Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life & Love in Paris

Posted by nliakos on December 16, 2012

by Vanina Marsot (Harper 2009)

One of my favorite podcasts is The World in Words with Patrick Cox, a spin-off of the BBC/PRI/WGBH collaborative radio show The World. While listening to an archived episode, I heard an interview with Vanina Marsot about Foreign Tongue and was intrigued enough to note the name, although of course I couldn’t spell it properly (Venina? Marseault? Marsaut? Marson? . . . Anyway, thanks to Google’s “Did you mean…?”, I eventually found the correct spelling, and my public library had the book.)

Basically, it is about the narrator, Anna, half-French and half-American (like Marsot herself), who flees to Paris to escape the reminders of a failed love affair in Los Angeles, spends time with old friends, finds a new love interest, and takes a job translating an erotic novel by an anonymous author. The friends are wonderful, the love interest leads to more heartache for Anna, and the work raises all kinds of questions about the differences between French and English, the theory and ethics of literary translation, the difficulties of translation, as well as the mystery surrounding the identity of the author and the line between fiction and autobiography.

I loved the language references (I learned a lot I didn’t know, including some very basic things that I ought to have known, such as that eventuellement means not eventually but possibly), the Paris references (the places that Anna frequented kept reminding me of the time I lived in Paris, in what feels like another lifetime), the musings on biculturalism and bilingualism, and the story itself. One can’t help liking the hapless Anna and hoping she finds happiness.  The story ended with an unexpected twist which I won’t divulge here.

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