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French literature is so much more than Les Misèrables and Madame Bovary. Sure, they're classics, but I wouldn't suggest reading them on your vacation. Pick up one of these French reads (available in English, except where noted) instead.
Astérix & Obelix
In France, Astérix is more popular than Mickey Mouse. The massively popular comics, which first appeared in 1959, have been made into numerous films, board games, and video games. You can even visit Parc Astérix, outside of Paris.
At Night All Blood Is Black
In this winner of numerous awards, including the prestigious International Booker Prize, a Senegalese tirailleur (a member of the French army’s colonial infantry) loses his close friend while fighting in World War I. Originally published in French as Frère d’âme (Soul Brother), the book was translated by poet Anna Moschovakis. Barack Obama chose the novel as one of his 2021 summer reads.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
A bestseller around the world and translated into more than 40 languages, the novel brims with wit and intelligence — and not just in the voice of main character Renée Michel. There are so many allusions in here (French and otherwise) that you should be prepared to jot down notes at every page turn.
Le Grand Secret
Science-fiction writer Barjavel isn’t well-known in the U.S., but his works have had a profound mark on the genre. In Le grand secret (often translated as The Immortals), scientists looking for a cure for cancer accidentally create a virus that stops aging — which turns out to have far more devastating consequences than you might think. (French edition)
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Often called the Grandfather of Science Fiction, Jules Verne is beloved the world over. No matter which of his books you choose to start with, you can’t go wrong, but his 1864(!) endeavor has stood the test of time and remains perhaps the most influential of his oeuvre.
The Little Prince
Is it a hat, or a snake that has eaten an elephant? So asks one of the best-selling and most translated books ever published, an enduring children’s classic that was also voted the best book of the 20th century in its homeland of France. The author himself lived a fascinating life, having achieved as much fame as an aviator as for his writing.
My Life in France
California-born Child is often credited with introducing French cuisine to the American public, both through her groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television programs, including The French Chef. In her memoir, co-written with her grandnephew, Child tells about her favorite things in life: “her husband, France [her ‘spiritual homeland’], and the ‘many pleasures of cooking and eating.'” The book, published two years after her death, became the basis for the film Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
In the hands of Guadaloupe’s award-winning Condé, Wuthering Heights receives a Caribbean retelling, with her home country and Cuba as backgrounds. Growing up in the French region of Guadaloupe, Condé came to prominence with her third novel, 1984’s Ségou.
A Year in Provence
The South of France, as seen through the eyes of a British expat, is equal parts delight and frustration. Mayle’s wit and candid humor helped catapult the popularity of his memoir, which spawned several sequels, television series, and radio shows.
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