Javier Cercas ‘Terra Alta’


“I’m sorry mate”, said his colleague. “My son broke his finger playing handball”.
“No problem” Melchior reassured him as he did up his safety belt. “I listened to a bunch of old people to pass the time”.
“I’ll bet all they talked about was the war”.
Melchor turned towards him.img_2777“How did you know”?
“Don’t talk rubbish”, said Sirvent.
“Here, the old folks don’t talk about anything else. As if nothing else has happened here in Terra Alta in the last 80 years”.***


This book, my third read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and my second by Javier cercas after ‘Outlaws‘ follows the main protagonist Melchor, who identifies his life with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and in particular, not to Jean Valjean but to Javert. Not the man who must choose between “Staying in heaven and becoming a demon or going back into hell and becoming an angel” but “the pretend bad guy, and pretend bad guys are the real good guys”. He even names his daughter Cosette.

Just for a change(heavy sarchasm) the story follows two distinct time lines, the present in Terra Alta and the past which has moulded Melchor. In the present, the story begins with an atrocious murder, the owner of the largest company in the area, Francisco Addel and his wife are sadistically tortured to death in their home, enough to shock the police at the death scene as illustrated below. In Terra Alta everyone knows everyone and the enquiry soon becomes bogged down and the task force eventually gets re-deployed. In the second time line we learn that Melchor much like Jean Valjean has been in prison and then with false paperwork was able to become a policeman, following a shooting incident where Melchor puts to good use the training he had working for a Cartel, he shoots dead four terrorists, making him famous, the police who had begun to realise his paperwork was suspect ensure his legitimacy and send him into the isolated Terra Alta until things quieten down.


Goma watches them all for a moment then points to a puddle of sticky stuff on the floor.
“Can anybody explain to me what this is”?
“The patrolman who came in with me vomitted”, Melchor answers.
“He wasn’t the only one”, adds deputy inspector Barrera. “Except that the others were more discreet”.***


This is a story of meanness, of cupidity and of revenge. And what if Javert once again had to choose, would he arrest the killer or let him go? throw into the cauldron the murder of Melchor’s wife.

Cercas keeps our attention and leaves enough doubt about Melchor’s choices.

First Published in spanish as “Terra Alta” in 2021, by Booket
Translated into french by Aleksandar Grujicic and Karine Louesdon and published as “Terra Alta” by Actes Sud in 2021
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

—Je suis désolé, mec, dit son collègue. Mon fils s’est cassé un doigt en jouant au hand.
—Pas de souci, le rassura Melchor en bouclant sa ceinture de sécurité. J’ai écouté un groupe de vieux, ça m’a fait passer le temps.
—Je parie qu’ils parlaient de la guerre.
Melchor se tourna vers lui.
—Comment tu sais ça?
—Arrête tes conneries, dit Sirvent. Ici, les vieux ne parlent que de ça. Comme s’il ne s’était rien passé en Terra Alta ces quatre-vingts dernières années.

Goma reste un moment à les observer puis montre du doit une flaque d’une matière pâteuse qui souille le sol.
—Quelqu’un pourrait m’expliquer ce que c’est?
—Le patrouilleur qui est entré avec moi a vomi, répond Melchor.
—Il n’a pas été le seul, ajoute le sous-inspecteur Barrera. Sauf que les autres ont été plus discrets.

Fabrice Caro ‘Broadway’


For Denis’s fortieth birthday, Beatrice organised a surprise party, she thought it would be a good idea to hold it in a Karaoke bar.I suspect Denis and Beatrice rack their heads to try to find activities that are the exact opposite of my desires.***


This book was read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and has left me with mixed sentiments, a lot of work has gone into shaping the story and linking the witty stories together using running jokes. The tone is slightly disenchanted with life, a mid life crisis? But at the same time that is all this book is, a string of witty stories and for this reader I soon lost patience. and no longer appreciated his drollery, I wanted to scream too much! The following quote is an example of Axel wanting to tell his daughter Jade that her boyfriend that has left her just isn’t woth the sorrow. The paragraph in itself is mildly amusing, the blue envelope is one of the running jokes; basically he received a colorectal test kit through the post four years earlier at 46 years old than the 50 years at which the kit is normally sent:


Maybe I should tell her: you know, today you admire him, but one day he’ll change, he’ll put on weight, slowly a fatty layer will appear around his midrift, his hair will recede, he’ll try to limit that by the use of Minoxydil 5% to no avail, you’ll notice CDs from the 90s (even the 80s) in the glove compartment, he’ll tell you its ironic, but it won’t be it’ll just be bad taste, in the evening on the sofahe’ll read car mags and sport pages, now and again he’ll say something about a transfer out loud and you’ll ask yourself if he hasn’t anything better to say to you, you’ll dye your hair and he won’t notice it, you’ll argue with each other more and more for less and less and one day he’ll go for the mailand find a blue envelope….,colorectal blue, that’s what you’re crying over Jade.***


In a nutshell Axel talks about his life, which should be happy, but as the opening quote shows, it’s all about him.

