

Little Dancer of Fourteen Years is the only sculpture Edgar Degas chose to exhibit throughout his lifetime. He created a revolutionary piece breaking the stereotypical cold inanimate sculptures of his time. He made his dancer come to life. Despite the fact that this sculpture is famous throughout the world, but how many know her name?

This absorbing, heartfelt work uncovers the story of the real dancer behind Degas’s now-iconic sculpture, and the struggles of late nineteenth-century Parisian life.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, a novel by Camille Laurens, translated from the French by Willard Wood, Other Press.

Dance on the Volcanoby Marie Vieux-Chauvet

I often describe Dance on the Volcano as the War & Peace of Haitian literature; and as overblown as that sounds, I continue to think it is not too far off the mark. A sweeping and rich historical novel about the days before and during the Haitian Revolution, it is a galaxy to itself, taking the reader into an entirely different time and place in its portrayal of a society on the edge of collapse.
Marie Vieux-Chauvet has only recently rocketed back into the public eye thanks to masterful new translations of her work; and Kaiama L. Glover’s exceptional rendering of this long-neglected masterpiece is a gift to us all.

Dance on the Volcano, a novel by Marie Vieux-Chauvet, translated form the French by Kaiama L. Glover, Archipelago Books

Other recommendations by Albertine Team