French Classics in Translation

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Taking place in French locales from the beaches of Guadeloupe to the hillsides of Provence, these six novels offer astounding depictions of desire, violence, folk belief, and the power of the natural world. Called “a book of the utmost urgency and relevance” by John Berger, and winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation, Gabriel Chevallier’s Fear follows a young, sardonic infantryman as he bears witness to the atrocities of trench warfare during World War I. Inès Cagnati's Free Day tracks the inner monologue of an impoverished, spiritually divided fourteen-year-old girl as she bikes between her school and her family’s farm through the harsh countryside of southwestern France. A rural tale of an entirely different sort, Jean Giono’s Hill narrates a community’s gradual unraveling in the face of a mysterious, animistic force.

For readers looking for a slightly more sumptuous story, Honoré de Balzac’s The Memoirs of Two Young Wives records the correspondence of two women as they embark on divergent life paths: one choosing a comfortable but tedious existence with a husband she doesn’t love, the other pursuing an unattainable ideal of endless passion. Similarly concerned with the complexities of sex and romance, Colette’s The Pure and the Impure is a captivating investigation of the erotic underworld in early twentieth-century Paris. With an introduction by Jamaica Kincaid, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge of Beyond is a vibrant, folklore-infused portrait of several generations of Guadeloupian women.