Novellas in November is being hosted this year by Rebecca at BookishBeck and Cathy at 746Books. I try to participate each year – some years I manage to read more than others. The two I’ve read this year are both excellent, both translations, and very different from each other.
Manam by Rima Elkouri, translated by Phyllis Aronoff & Howard Scott (Mawenzi House)
I picked up Manam because of its showing as a finalist for the Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, an award that comes out around the same time as the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Awards.
Manam tells the story of the Armenian genocide that took place in 1915. After her Teta dies, Lea–a teacher in Montreal–travels overseas to learn more about her grandmother’s experience as a 7-year-old girl at the time. One hundred years after the Armenians were running to Syria for refuge, Syrians are running to Turkey for the same. “Now Aleppo is a city people flee. In my memories, it’s a city that welcomes.”
The Armenian genocide is a subject I’ve never read about before, so found it well worth the read. Beautifully told.
A genocide cuts fault lines through several generations. Even if the memory is never passed on through stories, the trauma can leave a mark. It survives forgetting. It survives silence. It survives the illusion that what is not told is not passed on.
School for Girls by Ariane Lessard, translated by Frances Pope (QC Fiction)
As with many of the books I’ve read by this publisher, School for Girls is slightly offbeat. (Which, for me, is a good thing!) The story is told through multiple narrators in short vignette-like chapters. Through their voices, we get a sense of the school, the teachers, and the personalities of many of the girls who live there.
As winter approaches–a time of year when the school is cut off from any comings and goings because of the severe weather–we begin to get a sense of something sinister going on. As the girls watch each other and form their own groups and alliances, there are many allusions to the “last girls”, and we get the feeling that not everyone necessarily makes it home from this place.
Some of the girls stand out more than others. Laure laughs to herself about her secrets, reminding me a little of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Diane can’t speak at all. Corinne is restless and does not want to be there; she believes if she were a boy she would still be at home with her brothers. Annette, who seems to be a bit younger, watches Ariandre closely. Ariandre likes to be the one watching, and spends a lot of her time alone writing down all her observations. She often seems to be on the verge of cracking.
A haunting novella that will cause some serious hesitation for anyone thinking of sending their child away to a boarding school.
She knows that the atmosphere of the place in winter changes you. Never had she felt so imprisoned, surrounded, watched, than in this place. She knows that between the bricks of the school, there creeps a sickness that no one is shielded from.
Have you been reading any novellas lately?