I won’t be voting for this book, much like king John, it died of a surfeit.

First Published in french as “Broadway” in 2020 by Gallimard.*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pour les quarante ans de Denis, Béatrice lui avait organisé un anniversaire surprise, elle lui avait trouvé judicieux de faire ça dans un bar karaoké – je soupçonne Denis et Béatrice de se creuser la tête pour tenter de ne me proposer que des activités qui sont aux antipodes de mes aspirations.

Peut-être devrais-je dire: tu sais, tu l’admires aujourd’hui, mais un jour il changera, il va prendre du poids, sensiblement, des contours de graisse vont faire leur apparition tout autour de son ventre, son front va commencer à se dégarnir, il essaiera d’enrayer ça avec du Minoxydil 5% mais ce sera peine perdu, tu vas voir apparaitre des CD des années 90 (voire 80) dans sa boîte à gants, il te dira que c’est du seconde degré mais ça n’en sera pas, ce sera juste du mauvais goût, le soir sur le canapé il lira des magazines automobiles et des journaux de sport, de temps à autre il fera un commentaire à haute voix sur un transfert de joueur et tu te demanderas s’il n’a pas autre chose à te dire que ça , tu feras une couleur et il ne remarquera pas que tu as fait une couleur, vos disputes se feront de plus en plus fréquentes, avec de moins en moins d’enjeu et un jour il ira au courrier et y trouvera une enveloppe bleue…, bleue colorectal, voila ce que tu pleurniches ma Jade.

Julia Deck ‘Private Property’


I knew about Annabelle’s hot pants. She had a whole collection, which she wore with high heels when she spotted a sucker at the agency. I’d also noticed to what extent hot pants make the person that wears them amusing, and just how much the listeners suddenly credit then with inimaginable wit.***


The Cardarecs are a middle class hipster Parisian couple, with middle class aspirations, to move from Paris, but not too far, to be able to benefit from more space, to get out doors a little but not to leave their Parisian lifestile behind. in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort.

He, Charles, a long term hypochondriac that she, the narrator, an architect, with their social consciences buy into a new eco-district in the suburbs, energy-neutral, low waste footprint etc. only to find that it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Any small set back sends Charles scuttering for his bed. The walls of the houses are paper thin, and the self-sufficient energy system has been under-sized. The Cardarecs could have made a go of it in spite of all this had it not been for their neighbours, the Lecoq family.

In this short sharp concise writing style Julia Deck tells the story of the neighbours from hell, Annabelle from the opening quote, young thirty something and her husband Arnaud, partying loudly into the early hours and eventually annoying the whole neighbourhood. After Charles complains about them in an informal neighbour’s meeting the Lecoq family cat is found dead and cut in half down in the trench in the street meant to bring gas to their houses. Then Annabelle dissapears.

When her body shows up on waste ground Charles is suspected and arrested, Arnaud the husband had been out all night with Patrick Lemoine, a neighbour who avoids going into too much detail about their evening out and as the narrator tells us:


Ok, Lemoine had never been able to get it up, it was a miracle that he had managed to knock her up, and that twice. And what’s more he had doubly lied. It most definitely wasn’t a coincidence that he’d come across Arnaud Lecoq at the Voltigeur the evening Annabelle had dissapeared. They had arranged to meet there and to go on to a private club where they had accidently met some time before and found that they had something secret in common.***


First Published in French as “Propriété privé” by Les Éditions de Minuit in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Je connaissais les microshorts d’Annabelle. Elle en possédait toute une collection, qu’elle assortissait avec des talons compensés quand elle avait flairé le gogo à l’agence. J’avais également noté à quel point les microshorts confèrent de l’esprit à celle qui les portent, et combien leurs auditeurs les créditent soudain d’une verve insoupçonnée.

Oui, Lemoine avait toujours bandé mou, c’était un miracle qu’il l’ai engrossée par deux fois. Et puis il avait doublement menti. Ce n’était absolument pas une coïncidence s’il était tombé sur Arnaud Lecoq au Voltigeur le soir de la disparition d’Annabelle. Les deux hommes s’étaient donnés rendez-vous. Ils étaient convenus de se rendre ensemble dans un club privé où ils s’étaient croisés par hasard quelques temps plus tôt, se découvrant par la même occasion un point commun inavoué.

