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December 7, 2014

The Return by Dany Laferriere, and books in translation

the-returnFor all kinds of reasons, I am so pleased to have finally read Dany Laferriere’s The Return. Not least because Laferriere is one of Canada’s most internationally celebrated writers—in its original French, The Return won the Prix Médicis (France) in 2009, the International Literature Award (Germany) in 2014, and Laferriere was elected to the Académie française a year ago, the first Haitian and Canadian writer to receive this honour. It was kind of ridiculous that I’d never read him before.

I’m pleased mostly to have read The Return because I liked it so much, a novel that blurs boundaries in all kinds of ways—between fiction and autobiography, poetry and prose, home and exile, belonging and displacement, and also bridging the extremes in common perceptions of Haiti. It’s a novel whose prose is both stirring and lulling, easy to read and rich with wonderful lines. It begins when Dany, our protagonist, receives a phone that tells him his father is dead, a father he hardly knew, and even still, this begins a journey out of exile, back to the Haiti that Dany had fled decades before, to bring the spirit of his father home. So he goes back to a home that is no longer home, driven by a relationship with his father mostly constituted of absence and silence. It’s not a straightforward journey, and nothing is ever merely one thing or another, and I love that.

I love also how the book is so curious in its construction, how it tears down and reconstructs all my ideas of just what a novel is shaped like, which is what I wanted to have happen when I resolved to read more books in translation in 2014. And so I am also glad to have read The Return because it’s one more translation on my reading list, to which I can point now and say that my 2014 goals were met in a way that was not entirely half-assed. Just a modest success, but I did so appreciate the books in translation I read this year—and I like that most of them were Canadian, translated from French (The Return, by David Homel), French via Inuktitut (Sanaaq), and Chiac, an Acadian-French dialect spoken in New Brunswick (For Sure). I also read The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated from Dutch, which I liked a lot, and Viviane by Julia Deck, translated from French and first published in France.

So 5 books out of a hundred and some, which is a bit meh, but alas. I’m going to keep seeking out books in translation in 2015, and I already have a copy of Dany Lafferriere’s I am a Japanese Writer waiting to be read.

One thought on “The Return by Dany Laferriere, and books in translation”

  1. JC Sutcliffe says:

    Thanks for the link!

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