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Odile Nicoloso’s Favourites

Published by Liane Lévi 2020 (currently in paperback)

Negar Djavadi is a screenwriter, director and writer. Born into a family of Iranian intellectuals opposed to the Shah’s and then to Khomeini’s regime, she fled Iran at the age of 11 and studied cinema in Brussels, a subject she later taught at the University of Paris 8.
Arène is her second novel, and the buzzing arena referred to in this title is the Paris east, between the Canal Saint Martin and La Villette.
Benjamin Crossman is 35 and has become a major businessman with a successful American streaming platform. As he visits his mother in the 10th arrondissement of Paris (where he grew up but has not lived in for a long time), his mobile phone is stolen. A chase ensues with a boy whom he suspects of the theft, but a video taken surreptitiously by a schoolgirl makes the rounds of the social networks and sets off a spiral of violence from which no one will escape unscathed. While each individual tries to cope, emotions are exacerbated by attention-seekers, social networks and journalists.
Fiction in literature gives us access to an environment, a history and people we might not have the opportunity to meet in our everyday lives. This is the case in this novel, in which the author tells us about the east of Paris, home to different communities, immigrants who have lived in these neighbourhoods,
sometimes for several generations, and the difficulties they face in changing their social environment, with no hope of a better future.
We discover a fractured, violent French society: Arène is a contemporary absolutely in tune with our times.

INHERITANCE Miguel Bonnefoy - Booksellers’ award 2021
Published by Payot Rivages

Miguel Bonnefoy is a young Franco-Chilean writer, the son of a Chilean writer and a Venezuelan diplomat. Born in Paris, he was educated in French lycées.
In this novel, Miguel Bonnefoy recounts part of his family history, an epic that mixes history with fantasy: in the 19th century, a winegrower in the Jura sees all his vines devastated by phylloxera. However, he manages to save one vine and sets off for California which is renowned for its grape-growing climate. Suffering from
typhoid, he disembarks from the ship in Valparaiso, Chile, before reaching his destination. There he founds the Lonsonier dynasty: three generations who became Chileans and retained a visceral attachment to the region. France to them is a fantasised mother country, to the point that they take part in both world wars.
The first son, Lazare is enlisted and fights in France with his two brothers in the First World War. His daughter Margot dreams of aviation, and leaves for London to fight in the Second World War. On his return, his son, a supporter of President Salvatore Allende, is imprisoned by General Pinochet, as was the author’s father!
A century, two wars and a revolution later, his great-grandson arrives in Paris, driven out by the dictatorship. Miguel Bonnefoy tells the universal story of migration and exile, and the dialogue between two cultures. At a time of migration crises, this is a pertinent reminder that the French have also been migrants. Héritage is also a reflection on origins, on what binds an individual or a family to a country, to traditions, the vine in the patriarch’s suitcase symbolising this heritage. The poetic writing is imbued with magical realism, reminiscent of the passionate and exuberant literature of South America.

STALIN’S BATHTUB Renaud S. Lyautey Published by SEUIL (2022), also available in paperback

"Stalin’s Bathtub" is a diplomatic thriller tinged with espionage. It is the second and final novel by Renaud Salins, former French ambassador to Georgia from 2012 to 2016. The author sadly died of cancer at the age of 55, just a few months upon completing this book. Here the French diplomat draws on the three years he
spent in Georgia, immersing us in the geopolitical issues and behind-the-scenes diplomacy of this neighbouring country of Russia.
The author imagines a clever piece of fiction: a young Frenchman is found dead in strange circumstances on his bed in the Marriott Hotel in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a former Soviet republic and the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, who owned a dacha and a bathtub there, hence the book’s title.
Inspector Shenguelia of the Georgian capital’s criminal brigade is in charge of the investigation, assisted by the first counsellor of the French embassy, René Turpin. It is up to them to disclose the identity of the victim and the reasons for her murder. Through initial clues, the Georgian cop and the French diplomat explore several facets of the present in a country where the shadow of the KGB still looms large.
The criminal case becomes an espionage affair whose origins date back to the Cold War, that era of double agents, of spies who defected and of rebels. It also sheds light on the role of the famous British spy Kim Philby, a double agent for the USSR. A detective story like this one is a fantastic way to explore a country, its history, social context, diplomatic environment and even culinary specialities.

Odile Nicoloso
Membre of the Executive Board