Claudie Hunzinger ‘Les Grands Cerfs’


The economic impact for the Rhineland can be summarised as follows: 1 deer shot = 1260 euros saved for the timber industry.***


Years ago, Nils and Pamina, still students take the radical decision to move to the mountains and live on a high prairie cut of from the world in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort. Sure each year at set times they heard wild life noises and discovered their young trees had been massacred in the morning, but then Léo arrived, maybe an ex-military man, wanting to know if he can set up an observation post on their land and then for ten years not much happens.

Léo tells Pamina of the stags he observes and of which he takes photos, of Wow of Apollo, of Arador and of Geronimo. Léo who has observed these animals and knows them has given them names to personalise them. Slowly Pamina is pulled into the story until one day she gives in to a whim and goes to the observation point. She slowly learns that observing these animals is 99% waiting and 1 % observation, she is drawn in to Léo’s tales and marvels at these wonderful creatures. As she gets to know more about them, of their world, of their vocabulary, antlers, horns, velvet, moult and feels she knows them, of their life cycle, the animals begin to be shot, the wonderful Wow and the old clever Arador.

Claudie Hunziger renders their lives real to us, their growing antlers, shedding their velvet by impact with the trees, rubbing their antlers up against the trees to give them a finish, colour, rubbing up against a nut tree for instance to give an antler a gold colour. She tells us of the nights where they fight for ascendancy, of their mating and of then losing their antlers, their moult until the cycle begins in the spring. She tells us of their surviving the hunger of winter in the snow, eating tree bark.

Léo brings Pamina into contact with the forestry commission and the hunters who together “regulate” the “stock” of deer and learns of the future for the deer as shown in the opening quote from the representative of the commission. He explains to her that the forestry commission who regulate the livestock, auctioning of bracelets, the right to kill a deer, are only interested in the timber the forest produces:


He presented himself, what’s more, as a representative of the forestry commission responsible for implementing the national policy which is to ensure the regeneration of the forest and of its financial returns. That is to say to favour coniferous trees, silver firs, spice trees, Douglas firs, the woody species the most chewed by stags, eaten if you like……And that that required a population of deer reduced to a strict minimum.***


And of course what the hunters really want are the antlers, the stags are their real prey. Pamina lives this as her personal window onto the sixth great extinction which is now underway.

If you didn’t know about the life of stags before you read this, you certainly knew more afterwards. This was written passionately.

First Published in French as “Les grands cerfs” by Grasset in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

L’impact économique pour la Rhénanie Palatinat se résume ainsi: 1 chevreuil tiré = 1260 euros d’économie pour l’industrie forestière.

s’est d’ailleurs présenté comme un agent de l’ONF chargé d’appliquer la politique nationale qui est de veiller à la régénération des forêts et à leur rendement financier. C’est à dire de veiller à privilégier les conifères, sapins pectinés, épiceas, douglas, espèces ligneuses les plus “abrouties” par les cerfs, bouffées, quoi…. Et que ça passait par un peuplement de cervidés réduit au minimum

Iegor Gran ‘Competent Departments’

We should have neutralised Pasternak for good. Back in the good old days….the valiant Tcheka…the NKVD….I don’t understand why we put up with it.
What a dumb fool he is!
We have to be tactically astute, declares Pakhomov. We can’t just go in all guns blazing when the eyes of the world opinion are on you……the international interest of the foreign media have created an invisible protective dome around Pasternak.***


Iegor Gran takes us back in time to Moscow in the 1960’s and illustrates this schitzophrenic period by the true story of his parents and the five year hunt for his father by the eigth section of the KGB, responsible for anti-soviet propaganda.

This is a time, following Krouschev’s recognition of Stalin’s crimes, where we follow the life of lieutnant Evgueni Feodorovitch Ivanov as he tries to find out who is hiding behind the name of Adrien Tertz, a jewish name, and is publishing in the West, first in French and then in Russian. His writings criticising the Soviets are too precise and could only come from within the USSR. Tertz begins by quoting the union of Soviet writers:


Socialist realism is the fundamental method in soviet literature and in soviet literary criticism. It requires of the artist a true historically tangible representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Amongst other things it should contribute to the ideological transformation and of the education of workers in the spirit of socialism.***


Siniavski and the French diplomat that helps him get his works out of the USSR laid down at the beginning, the strategy that allowed him to write for so many years, a Jewish name, hints of links with both Poland and Lenningrad that had Ivanov well off track in his hunt.

