Books

The Novel of the Century

David Bellos

GUARDIAN AND ECONOMIST BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017
Winner of the American Library in Paris Book Award, 2017

'Never mind those self-help manuals urging that some classic novel may change your life; in this sparkling study of the birth, growth and afterlife of Hugo's evergreen blockbuster, David Bellos argues that Les Misérables already has' Boyd Tonkin, Economist

'Any reader who hasn't yet embarked on Hugo's book might be converted to the idea by this one' Daniel Hahn, Spectator

The extraordinary story of how a simple tale of love and revolution, the poor and the downtrodden - Victor Hugo's beloved classic Les Misérables - conquered the world.

There has never been a book like it. It is the most widely read and frequently adapted story of all time, on stage and on film. But why is Les Misérables the novel of the century? David Bellos's remarkable new book brings to life the extraordinary story of how Hugo managed to write his epic novel despite a revolution, a coup d'état and political exile; how he pulled off the deal of the century to get it published, and set it on course to become the novel that epitomizes the grand sweep of history in the nineteenth century. Packed full of information about the background and design of Les Misérables, this biography of a masterpiece nonetheless insists that the moral and social message of Hugo's ever-popular novel is just as important for our century as it was for its own. The Novel of the Century is a book as rich, remarkable and long-lasting as the novel at its heart.

Les Misérables is available as a Penguin Classic, in an acclaimed new translation by Christine Donougher, with an introduction by Robert Tombs.

On Leave

Daniel Anselme (and others)

A lost classic lays bare the darkest moment of France's post-war history

First published in Paris in 1957, as France's engagement in Algeria became ever more bloody, On Leave received a handful of reviews and soon disappeared from view. Through David Bellos's translation, this lost classic has been rediscovered. Spare, forceful and moving, the novel describes a week in the lives of a sergeant, a corporal and a private, home on leave in Paris. Full of sympathy and feeling, informed by the many hours Daniel Anselme spent talking to conscripts in Paris, On Leave is a timeless evocation of what the history books can never record: the shame and terror felt by men returning home from war.

Daniel Anselme was born Daniel Rabinovitch in 1927, and adopted the name Anselme while in the French Resistance with his father. He traveled widely as a journalist, and was known as a raconteur and habitué of Left Bank cafés. He published his first novel On Leave in 1957, a second, Relations, in 1964, and a semiautobiographical account of his wartime experiences calledThe Secret Companion in 1984. He was also one of the leaders of Solidarity Radio in Paris. He died in 1989.

David Bellos is Director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, where he is also Professor of French and Comparative Literature. He has won many awards for his translations of Georges Perec, Ismail Kadare and others, including the Man Booker Translator Award, and received the Prix Goncourt de la biographie for his book on Perec.

Pietr the Latvian

Georges Simenon (and others)

The first novel which appeared in Georges Simenon's famous Maigret series, in a gripping new translation by David Bellos.

Inevitably Maigret was a hostile presence in the Majestic. He constituted a kind of foreign body that the hotel's atmosphere could not assimilate.
Not that he looked like a cartoon policeman. He didn't have a moustache and he didn't wear heavy boots. His clothes were well cut and made of fairly light worsted. He shaved every day and looked after his hands.
But his frame was proletarian. He was a big, bony man. His firm muscles filled out his jacket and quickly pulled all his trousers out of shape.
He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there. His assertive presence had often irked many of his own colleagues.

In Simenon's first novel featuring Maigret, the laconic detective is taken from grimy bars to luxury hotels as he traces the true identity of Pietr the Latvian.

Penguin is publishing the entire series of Maigret novels in new translations. This novel has been published in previous translations as The Case of Peter the Lett and Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett.

'Compelling, remorseless, brilliant' John Gray

'One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century . . . Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories' Guardian

'A supreme writer . . . unforgettable vividness' Independent

The Pyramid

Ismail Kadare (and others)

When the new Egyptian Pharaoh decrees that he does not want a pyramid built in his honour his advisers are aghast. It is their firm belief that peace and prosperity only make the people more difficult to control – they must be kept under the whip. So the Pharaoh agrees to the construction of a pyramid colossal beyond imagining, an edifice that crushes dozens of people as each block is added and which inexorably drains the lifeblood from the country. As Egypt builds its monument to death, its neighbours plot and gloat…

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

David Bellos

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos asks: how do we really make ourselves understood to other people? This funny, wise and life-affirming language book shows how, from puns to poetry, news bulletins to the Bible, Asterix to Swedish films, translation is at the heart of everything we do - and makes us who we are.

Selected by The New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2011

'A wonderful, witty book ... richly original, endlessly fascinating ... for anyone interested in words' Economist, Books of the Year

'A scintillating bouillabaisse ... spiced with good and provocative things' Literary Review

'Dazzlingly inventive' The New York Times

'Clear and lively ... There is nothing quite like it' Spectator

Georges Perec: A Life in Words

David Bellos

"It's hard to see how anyone is ever going to better this User's Manual to the life of Georges Perec" - Gilbert Adair, Sunday Times

Winner of the Prix Goncourt for Biography, 1994

George Perec (1936-82) was one of the most significant European writers of the twentieth century and undoubtedly the most versatile and innovative writer of his generation.

