Dear Frenchly Readers,
This week, Annie Ernaux, the French author, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. She is the sixteenth French writer to win since the prize was first awarded in 1901, and the first French woman. She is the seventeenth woman overall to win. Let me write this again: Since 1901. Only 17 women! Should we celebrate? Or be horrified? I feel both.
It is not lost on me that she has won on the anniversary of the start of the #MeToo movement in France, which began this month, five years ago, in 2017, with the hashtag “BalancetonPorc”—or, “Squeal on your pig,” by New York-based French journalist, Sandra Muller. By November of that year, thousands of women had descended upon Paris’ Place de la République protesting violence against women. According to Le Monde, “Each year in France, 213,000 women are victims of physical and/or sexual violence with a conjugal partner and 94,000 women are victims of rape or attempted rape.” (In the U.S., for comparison, that first number is a staggering 4.8 million and that second number hovers closer to 400,000. Almost half a million female victims of rape or sexual assault each year the U.S.!)
Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 to grocery store clerks in a small town in Normandy. In the grocery, she was able to hear, reports Le Monde, “‘all kinds of conversations and languages’ from a very young age and become aware of social hierarchies, even the most subtle forms of domination. Her rise through her studies (which led her to become an associate professor of French) and her marriage into a more bourgeois world, made her a ‘class defector.’ Her writing was born from this tension nourished by guilt, shame, regret, but also tenderness.”
Her first book, in 1974, called Cleaned Out, was an autobiographical novel. In 1983, she published L’Événement, also an autobiographical novel, about her illegal abortion in 1963 France. That book was translated into English in 2001 and published as Happening. Earlier this year, Happening was released as a film just as the Supreme Court was reversing Roe v. Wade, making it the most important movie of the year. Andrea Meyer wrote about it for Frenchly, here.
Ernaux’s magnum opus is considered to be Les Années, or, The Years, which was published in English in 2017.
Today, our writer, Debra Spark, has a review of Ernaux’s most recent book, Getting Lost, that has just been published in English. Getting Lost is an unedited transcript of Ernaux’s journals from a time when she had a torrid, crazy, self-annihilating affair with a man thirteen years her junior, who was a Russian diplomat, anti-Semite, Stalinist, misogynist and…married. (Today, the Nobel Prize for peace was given to rights activists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine that, as the Times reported, “have become symbols of resistance and accountability” during Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine. To celebrate this announcement, we have this beautiful piece of music called, “Mariupol,” composed by Paris-based Frenchly reader, Joseph Aragon and features a talented violinist, Irina Markevitch, who is Ukrainian.)
Spark’s review is smart, unflinching and honest. Read it here. And if you email me immédiatement, one copy of Getting Lost will go out to my first emailer who answers the following trivia question correctly: What actress played Annie in the movie, Happening? Unfortunately, Ernaux’s publisher can’t give away more than one book right now—they had no idea the Nobel would happen and are suddenly out of books; the warehouses are frozen until they can print another 100,000 copies. So, email me, and if you are the winner, or are just trying to buy a copy from your local bookstore, be patient. This might take a bit. (As a general rule, please let me know when you get the thing we gave away and if you don’t! There might have been a problem that I should know.) If you are in NYC this Monday, she has a reading at the Villa Albertine. Check that out here.)
Ernaux puts on the page what others may not dare. Her writing continues to change culture around the globe, even years after she publishes books, even after she, herself, has moved on, that’s when the rest of us catch up. She is no flash in the pan.
Cook, watch, listen & read ce weekend (Cuisiner, regarder, écouter et lire):
It’s a holiday weekend. Where I live in Maine, it’s a perfect combination of blue skies, changing leaves, cool breezes and smells of wood smoke. My family and I were supposed to go camping this weekend, but there was a mutiny: all three of them decided it was too much, they were too tired, they want to do other things, we’ve traveled too much. I was the lone voice of dissent and ultimately outvoted. Such is life! Maybe I’ll take a cold plunge into the ocean or go for a long run.
To mollify myself, I am turning to what I can read, watch or cook: First off, next month we are going to do an entire week celebrating French tarts in preparation for the holidays. So, in advance, check out these beautiful pie plates on Food 52, especially the blue and white ones from the Québec-based artist, Edith Bourgault.
This weekend, I am craving cheesecake. I want to try this pumpkin cheesecake or this hazelnut one. I also want to try this super simple recipe for Earl Grey madeleines. When we were at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse this past summer, we bought a madeleine pan and Dan has gotten into making them with almond flour and lemon zest. A basket of warm tea-scented madeleines this Sunday morning sounds perfect to me. But you might be more inspired by this piece from Philip Ruskin about world famous lobster rolls in Paris!
To read: I loved this personal memory piece from the writer, Rivka Galchen, about her father. Her first line is one of the best responses to Tolstoy I’ve ever read: “Recovering from a happy childhood can take a long time.”
I think we all should dive quickly into any Annie Ernaux book we can get our hands on. And, if you haven’t seen it yet, this is your weekend to watch Happening.
My older son and I are now watching Lupin on Netflix. Can I just say how much I adore Omar Sy? He is so terrific. I am seeing so many more clues watching this the second time and I can enjoy the acting even more. If you’ve already done your Lupin time, 20 French films are at the New York Film Festival this month, and Andrea Meyer says that at least two can be streamed right now and four have U.S. release dates coming up. Check out her write up on what French films are worth seeing at the NYFF and on both small and big screens near you.
Have a good weekend. Get out and pick an apple.
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