The main choice of Iegor Gran to reverse the vision and to write the story not from his father’s point of view but from Ivanov’s liberates the author to show the contradictions from within, for instance Gagarin’s first space flight and his hero’s welcome contrasting with his reward being a state secret, if the West were to get their hands on the clothing list he was granted as a hero, they would understand the state of things for the Soviet Peoples, as Gran points out the list was signed in person by Krouschev:


Coat mid-season – 1 off
Light summer coat – 1 off
Raincoat – 1 off
Suits – 2 off (one light, one dark)
Shoes – 2 pairs (black and light)
Shirts white – 6 off
Hats – 2 off
Ties – 6 off
Gloves – 1 pair
Handkerchiefs – 12 off
Socks 6 pairs
Underpants, vests – 6 off
Electric razor – 1 off***


As Ivanov laments, if only they could have found Adrien Tertz quickly, the Soviet Union was in a state of constant flux following the death of Stalin, each change affecting the resources and morale of the KGB, Krouschev denounces Stalins crimes, Stalin’s body is removed from the mausoleum he shared with Lenin and buried secretly, Krouschev is “retired” and throughout all of this the eigth section is unable to find Tertz. Meanwhile Siniavski knows he will be caught, sometime, he just doesn’t know when as months turn into years.

Iegor Gran then through his narrator tells us of the french and Italian, communist parties, the hope of whose victories kept the KGB hardliners in check, of the Nobel literature prize for Pasternack for the Dr. Zhivago that was forbidden in the USSR, as illustrated in the opening quote, of the eigth section often finding illegal copies on raids of the intelligentsia.

I particularly liked the raid on Siniavski’s house when his mother after years of preparation was more than a match for the officers, telling them when they revealed that her husband was in the Lubyanka of her relief to find out that he wasn’t with another woman. And of course when she quickly places her young baby, Iegor Gran, in Ivanov’s hands before he could avoid it.

He gives a sense of the time in history to the story and brings Ivanov to life as a complex character. Their very hunt for Tertz and his imprisonment bring the light of the western media on an otherwise little read author. This is an engaging book that will do well and would deserve a translation.

First Published in French as “Les services conpétents” by P.O.L in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

On aurait dû neutralisé Pasternak définitivement. Au bon vieux temps… La valeureuse Tchéka… Le NKVD…Je ne comprends pas pourquoi on tolère.
Quelle brute épaisse, celui-là!
Il faut être tactiquement astucieux, affirme Pakhomov. On ne peut pas y aller à la hache quand les yeux de l’opinion internationale sont braqués sur vous…….l’attention des médias étrangers à créer autour de W Pasternak un dôme de protection invisible.

Le réalisme socialiste est la méthode fondamentale de la littérature et la la critique littéraire soviétiques. Il exige de l’artiste une représentation véridique, historiquement concrète, de la réalité dans son développement révolutionnaire. En outre, il doit contribuer à la transformation idéologique et à l’éducation des travailleurs dans l’esprit du socialisme.

Manteau demi-saison – 1 unité
Manteau léger d’été – 1 unité
Imperméable – 1 unité
Costume – 2 unités (un clair, un sombre).
Chaussures – 2 paires (noires et claires).
Chemise blanche – 6 unités.
Chapeau – 2 unités.
Cravate – 6 unités
Gants – 1 paire.
Mouchoir – 12 unités.
Chaussettes – 6 paires.
Slip, maillot de corps – 6 paires
Rasoire électrique – 1 unité

Sylvain Prudhomme ‘Par Les routes’


What do you think you’re looking for, asked Jeanne turning back towards the hitchhiker. What I want to say is when you do it, why do you do it. You don’t make money from it. It separates you from Marie and Augustin. It takes you several days each time. You come back exhausted. You’re not a reporter, nor a writer or photographer. You don’t want to make a film, or an expo or a novel, at least as far as I know. So why do you do it.***


Sacha moves to a town, V, in the south east of France, the town where his roommate, who he hasn’t seen since university ten year’s earlier, lives. Sacha undertakes to visit him and finds the hitchhiker living happily with Marie and their son Augustin. Sacha and his roommate had hitchhiked in their university days, which were, as Sacha tells us, already well past the golden age of hitchhiking.

The call of the roads is however still there and the hitchhiker we soon learn still leaves his family for days at a time before coming home tired and dirty to the incomprehension of their friends as illustrated by the opening quote. Marie on the other hand seems proud of his freedom. We learn from the discussions between the two men that what drives him to the open road is the encounters he makes with the drivers:


With time the hitchhiker began to regret that the trip’s ended. That his journey should always, inevitably end by separating him from the people he meets. He began asking them if they realised the extraordinary set of circumstances that had lead to their routes crossing.***


As his absences grow longer, the postcards he sends show that his trips take on themes, for instance:


The hitchhiker described his projects. Trips abroad without leaving France: Saint-Benin, Venise, Montréal, Porto, Grenade, Le Désert, Dunes.***


The pride that Marie had for his freedom slowly turns to resentment as it becomes obvious that he doesn’t care for everyday life, has Sacha’s arrival freed him? Knowing, sensing, even maybe expecting Sacha to move in and replace him. One day he asks Sacha to join him for a trip where we better understand the lack of romanticism in his endeavour, sleeping short hours in his little tent, cold in his sleeping bag but always meeting people. Hitchhiking as a means not an end.

