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Monday July 21, 2014 in Books
From one of the most exciting novelists writing in France today comes Birth of a Bridge – the story of a handful of men and women of various backgrounds and classes, who assemble around the construction of a giant suspension bridge in Coca, a fictional city somewhere in a mythical and fantastic California.
Told on a sweeping scale reminiscent of classic American adventure films, this Médicis Prize–winning novel chronicles the lives of these individuals, who represent a microcosm of not just mythic California, but of humanity as a whole. Their collective effort to complete (or oppose) the mega-project recounts one of the oldest of human dramas, to domesticate – and to radically transform – our world through built form, with all the dramatic tension it brings: a threatened strike, an environmental dispute, sabotage, accidents, career moves, and love affairs … Here generations and social classes cease to exist, and everyone and everything converges toward the bridge as metaphor, a cross-cultural impression of America today.
De Kerangal’s writing has been widely praised for its scope, originality, and use of language. Her rich prose plays with different registers (from the most highly literary to the most colloquial slang) as well as speed and tension through grammatical ellipsis and elision. She employs a huge vocabulary and invents new relationships between words in a completely innovative use of language.
Read an excerpt from this book on Meta-Talon.
ISBN 13: 9780889228894 | ISBN 10: 0889228892
5 W x 8.5 H inches | 256 pages
$16.95 CAN / $16.95 US
Backlist | Fiction
QUOTES OF NOTE
“Some structures are so grand and defining that it’s hard to imagine they haven’t always been there. But as Wellcome prize-winner Kerangal shows in her striking 2010 novel, translated by Jessica Moore, the bigger the project, the bigger the story. … Kerangal has a fine ear for the hubbub, spinning epic, comma-flecked sentences into a symphony of human drama and mechanical ingenuity. There’s sorrow, for the way lives are uprooted and the land colonised, but there’s a tremendous, jubilant energy too, in a book that sings of global development in all its ugliness and glory.”
“Ms. de Kerangal’s writing is always exuberant (and boisterously translated by Jessica Moore) … This delightful book’s unabashed idealism, combined with those playfully literary proper names, marks it as a kind of aspirational fairy tale. … Ms. de Kerangal gives us a Tocquevillian picture of America from its most flattering angle: An enterprising, melting-pot democracy driven by dreams of progress and happy to get its hands dirty…”
– Wall Street Journal
“a modern saga chronicling the construction of a colossal bridge. … there is … lyricism and beauty to be found through each character’s obsessive outlook on the land and the bridge. Moore stays true to de Kerangal’s unique prose, which flows from the mythic to the mundane. Her translation is clear and unadorned. The story told through its varied cast of characters, alternating from the grandiose to the intimate, is one that will stay with readers long after the book is closed and the bridge is built.”
– Publishers’ Weekly
“The whole narrative unfolds in a dreamlike manner, and Moore’s translation is elegant and sensitively attuned to the author’s wordplay and neologisms.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“The book’s themes are mythic; its prose, symphonic. The novel concerns humankind’s hunger for glory, and our drive to ‘master space,’ a desire we will go to any length to fulfil. In the novel, this plays out through the building of a ‘superstar’ bridge, ‘a technical epic,’ one that is painted vermilion, a brilliant shade of red. The eventual job of the bridge is to bring two landscapes together, but, during the building it comes to resemble, with its miles of veinlike red cable, a living organism, a kind of monster powered by the energy of a hot and nervous people.”
– Vancouver Sun
“[an] audacious narrative … For all the satiric symbolism and the many cultural references and sideshows, this pragmatic, defiant story is, almost surprisingly, also about building a bridge. … sharp, original, funny and shocking, merciless in its multiple ironies. J.G. Ballard would have applauded it; Don DeLillo would smile wryly. Her prose is snappy, emphatic and muscular, and her use of language, as with names, is free-wheeling. Jessica Moore, the book’s translator, provides a three-page note on the linguistic challenges and unusual word choices. … The story, or rather the project, is the bridge; it is the centre. The humans are minor players. … Although this novel is blunt and plainspeaking, there are moments of beauty … an original, laconic, astute and relentlessly topical morality tale that scores several direct hits.”
