FOREIGN TONGUE by Vanina Marsot


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Marsot’s impressive debut examines sex and love in Paris—for once neither romanticized nor sentimentalized.

When an affair in Los Angeles ends unhappily, Anna sets off for the City of Lights without much of a plan. Though living free of charge in an apartment owned by her aunt (who’s conveniently not using it), Anna soon realizes she needs a little steady income. She translates a trial chapter from an anonymous novel and learns through the author’s agent Bernard that “Monsieur X” is pleased; from then on, Bernard periodically meets Anna to give her more chapters to translate. While it’s not quite clear whether this is a novel or a memoir—she’s been told the author is a prominent writer who doesn’t want his identity known—the text is quite clearly erotic, and Anna finds herself both intrigued and titillated. Guided by an old friend, she goes to a sex club in a seamy quarter of Paris; shortly thereafter, she meets artistic, bohemian Olivier and embarks on a passionate affair. Just as Anna searches for le mot juste in her translation, she tries to find adequate words to convey what’s happening with her emotions. She discovers that there are four endings to Monsieur X’s novel, some more satisfying than others, and she wonders about the trajectory of her relationship with Olivier. “I just want a proper ending,” she tells a friend, and that goes for the romance as well as the manuscript. Although she has dual French-American citizenship, Anna learns much through her encounters with Parisians. Her friend Antoine, for example, says, “You are more open, we are more reserved. We like riddles, you like answers. We are more interested in the game than the outcome.”

Lively examination of the intricate interplay between identity and culture.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-167366-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2009