First Published in French as “Par les routes” by Gallimard in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Mais tu penses que tu cherches quoi , a demandé Jeanne en se tournant à nouveau vers l’autostoppeur. Je veux dire quand tu fais ça, tu le fais pour quoi. Ça ne te rapporte pas d’argent. Ça t’éloigne de Marie et d’Augustin. Ça te prend plusieurs jours chaque fois. Tu rentres épuisé. Tu n’es pas reporter, pas écrivain, pas photographe. Tu ne veux pas faire un film, ni une expo, ni un roman, enfin pas que je sache. Tu le fais pour quoi alors.

Avec le temps l’autostoppeur s’est pris à regretter que les trajets se terminent. que sa route doive toujours à la fin inéluctablement, se séparerde celle des gens rencontrés Il s’est mis à leur demander s’ils se rendaient compte. S’ils mesuraient quel extraordinaire concours de circonstances avait permis que leurs routes se croisent.

l’autostoppeur racontait ses projets. Voyages à l’étranger sans quitter la France: Saint-Benin, Venise, Montréal, Porto, Grenade, Le Désert, Dunes.

Alexis Ragougneau ‘Opus 77’


Shostakovitch and his violin Concerto. The themes are universal, timeless: the individual against the steam roller of a totalitarian state, man versus the system, the community.***


Alexis Ragougneau delivers us a nuanced study of Opus 77 and the unrelenting world of the professional musician through the story of the Claessens family, of the father Claessens, one time pianist and then conductor of the Swiss-Romande Orchestra and his two children David and Ariane. As the book opens Claessens is dead, David doesn’t show up and Ariane, a now accomplished Pianist, rather than playing a Requiem, launches into a piano version of Shostakovitch’s Opus 77 described in a few words in the opening quote.

The book, narrated by Ariane then investigates these two enigmas, of the terrible pressure brought on David by his exacting father whose only words to his son seem to have been “again”. how much pressure can a child take? Eventually David leaves home near broken to then be slowly coached back to high level by an old Russian Violinist who seems not to be well known but who has lived through some of the times of Soviet Russia that Shostakovitch himself had lived through, Stalin playing with Shostakovitch’s life as a cat would play with a mouse.

David is then ready, if still fragile to face the competitions that will decide who will have an international career and who will be also-rans. We soon understand that his violin teacher may not be well known today in Belgium or Switzerland but is highly respected by the Russian musicians. As David reaches the finals, there is a draw to match the competitors with the conductors and of course David and Claessens are drawn together, with David performing the Opus 77:


The atmosphere is dusk. That’s exactly what Shostakovitch wanted in his first movement, Nocturne; and how they succeed, father and son, how they manage to render the darkness of night, the movement of shadows, the truths never uttered. A life of rivalry and misunderstanding spread out on the stage, before the television cameras and the two thousand spectators at the “palais des Beaux-Arts”.***


How does the competition end? Well you’ll need to read the book!

In parallel Ariane lives the life of a world famous artist with manager, pressure to perform at the highest level giving her insights into this world.

This really is a very good book.

First Published in French as “Opus 77″ by Viviane Hamy in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Chostakovitch et son concerto pour violon. Les thèmes sont universels et intemporels: l’individu face au rouleau-compresseur totalitaire, l’homme face au système et à la collectivité.

Ambiance crépusculaire. C’est bien Chostakovitch qui l’a voulu ainsi dans son premier mouvement, Nocturne; et comme ils y réussissent, le père et le fils, comme ils parviennent à restituer la noirceur de la nuit, les jeux d’ombres, les non dits. Toute une vie de rivalité et d’incompréhension étalée là sur scène, devant les caméras de télévision et des deux mille spectateurs du palais des Beaux-Arts.

Luc Chomarat ‘The Latest Norwegian Thriller’

Quai des Polars: short list book 1.

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral



You can bet on the next work of Grundozwkzson being a hybrid product, available only in digital form, with links that will steer the reader towards video extracts and creating crowdfunding for anything based on the text. You could even imagine a sufficiently controlled filing hierarchy allowing each reader to create his own ideal thriller, deleting such and such a person, raping and torturing such and such a girl, the book, the film, the game merging together into a single interactive product with maximum and immediate profitability.***


Dr Flknberg the profiler, Olaf Grundozwkzson the Nordic crime sensation, writer of The Eskimo and inspector Bjornborg and his detective Willander of the police force who are too short staffed to do anything except follow the procedure, well with these characters you know you’re in Scandinavia. In this, Luc Chomarat’s latest book, read for the Roman De Rochefort, the French editor Delafeuille, with his industry is disarray due to the impact of digital publishing, has been sent to Danemark by his traditional company to sign up Olaf Grundozwkzson, the biggest thing in Scandinavian thrillers, for all translation rights in the French speaking world, where he is in competition with Gorki who has a very “modern” vision of the “product” as illustrated in the opening quote.