– Irish Times
“…ambitious prose that ebbs and flows in long, graceful sentences interspersed with shorter, punchier ones. … de Kerangal refrains from taking a black or white stance concerning the issue of globalization, but instead uses the narrative to invite the reader to consider the complex environmental, social, and economical factors at play. … a relevant novel that leaves the reader with few concrete answers, but artfully poses a number of questions worthy of attention.”
– Bull Calf
“a strikingly original contemporary myth and a thrilling investigation of post-modernity. The story is simple, absorbingly technical, full of tactile details and well-grounded practicalities. The novel has a strong picaresque quality as well as a masterly epic Western dimension. It is a quest for something unnamed, something unknown, symbolically embodied by the bridge, with powerful impetus and thrust, both narrative and verbal, a constant sense of mobility – and at the same time stagnation. … The picture of the world that de Kerangal conjures – magnificently, breathlessly, intoxicatingly – is a picture of dire meaninglessness and occasionally deep, troubling horror. It is also a picture too familiar to dismiss as fiction. … Maylis de Kerangal is one of the most beautiful and dynamic writers that France has produced in a very long time. … Birth of a Bridge is her first novel to be translated into English – powerfully and elegiacally by Jessica Moore – and there is no doubt that it will mark a change in perception, in appreciation, in humanity, in readers and writers alike.”
“The action in this novel (de Kerangal’s first to be translated into English) is fast-paced with long sentences that sparkle and flow like that under the sun; just as the characters in the story occasionally mingle, so do references to nature, artifice, and culture. … the reader never feels bogged down because of the passion and intelligence she displays in her subject, as well as her inventive use of language. In addition, Moore’s translation manages the impressive balancing act of maintaining the originality of Kerangal’s French prose while making it accessible for non-French readers. Overall, unlike the characters that constantly move from place to place, Birth of a Bridge will stay with readers long after they finish it.”
– Three Percent
“[an] extraordinary novel … we vacillate between a sense of mythic symbolism of the bridge and a simpler admiration for it as a feat of engineering. … The way de Kerangal uses imagery is unusual, compressing description into tense vignettes. This is her first book to be translated into English. Hopefully we won’t have long to wait for more.”
– The Independent
“In some ways, Birth of a Bridge harks back to the American and Soviet industrial novels of nearly a century ago which glorified the triumph of industry and engineering, reveling in great feats of construction that required both brilliant scientific minds and a vast nameless army of industrious workers (as well as – though there was always less emphasis on this – a great deal of capital). De Kerangal’s is a modern variation … and she manages to create both an effective timeless/universal feel … this is a novel of our age. … Credit to Moore for managing the shift into English well, and to both author and translator for their use of language, which is striking but not opaque, and appealingly (as opposed to annoyingly) unusual. De Kerangal’s writing doesn’t feel willfully experimental, even though she is constantly at play; a fine ear makes for a fascinating read, at once familiar and yet strange, contemporary yet constantly echoing – sometimes with a wink – prose of previous eras. ”
“First, there is Maylis de Kerangal’s prose – a fast-flowing, meandering river of awesome depth, scintillating with flashes of brilliance, gripping and treacherous as roiling underwater currents. Hovering over it is the story itself, a grandiose, gravity-defying feat of narrative structure, acting as a bridge between reality and myth, development and nature, megalomania and intimacy, and attracting the most varied set of characters ever assembled – nomads of the modern world sharing this surreal space suspended between two shores, living outside the boundaries of ordinary life. A delicate balance to maintain, assuredly, but which the novel manages to perfection.”
– Martine Desjardins, author of Maleficium and other novels
Winner of the 2010 Médicis Prize
Winner of the 2010 Franz Hessel Prize
About the ContributorsMaylis de Kerangal
Maylis de Kerangal is the author of several novels in French: Je marche sous un ciel de traîne (2000), La vie voyageuse (2003), Corniche Kennedy (2008), and Naissance d’un pont (translated here as Birth of a Bridge, winner of the Franz Hessel Prize and the Médicis Prize in 2010).Jessica Moore
Jessica Moore is an author and a translator. She is a former Lannan writer-in-residence, a Banff International Literary Translation Centre fellow, and she is VP for Ontario for the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.