David Bellos's comprehensive biography - which also provides the first full survey of Perec's irreverent, polymathic oeuvre - explores the life of an anguished, comical and endearingly modest man, who worked quietly as an archivist in a medical research library. The French son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, he remained haunted all of his life by his father's death in the war, fighting to defend France, and his mother's in Auschwitz-Birkenau. His acclaimed novel A Void (1969) - written without using the letter "e" - has been seen as an attempt to escape from the words "père", "mere", and even "George Perec".

His career made an auspicious start with Things: A Story of the Sixties (1965), which won the Prix Renaudot. He then pursued an idiosyncratic and ambitious literary itinerary through the intellectual ferment of Paris in the 1960s and 1970s.He belonged to the Ouvrior de Littérature Potentielle (OuLiPo), a radically inventive group of writers whose members included Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino. Perec achieved international celebrity with Life A User's Manual (1978), which won the Prix Medicis and was voted Novel of the Decade by the Salon du Livre. He died in his mid-forties after a short illness, leaving a truly puzzling detective novel, 53 Days, incomplete.

"Professor Bellos's book enables us at once to relish the most wilfully bizarre aspects of Perec's oeuvre and to understand the whys and wherefores of his protean nature" - Jonathan Romney, Literary Review

Romain Gary

David Bellos

Airman, war hero, immigrant, law student, diplomat, novelist and celebrity spouse, Romain Gary had several lives thrust upon him by the history of the twentieth century, but he also aspired to lead many more. He wrote more than two dozen books and a score of short stories under several different names in two languages, English and French, neither of which was his mother tongue. Gary had a gift for narrative that endeared him to ordinary readers, but won him little respect among critics far more intellectual than he could ever be. His varied and entertaining writing career tells a different story about the making of modern literary culture from the one we are accustomed to hearing.

Born Roman Kacew in Vilna (now Lithuania) in 1914 and raised by only his mother after his father left them, Gary rose to become French Consul General in Los Angeles and the only man ever to win the Goncourt Prize twice.

This biography follows the many threads that lead from Gary's wartime adventures and early literary career to his years in Hollywood and his marriage to the actress Jean Seberg. It illuminates his works in all their incarnations, and culminates in the tale of his most brilliant deception: the fabrication of a complex identity for his most successful nom de plume, Émile Ajar.

In his new portrait of Gary, David Bellos brings biographical research together with literary and cultural analysis to make sense of the many lives of Romain Gary - a hero fit for our times, as well as his own.

Jacques Tati His Life & Art

David Bellos

Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot, unmistakeable with his pipe, brolly and striped socks, was a creation of sheer slapstick genius that made audiences around the world laugh at the sheer absurdity of life. This biography charts Tati's rise and fall, from his earliest beginnings as a music hall mime during the Depression, to the success of Jour de Fete and Mon Oncle, to Playtime, the grandiose masterpiece that left the once delebrated director bankrupt and begging for equipment to complete his final films. Analysing Tati's singular vision, Bellos reveals the intricate staging of his most famous gags and draws upon hitherto inaccessible archives to produce a unique assessment of his work and its context for film lovers and film students alike.

The File On H

Ismail Kadare (and others)

Two Irish-American scholars from Harvard journey to Albania in the 1930s with a tape recorder (a 'new fangled' invention) in order to record the last genuinely oral epic singers. Their purpose, they say, is to show how Homer's epics might have been culled from a verbal tradition. But the local Governor believes its an elaborate spying mission and arranges for his own spy to follow them.The two dedicated scholars realise only too late that they have stumbled over an ants' nest.

This simple tale by Albania's most eminent and gifted novelist serves to lift the veil on one of the most secret and mysterious countries of modern Europe.

Spring Flowers, Spring Frost

Ismail Kadare (and others)

From behind the closed door, the man shouts, 'Be on your way - you have no business here!'
'Open up, I am the messenger of Death'.

As spring arrives in the Albanian mountain town of B, some strange things are emerging in the thaw. Bank robbers strike the National Bank. Old terrors are dredged up from the shipwreck of history. And ultra-explosive state secrets are threatening to flood the entire nation. Mark, an artist, finds the peaceful rhythms of his life turned upside down by ancient love and modern barbarism and by the particular brutality of a country surprised and divided by its new freedom.

Jacques Tati

David Bellos

The full story of one of France's greatest cinema legends, a clown whose film-making innovation was to turn everyday life into an art form.

Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot, unmistakable with his pipe, brolly and striped socks, was a creation of slapstick genius that made audiences around the world laugh at the sheer absurdity of life. This biography charts Tati's rise and fall, from his earliest beginnings as a music hall mime during the Depression, to the success of Jour de Fête and Mon Oncle, to Playtime, the grandiose masterpiece that left the once celebrated director bankrupt and begging for equipment to complete his final films.

Analysing Tati's singular vision, Bellos reveals the intricate staging of his most famous gags and draws upon hitherto inaccessible archives to produce a unique assessment of his work and its context for film lovers and film students alike.

Biography

David Bellos is Director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University and has won many awards for his translations including the Man Booker International Translator's Award (2005). He is the author of Is that a Fish in your Ear: The Amazing Adventure of Translation.