In this satire on nordic thrillers, Delafeuille soon realises that he himself is in just such an interactive product as he discovers that both the story and exerpts from the book have the same sentences. He finds himself meeting Inspector Bjornborg who represents the boring Scandinavian police:


Bjornborg went back to his Volvo fleet car. As he slid behind the wheel, he felt an overwhelming weariness come upon him. The enquiry was going nowhere, and even that didn’t help him to see clearly. In reality, enquiries didn’t actually advance, but neither did they in Nordic thrillers. They are often rather large laboriously written books. As for the cop’s wives waiting for them when they get home, and the relationship between them, well that too was like real life. In short there was no way out.***


And he soon finds himself working to solve the cases of the beautiful blondhaired girls being violently murdered in Copenhagen along with Sherlock Holmes. When they realise that they are protagonists of the story they decide to try to get an interview with Grundozwkzson with Holmes writing to him:


I’m writing to our friend. I’m proposing to interview him at his home on a certain number of subjects, the Nordic thriller, his personal works, the Change to digital form, etc. I’m flattering him a little That should interest him.
I don’t really understand. Why should he see us?
I’m using the old procedure of the Trojan horse. You see: I’m signing with a fantasy name, Ulla Ogsen, which sounds both Scandinavian and erotic, I’m quickly creating a pretty realistic false profile of a journalist, to which I’m attaching the photo of a silicon enhanced Ukrainian porn star.
It’s a crude trap.
He’ll fall for it old boy because his fantasies are as simplistic as my methods.***


Chomarat takes us through all of the clichés of the Nordic thriller, the violent deaths of beautiful young women this in countries famous for fighting for feminine equality, the pointless deadends to the story, the profiler obsessed by sex, the police force with no budget, the extreme climate eventually causing the main protagonists to be isolated from the world. Even the name of the book, “The Eskimo”. I liked the moment of realisation that something was wrong, if they were in Scandinavia trying to sign the rights for the French translation, as Holmes points out why was the story they were discovering already in French?

An amusing satire read in one day.

First Published in French as “Le Dernier Thriller Norvégien” in 2019 by La Manufacture de Livres
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a gros à parier que le prochain opus de Grundozwkzson sera un produit hybride, lisible exclusivement sous forme numérique, avec des liens qui permettront de diriger le lecteur vers des extraits vidéo, et de générer automatiquement du crowdfunding pour toute forme dérivée du texte. On peut même imaginer une arborescence suffisamment maîtrisée pour permettre à chaque lecteur de créer son thriller idéal, supprimer tel ou tel personnage, violer et torturer telle ou telle fille. Le livre, le film, le jeu se fondront en un produit unique, interactif, à rentabilité maximum et immédiate.

Bjornborg rejoignit sa Volvo de service. En se glissant derrière le volant il sentit une lassitude sans nom lui tomber sur les épaules. L’enquête n’avançait pas, et même cela ne l’aidait pas à y voir plus clair. Dans la réalité, les enquêtes n’avançaient pas effectivement. Mais dans les polars Nordiques non plus. C’étaient souvent des assez gros bouquins, à l’écriture laborieuses. Quant aux épouses de flics retrouvaient à la maison et aux rapports qu’ils entretenaient avec elles, cela aussi ressemblait fort à la vraie vie. Bref, il n’y avait pas d’issue.

J’écris à notre ami. Je lui propose de l’interviewer chez lui, sur un certain nombre de sujets, le thriller nordique, son œuvre personnelle, le passage au numérique, etc. Je le flatte un peu. Cela devrait l’intéresser.
Je ne comprends pas très bien. Pourquoi nous recevrait-Il?
J’utilise le vieux procédé du cheval de Troie. Voyez: je signe d’un nom fantaisiste, Ulla Ogsen, qui sonne à la fois scandinave et érotique. Je crée très rapidement un faux profil de journaliste assez vraisemblable, auquel je rajoute une photo de pornstar Ukrainienne siliconée.
C’est un piège grossier.
Il va tomber dedans, vielle branche, parce que ses fantasmes sont aussi rudimentaires que mon procédé.

