DescriptionLONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE From celebrated Belgian author Geneviève Damas, a modern fable about friendship, self-determination, and the power of words. Illiterate, isolated, and held at arm's length by a bitter father, François Sorrente has spent his seventeen years within narrow confines. By day he tends the family farm's pigs; by night he manages the household chores. Still, François can't help but wonder about the wider world and his place in it. Who was his mother, who he remembers not at all? And why is the opposite shore of the river, where his beloved older sister disappeared many years ago, forbidden to him? Propelled by curiosity, François turns to the eclectic denizens of his town to help make sense of these mysteries. He begins reading lessons with a melancholy curé, falls into an affair with a village woman, and affectionately confides his secrets to a velvet-eared piglet named Hyménée. As François questions both his origins and the course of his life, he begins to unlock the true story of his mother and sister, and comes to reinvent himself. Exquisitely translated from the French by poet Jody Gladding, If You Cross the River is a magical debut.
May 14, 2019
5.4 X 0.7 X 8.4 inches | 0.5 pounds
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About the Author
Geneviève Damas is a Belgian actress, playwright, and novelist. After completing a law degree, she turned to theater. She has acted, directed, and written award-winning plays for both children and adults. If You Cross the River is her first novel and has received wide international acclaim. It won the Prix Victor Rossel in Belgium and the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie, awarded annually for fiction that enriches cultural diversity and the French language on the five continents. Damas lives in Brussels. Jody Gladding is the author of four collections of poems: the spiders my arms, Translations from Bark Beetle, Rooms and Their Airs, and Stone Crop. She has translated thirty books from French, including Jean Giono's The Serpent of Stars and Pierre Michon's Small Lives, which won the French-American Translation Prize. She lives in Vermont.
Praise for If You Cross the River "An allegorical coming-of-age story told in a trusting and curious voice . . . Damas keeps us enthralled as [François] unravels the family mystery." --BBC "[An] excellent novel . . . Readers will connect immediately with François and yearn, as he does, to uncover what happened across the river . . . [If You Cross the River] packs a satisfactory punch." --Shelf Awareness "As translated by American poet Gladding, [François's] authentically rendered thoughts, startling discoveries, and creeping awareness of danger make for an intriguing, fable-like tale of words' capacity to liberate." --Booklist "Geneviève Damas's voice is on the border between silence and language, the message and the truth. This novel is a tribute to the liberating power of literature."--Jury Citation, Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie (France) "In If You Cross the River, François's love for the world's tenderest things is so deftly rendered that we worry for anything he cares for--beloved pigs, a caring priest--and long for what he longs for: to use books to cross to a safer place. A thrilling and dazzling fable that expertly reflects the sometimes brutal, sometimes joyful terrain of adolescent awakening."--Marie-Helene Bertino, author of 2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas "Damas has created an intimate coming-of-age story at the center of which is a mystery that makes this novel impossible to put down. As she brings to life a child's struggle to navigate adult violence and learn to read, she allows us to rediscover the transformative and redemptive power of language itself--the ways that words can connect us to others beyond the pain of our solitude."--Deni Ellis Béchard, author of White "The power of words and filiation are at the heart of this novel, which tells the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who tries to extricate himself from a miserable life by learning to read and seeking to elucidate the mystery of his birth."--La Presse (Canada) "Geneviève Damas writes with such intensity, such fluidity. This extraordinary novel is suffused with silence, loneliness, violence, and the desire to escape a miserable life, a deep desire to know oneself and others. We are both seduced and upset by this touching story, which is not hard to imagine on the big screen."--Espace Musique (Canada) "Magnificent and engaging, If You Cross the River is off the beaten track."--Le Soir (Belgium) "To describe the plot would be to deprive readers of the emotional journey Geneviève Damas invites us into with breathtaking mastery. As with all great novels, this one holds the reader until the last word, and the protagonist's questions--about illiteracy, family secrets, mourning, loneliness, and tenderness--become our own."--Demandez le Programme (Belgium) "This short novel creates a whole world in itself."--Romanesque (Belgium) "Geneviève Damas's first novel is a masterpiece. The spirit of generosity at the core of this book is staggering."--Marginales (France)