Angélique Villeneuve (translated by Adriana Hunter)
Krisi will be talking to Angélique Villeneuve, author of Winter Flowers, which was translated from French by Adriana Hunter, who will also be joining the event to chat about the translation process. Angélique was born in Paris in 1965, and lived in Sweden and India before returning to her native France. The author of eight novels, she has also written numerous children’s books. Winter Flowers is the first of her books to be translated into English.
An award-winning British translator, Adriana Hunter has translated over ninety books from French, mostly works of literary fiction.
Read on for the blurb of Winter Flowers, followed by an extract of the book:
It's October 1918 and the war is drawing to a close. Toussaint Caillet returns home to his wife, Jeanne, and the young daughter he hasn't seen growing up. He is not coming back from the front line but from the department for facial injuries at Val-de-Grace military hospital, where he has spent the last two years. For Jeanne, who has struggled to endure his absence and the hardships of war, her husband's return marks the beginning of a new battle. With the promise of peace now in sight, the family must try to stitch together a new life from the tatters of what they had before.
Extract of Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve, translated by Adriana Hunter
For a start, she doesn’t hear the footsteps, even though the staircase in her building is very vocal; its treads creak terribly. Nothing seems to break through the rampart of Jeanne’s concentration when she’s immersed in her flowers.
Neither does she suspect the silent, unseen trickles of sweat on this man standing, waiting. She’s unaware of his altered posture, the painful tensing of his shoulders and neck, his wrists.
And yet he’s been there for at least ten minutes, utterly still. After the warped wooden stairs, it’s now his whole body, his nocturnal presence, that creaks as he grimaces in a silence streaked with blue light.
His clothes – the stiff military coat that he’s buttoned all the way up, the serge trousers and black hobnailed boots – are things he hasn’t worn or even seen for months, no, come to think of it, years. All the same, they’re still his, he recognizes them.
But he fills them so badly. The frame that they envelop has, imperceptibly, changed. When he came to put them on, he hesitated; perhaps he should have chosen civilian clothes, but he has nothing left from... from before – he alone has survived from his past life. And beyond his outward appearance he’s not sure what sort of state he’s survived in, when all’s said and done.
Sitting at her table, Jeanne senses nothing. It has to be said that the huge red dahlias, whose wound-like qualities are accentuated by the light from the oil lamp, completely absorb her in a swirl of scarlet. The repeated gestures gradually steal over her whole body, leaving no part of her in which she can drift. When Jeanne sleeps or closes her eyes, when she’s absent in mind or body, she knows this much: the flowers are still there and always will be.
There are now only a few dozen left of the last gross of dahlias she has to make. Two dozen. Perhaps three dozen of the six that she needs to finish before the end of the day. She’s nearing her goal. Sidonie will be able to come over, conversation will flow, she’ll let go. The day will be complete.
After a meal of stock with three slices of carrot and a memory of stringy meat floating in it, Léo has finally fallen asleep with her head laid delicately next to her pillow and one arm thrust out. Jeanne needn’t keep an eye on her now.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the barely open door, all he can see is a narrow strip to the right of the doorway, where the room opens onto the pitch-dark storage area.
At first he thought it a little odd, this unshut door. Was Jeanne even inside? He was worried. He’d heard so many stories about women left behind.
But, straining his ears, he soon clearly hears the familiar clicking sounds. Since he left, he’s grown used to listening more attentively. For possible threats, or reassurances. Now, to his enormous relief, Jeanne’s soft music is restored to him, unchanged and true. The rustle of her fingers as she picks through boxes for little groupings of petals, sepals or leaves that she’s already dyed. Her very distinctive hum- ming, like the buzz of a wasp. The selection of shaping balls that she heats and wields deftly. The pliers that she puts down and picks up again.
It all comes back to him.
What’s different is his fear. But still.
Neither here on rue de la Lune nor before in Belleville had he ever been frightened. Not of her, not like this.
Also joining Krisi at the event, in an exclusive preview, is Melissa Fu who will be talking about her upcoming debut, Peach Blossom Spring, publishing in March 2022.
Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives near Cambridge, UK, with her husband and children. With academic backgrounds in physics and English, she has worked in education as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant. Peach Blossom Spring is her first novel and the character of Lily in the story is based on Melissa herself.
Read on for the blurb of Peach Blossom Spring and an exclusive extract of the book:
It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession - a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge.
Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down?
Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It's about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.
Extract of Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
An idea occurs to Meilin. Though only a small thing, it feels like a wellspring of hope after days of despair. She opens her basket and reaches for the scroll. When she opens its box, she almost bursts into tears to see the bright red tassels she’d fastened with such care on their last night in Changsha.
She unrolls the scroll to show a flourishing farm and a nobleman with a grey beard sitting astride a stallion. Renshu leans into her, looking at the horse. She knows this is one of his favourite scenes on the scroll.
‘There was once an old man from the frontier who had a great stallion,’ she begins. ‘It was dark brown, glossy and strong, with a long black mane and a wild look in its eye. It was known to be the most gallant horse in all the neighbouring towns and villages.’
As she tells the story, she feels herself relaxing into its rhythms, letting the images carry her away, however briefly, from her own despair.
‘Everyone said he must be the luckiest man to have such a noble beast. It was the envy of all. But one day, the stallion ran away. Of course, everyone said this was a great tragedy. What terrible luck!’
Renshu groans in sympathy.
‘But the old man didn’t despair. Instead, he said, “What makes you so certain this isn’t a blessing?” A few weeks later, the stallion came galloping back home, followed by a beautiful wild mare.
Soon, there was a colt. The three magnificent creatures brought pride and prosperity to the man. Everyone said this was cause for great celebration. But the old man said, “What makes you so certain this isn’t a curse?” The villagers couldn’t believe he’d say such a thing, but a few days later, the man’s only son fell while riding the stallion and broke his leg. With the harvest coming in soon, this doubled the old man’s work in the fields. “Oh, such misfortune!” said the villagers. But the old man said—’
‘ “What makes you so certain this isn’t a blessing?” ’ Renshu finishes.
‘Yes, that’s exactly what he said,’ Meilin smiles. ‘Not long after, a battle broke out between neighbouring warlords, and all the men in the village had to go to fight. Except for the old and the infirm. Because of his broken leg, the man’s son was spared. The fight was bloody and vicious. None of the men who went came back. It was only because the man was old and his son was lame that they survived to take care of each other for many years.’ Meilin pauses for a moment. ‘Within every misfortune there is a blessing, and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune. And so it goes, until the end of time.’
‘But Ma, what’s the blessing in all this?’ Renshu stares at the swarms of people, the wagons, and the tired donkeys and oxen trudging along.
Meilin is quiet for several moments as she rolls up the scroll and reassembles her basket. They both get to their feet. She rerolls the bedroll and helps Renshu put it on his back. She dusts off her trousers and picks up her basket.
‘I don’t know,’ she says, finally. ‘I’m still looking.’
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