Rasha Khayat ‘We’ve Long been Elsewhere’


And they’ve always told us, that everything is fine like this, that we have the best of both worlds, that there are only advantages, since we know two different cultures. img_0013But most of the other people you meet always want you to choose a side, they never tell you that they’re just looking to confirm what they already know. Nobody ever tells you that this divide has no end, will never heal over and that you don’t rightly belong anywhere.


In this book,chosen for the Roman De Rochefort prize and read for German Literature month, Basil the son of a Saudi Arabian doctor and German wife comes back to his apartment in Saint Pauli to discover that the sister, Layla, that he is so close to has left Germany without warning to go back to live in Saudi Arabia where they had last lived as young children. When the book begins Basil is preparing to fly to Jedda for his sister’s wedding, passing by his mother, Barbara’s apartment, on the way to the airport. She thinks that this is one of Layla’s stubborn decisions and refuses to attend whilst Basil is really only going because it’s his duty. Everything seems clear.

As Basil arrives in Jedda we slowly get to know his and Layla’s large and noisy Saudi family, with each part of it living on a different floor of their large apartment block and things seem to become more negative as Basil meets Layla’s soon to be, and arranged, husband who seems only interested in his phone. But as the book moves on we get the feeling of the genuine sense of togetherness and love holding his uncles’s family together. We find out of their family tragedy, the death of Basil’s father of a sudden heart attack soon after moving back to Germany with his family after the children had begun their schooling in Jedda. Their then staying, naturally, with Barbara. Basil even agrees to go to the mosque when his cousin Omar explains to him that his devout uncle, Khaled, feels responsible for the whole family since his brothers death and assuring that they will all be reunited in the next world.

One evening after the others have gone to bed Layla tells him of her feelings, illustrated in the opening quote. Which also helps the reader to look at this tale of two cities with a little more distance. Then onto the stag night, out in the desert, smoking shishas and shooting at tin cans which Basil can’t come to terms with.

Soon after comes the day of the wedding, full of action but at the same time so strange to a western mind:


soon the other women head for the beauty parlour, and, as Omar explained , my only responsibilities for the day were to pose for the photos and then to lead the bride into the room. The party will then, as with everything else in this country, will be celebrated separately, the women in one place and the men in another.


“at sometime we drove to Omar’s” I said and the thought of it made me smile. “And played with a PlayStation. At three o’clock I was in bed and slept like a log. Imagine I should tell anyone that weddings here are celebrated playing video games!”


By the end of this story, Rasha Khayat has shared some of the nuances and contradictions of this country with the reader.

First Published in German as “Weil wir längst woanders sind” in 2016 by Dumont Buchverlag
Translated into French by Isabelle Liber and published as “Notre ailleurs” in 2019 by Actes Sud
*** my translation

The quotes as read in German before translation

Und dass sie uns immer erzählt haben, das sei alles ganz toll so, dass wir das Beste aus beiden Welten bekommen, dass wir nur Vorteile hätten, weil wir zwei so verschiedene Kulturen kennen. Aber dass die meisten anderen, die man trifft, immer wollen, dass man sich für eine Seite entscheidet, dass sie immer nur suchen, was ihnen bekannt vorkommt, das haben sie uns nie gesagt. Dass dieser Graben nie endet, sich nie schließen wird und dass man nie irgendwo richtig hingehört. So was sagt dir niemand.«

die anderen Frauen sind bald zum Beauty-Salon aufgebrochen, und, wie Omar mir erklärt, besteht meine einzige Aufgabe heute darin, später für die Fotos zu posieren und danach die Braut in den Saal zu führen. Gefeiert wird getrennt, wie immer hier im Land, Frauen für sich und Männer für sich. »Vierhundert Frauen«, sagt Omar. »Mütter, Schwiegermütter, Cousinen, Tanten, Angeheiratete, Freundinnen. Mach dich auf was gefasst.«

»Wir sind irgendwann zu Omar gefahren«, sage ich und muss bei dem Gedanken daran grinsen. »Haben PlayStation gespielt. Um drei war ich dann im Bett und habe geschlafen wie ein Stein. Wenn ich das jemandem erzähle, dass hier mit Videospielen Hochzeit gefeiert wird!«

The quotes as read in French

“Et qu’ils veuillent toujours nous faire croire que tout était si formidable, que nous avions le meilleur de deux mondes, qu’il n’y avait que des avantages à connaître comme nous deux cultures si différentes. Mais jamais ils ne nous ont dit que la plupart des gens qu’on rencontre veulent toujours qu’on fasse le choix d’un parti, qu’ils ne cherchent toujours que ce qui leur semble familier. Que ce fossé n’avait pas de fond, qu’il ne se refermerait jamais et qu’on n’était jamais nulle part chez soi. Personne ne te l’apprend, ça.”

