Le Weekend, 12/2/22: Female Anger in Yiyun Li’s The Book of Goose & Valrhona Chocolate! 🇫🇷

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December 02, 2022

Dear Frenchly Readers,

In the Chinese-born, American author, Yiyun Li’s new book, The Book of Goose, she writes, “True blind rage is like true blind courage—if you have ever seen a squirrel trapped in a cage or a bird fly into a room by accident, you will understand this. It does not matter that the squirrel’s claws cannot shake open the cage, or the windowpane will not give way to the bird’s thumping. For some—animals, children—despair and doom galvanize.” The voice is that of the narrator, Agnès, a young French girl, who, by the time she says these words, is 14 years old.

The setting of the book is, mostly, a small town in western France called Saint RĂ©my. It is not long after the Second World War, and the ambience is one of a countryside ravaged by the chaos of war—the German occupation, the physical destruction to land and buildings, sons and fathers dying, resistance, and the poverty of war’s ugly wake. More specifically, the world of the book is the taut and strange friendship between two girls, Agnès and Fabienne. Agnès is an acquiescent and docile child who smiles, goes to school, and mostly does what she is told; Fabienne, on the other hand, is considered sauvage. Fabienne has an alcoholic father and has been steeped in death–not only death wrought by war, but, more broadly, from the constant animal deaths, both domestic and wild, in and around the farm where she lives. Most traumatically, her mother is dead, and, a few years before the book begins, her older sister, Joline, dies in childbirth, and so does the infant son. To add more brutal bleakness, the black American soldier, Bobby, who was the father of her nephew, has been hanged for getting her sister pregnant out of wedlock.

Fabienne is a firebrand, lawless, dark-minded and an angry girl. Like a spinning top, her every action feels more like a primal scream than a decision. Similar to the dynamic between girls explored so expertly by Elena Ferrante, Agnès is enthralled by Fabienne and the power of her rage; at times she is a pawn in Fabienne’s cruel and twisted plots, which Fabienne calls “games,” and, at other times, she is a mere bystander, confused by what happens and why, she is a silly “goose.” But all along, the feelings she has for Fabienne are fierce and unwavering. No matter how much damage Fabienne wreaks in her life, Agnès still loves her, more than anyone.

Part of the bond between them is that no one else knows what they have been through; like sisters they have a shared history, ravaged by war, death and poverty, defined by farm animals, a gray-seeming countryside, muck and barns. And although Agnès has an intact family, she has grown up remote, somehow, from her exhausted and overworked parents, whom she sees as not connected to her personhood. Her parents’ grief over the death of their son, Jean, who returned sickly and broken from a German labor camp, seems to define their inability to focus on their daughter. The girls, mostly orchestrated by Fabienne, are angry at their lack of opportunity, their inability to have true agency in their lives, at feeling invisible, poor and powerless. This anger and their ultimate unwillingness to be “good girls” propels one of the girls into a life far away from Saint Rémy, and the other is destroyed. In this wrenching process, the love they feel for each other cannot hold. Rage, unlike a precise surgeon’s knife, is rarely wielded by a steady hand; instead, more like the blade of a Cuisinart, it spins, faster and faster, cutting everything it comes into contact with. In the end, there is only a pile of gritty rubble.

So, today, for the first three writers to email me, in partnership with Li’s publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, we are giving away 3 copies of Yiyun Li’s book, The Book of Goose. Because I know you all like a challenge, my trivia question you must answer correctly is this: What part of the State Dinner last night celebrating PrĂ©sident Emmanuel Macron was harvested in my home state of Maine, making my state a contributor in celebrating the French President?

AND, because it’s holiday time, we have a second giveaway today—again, three gifts. Here is what our writer, Philip Ruskin, who organized this giveaway wants you to do: “Want to win some amazing Valrhona chocolate? Be one of the first three to correctly answer some Frenchly trivia, and you can win amazing chocolate from Valrhona, the fine French chocolate that is the choice of chefs and discerning foodies.  We’ve got three different prizes to give away: One of you will win a chocolate Advent calendar; one will get a supply of fine hot chocolate, and one of you will receive a collection of Valrhona single origin chocolate bars! All you have to do is be one of the first three to answer the following Frenchly trivia question: What is the remarkable museum cafĂ©/restaurant listed in a recent Frenchly story of mine that features Valrhona in one of their mouth-watering desserts?”

Ok, readers! I can’t wait to get you the chocolate and books, so write back to me ASAP!

À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:

Speaking of chocolate, Philip’s got an article today all about where to get French chocolate for the holidays in Paris and back here in he U.S. Read it, here. 

On Frenchly this week, we reported on the big news that the French baguette got world heritage status from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization)—the photo we shared that Macron posted on Twitter to celebrate is priceless. We also published a story on the Cézanne/Kandinsky immersive exhibit in Paris and a walking tour of Victor Hugo’s home. 

To cook: In our house, we roasted our turkey bones this week and made a rich broth so that we can make Turkey Pho this weekend. We make it every year and it’s so delicious.

Also, I am intrigued by this recipe for Gingerbread Latte cookies. I am shifting from pies to cookies, as December always seems to call for the sugary crunch of a nice spiced or peppermint cookie. I’m not a very good cookie baker, actually, but every year, right about now, I try. Will you, too?

If you missed our online event with Alliance Française de Pasadena yesterday, a lively conversation with 4 Frenchly contributors, the head of the Alliance board and myself, about where to go off the beaten track in France this year, here is the link on YouTube. Next week we will send out a list of all the ideas we had—turns out we have a lot that we are still collecting! Stay tuned….

Don’t forget to cast your raffle ticket for a free trip to Paris next spring!

Enjoy your weekend! See you next week. Get in touch for the giveaways or anything else on your mind.

Ă€ bientĂ´t,


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