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Class Trip by Emmanuel Carrère (Childhood) 

Translated by Linda Coverdale

Let’s beginning at the beginning: childhood. Emmanuel Carrère’s Class Trip introduces us to young, timid, overtly anxious Nicolas as he embarks on a school ski trip. In so doing, Carrère sets the scene for the great confrontation every child must face: the terror of impending adulthood.

For Nicolas’ this confrontation comes when a local child is reported missing, and as his overactive mind turns to gruesome possibilities, panic sets in. As is the way with Carrère though, the truth is almost more shocking than Nicolas can imagine – and the result is a book that perfectly captures the sense of helplessness that every child must overcome.

Nada by Carmen Laforet (Independence)

Translated by Edith Grossman

As childhood gives way to freedom, the struggle for independence from family and your past ensues. Carmen Laforet wrote Nada in 1945, and it remains one of the great testaments to coming-of-age. Set in the amongst the ruins of civil-war scarred Barcelona, we follow eighteen-year-old Andrea as she moves to the city to pursue her dreams of studying at the university.

First she must navigate the new family that she must live with there, not least her eccentric Uncle Roman. As Andrea’s new life takes off, Uncle Roman’s overtures threaten to hold her back. 

In the Absence of Men by Philippe Besson (First Love)

Translated by Frank Wynne

As much as we want independence, we long to give ourselves to another. Philippe Besson’s In the Absence of Men offers one of the most affecting, and beautiful portraits of first love to have been written in recent memory. Set in Paris during the First World War, we follow sixteen-year-old Vincent as he embarks on relationship with young solider returned from the front.

It is a tale of discovery and pain for both men as they come to terms with discrepancies in class and status, but the lasting impact of this romance, and the grief that comes with its end, will haunt the reader long after its final act.

The Door by Magda Szabó (Friendship)

Translated by Len Rix

Of course, no one can go it alone – and friendship is arguably just as powerful as love. Magda Szabó’s The Door is a strange, despairing tale of what it means to foster a connection with another human being; in this case, we follow the slow, burgeoning relationship between a young Hungarian writer, Magda, and her reclusive, enigmatic domestic servant, Emerence as it takes twenty years for a complex trust between them to be slowly, carefully built.

However Emerence has secrets and vulnerabilities beneath her indomitable exterior which will test their friendship and push it to the brink of betrayal.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Revenge)

Translated by Stephen Snyder

When betrayed, we don’t wallow – we get even. In the aptly-titled collection, Revenge, Yoko Ogawa – recently celebrated for her dystopian novel, The Memory Police – brings her dark, fiendish imagination to bear on a seemingly disconnected cast of characters. As each are slighted, have their passions rebutted, or find themselves the object of ridicule, we see the power of cruelty and retribution align with resplendent consequences.

Told in the tradition of classical Japanese poetic collections, the stories in Revenge are linked through recurring images and motifs, as each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously painting a complex mosaic of vengeance in action.

The Moustache by Emmanuel Carrère (Identity)

Translated by Lanie Goodman

Sometimes, we lose ourselves, and question who we are. As with Class Trip, Emmanuel Carrère’s novel The Moustache takes its reader on another surreal, nightmarish journey – but this time, though we travel around the world, the action is very much set inside the collapsing mind of our unnamed narrator.

Having shaved off his signature moustache one day, the narrator is distraught to find that no-one notices his new look; but as others start to deny he ever had a moustache, questions about who he is abound and drive him on a desperate search. Taking a shocking, conclusive turn, this is a powerful and unforgettable tale of self-doubt and identity gone missing.

Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño (Exile) 

At other times in our lives, we find ourselves far from home: and sometimes, unable or unwilling to return. Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star tells the story of a group of young idealistic Chilean poets whose hopes and ambitions are quashed by the 1973 coup – all except for Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, the once quiet, unknowable, unpromising member of their circle.

As Alberto reinvents himself and becomes one of the great artists of the era, the unnamed narrator of Distant Star must resign himself to telling their story from exile in Europe, but not before he is offered one last chance to personally confront the brutality of his generation. As mysterious and riveting as it is nostalgic and pained, Distant Star is not only a testament to a lost era, but a perfect introduction to the literary genius of Bolaño. 

The Search Warrant by Patrick Modiano (Memory) 

Translated by Joanna Kilmartin

Finally, when all is said and done, what is left but the uncertainties of memory? Noble Prize winner Patrick Modiano has made an art of excavating the threads of memory and history, but his The Search Warrant is arguably his most powerful and affecting work.

Haunted by the fate of Dora Bruder – a fifteen-year-old girl listed as missing in an old December 1941 issue of Paris Soir – Modiano sets out to find all he can about her, from her name on a list of deportees to Auschwitz to the fragments he is able to uncover about the Bruder family. Amongst these discoveries occupied Paris comes alive, momentarily: its sights, sounds and sorrowful rhythms, only to be lost once again.

 

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