Layla et les autres femmes sont parties pour l’institut de beauté et, comme me l’explique Omar, ma seule tâche aujourd’hui consistera à poser tout à l’heure sur les photos, puis à conduire la mariée jusque dans la salle de réception. Comme toujours ici, les festivités se déroulent séparément, les femmes d’un côté, les hommes de l’autre. “Quatre cents femmes”, dit Omar. “Mères, belle-mères, cousines, tantes, pièces rapportées, amies. Tu ne vas pas en croire tes yeux.”

“On a fini la soirée chez Omar, dis-je, incapable de retenir un sourire. On a joué à la PlayStation. À 3 heures, j’étais au lit et j’ai dormi comme un bébé. Tu imagines, si je raconte à quelqu’un qu’ici on célèbre les mariages en jouant à des jeux vidéo!”

Ali Zamir ‘Dérangé Que Je Suis’


We even gave our hand carts the names of athletes. And not just anyone. Real world champion athletes like Usain Bolt, LaShawn Merritt or even Michael Johnson….you could read on the front of my cart the name of an athlete I’d heard of. I didn’t know how to write his name so I wrote it as I heard it. In a single word, alternating upper case with lower case letters : CaRleWis.***


Ali Zenir’s tragi-comic story of a docker is set on the island of Anjouan, also known as Nzwani, part of the Comoros Union in the Mozambique channel. This book read for the Roman De Rochefort, tells the story of Dérangé, a humble docker who each day heads to the docks with his hand cart looking for work and hoping to earn enough to be able to eat that day. In the colour and mayhem at the docks, to show their speed and to stand out from the crowd, the dockers give their hand carts names as illustrated in the opening quote.

As the book begins, Dérangé is trussed up in a confined space, plagued by flies and there is no doubt he will die. He then tells us his story, of the three famous dockers, the Pipipis:


It was at the international port, Ahmed-Abdallah-Abderemane de Mutsumaque, that I first met Pirate, Pistolet and Pitié. The Pipipis as they were known.***


It was the Pipipis who had the other three carts in the opening quote, we learn of the precariousness of their situations and the risks they take running between the cars and trucks with their hand carts. In this short book, Dérangé who doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of himself is chosen by a woman, in preference to the Pipipis to unload her husbands goods from a boat, and then needs to negotiate with the Pipipis to get their help as there is too much work for one poor docker. As the work is terminated, they goad him into racing, the next day, three times around the port with their carts., as he says to them before accepting the race:


They laughed at me as if I was a macaque in their eyes. I decided there and then to ask them the question I’d been dying to ask: What do I have to gain in measuring myself against you ? Stupidity?***


There are two other strands to this story, one being the woman , the wealthy wife of a dangerous trader who wants Dérangé for his body, and who takes it on herself to hold the money of the bet for the race, thus enticing the four racers back to her house to pick up their prize money. And Dérangé’s neighbour, Casse Pied (pain in the kneck), a man known and feared who you wouldn’t want to cross and from whom the Pipipis had stolen some bananas:


Pistolet abruptly interrupted Pirate: “he’s Someone who doesn’t show an ounce of pity: he’s got a heart of stone.The proof is, so help me God, he dared to rip his wife’s genitals with his teeth like a cannibal!”***


Dérangé (deranged) seems to be one of the least deranged people in the story. The Title means of course two things (Dérangé is who I am, and I am deranged) Ali Zemir uses a wide vocabulary to take Dérangé through this story and its many risks back to the point of departure. This is a story without a pause, beginning quickly and then accelerating. Unique.

First Published in French as “Dérangé que je suis” in 2019 by Le Tripode.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

On donnait même à nos chariots des noms d’athlètes. Et pas n’importe lesquels. Des vrais champions du monde d’athlètisme comme Usain Bolt, LaShawn Merritt ou encore Michael Johnson…On lisait sur la devanture de mon chariot le nom d’un athlète dont j’avais entendu parler. Je ne savais pas comment l’écrire. donc, dérangé que je suis, je l’avais écrit comme je l’entendais. En un seul mot, et en lettres majuscules alternées de miniscules: CaRleWis

C’est donc au port international Ahmed-Abdallah-Abderemane de Mutsumaque j’ai rencontré pour la première fois Pirate, Pistolet et Pitié. Les Pipipi, comme on les surnommait.

Ils se riaient tous de moi comme si je n’étais qu’un macaque à leurs yeux. Je me décidais de but en blanc à leur poser la question qui me brûlait mes lèvres: “Qu’est ce que je gagnerais en me mesurant à vous? La stupidité?

Pistolet interrompit brusquement Pirate: “C’est quelqu’un qui n’éprouve pas la moindre pitié: il a un coeur de marbre. La preuve, Dieu m’en préserve, il a osé déchirer par ses dents la partie génitale de sa femme comme un cannibale!”