This post is the first in the new direction in which I am taking this blog. Instead of solely blogging about Weyward’s publications, authors, and German things, this blog will now broaden its focus to short texts, samples, poems, dramatic works, etc. by women from around the world in English translation. As time passes, you will find here an eclectic group of works ranging from adult fiction to children’s literature to play excerpts to poetry. The connecting thread through all of these is their authors, all of which will be women. Please check back frequently, and if you are interested in learning more about a text you see here or its availability for publication, please feel free to write the person listed at the bottom of the post as the contact. So where shall we start? France, something murky in the noir genre. Happy reading!
Or Noir – Black Gold – by Dominique Manotti [Série Noire, Gallimard, published 2015, 332 pages]. Translators: Amanda Hopkinson & Ros Schwartz.
In March 1973, a 27-year-old Inspector Daquin arrives in Marseille in the bloody aftermath of the French Connection, which is no longer under the control of the Guérini brothers. The battle to maintain the heroin supply routes to the United States is playing out in the wars of succession between Zampa and Francis-the-Belgian.
The book opens as Maxime Pieri, former strong man of the Guérinis turned dapper business man, is gunned down as he emerges from the Casino in Nice* [*see extract]. His companion at the time of his death is Emily Frickx, granddaughter of a mining magnate operating out of South Africa. His business partner and trader in the mined minerals is her husband, the absentee Michael Frickx, who reappears only after the massacre that bookends the final chapter.
Daquin is brought in from Paris to head up a new team, much to the chagrin of the Marseillais cops, who prefer to see no further than a typical episode of turf warfare. Daquin and co. are subjected to threats and sabotage in an ongoing attempt to derail their investigations, while Daquin’s out-of-hours activities – including a love affair with Paul Sawiri, a Lebanese “oil consultant” – leave him exposed. What Sawiri brings to the plot, however, is not only the potential for blackmail but for a fresh black market, with the advent of oil as the “new [1970s] contraband.”
All of this happens at a time when the French Secret Services are undergoing a major internal restructure, and the relaxation of price controls means the jump in fuel prices from $3 to $10 overnight (it increases another tenfold by 2010). At the same time, the art market, in which Emily Frickx is involved, is taking off, and she too turns her hand to blackmail – against her husband – in order not simply to open galleries (in Marseille and New York) to go beyond laundering drug $$, but to blaze a trail by treating and dealing in art as an international commodity.
By writing about the crime wars of the 1970s, Manotti shines a spotlight to illuminate those of our times, a half-century later. They turn on the struggle for control of Middle Eastern oil markets, South African gold and gems, and US- and European-based works of art. Plus, of course, more drugs than the one supply route, the French Connection – here in its late heyday –, was aware of. By making this the nexus and introducing the globalization of new illegal supply routes, Manotti uses hindsight to elucidate our own recent history. In this context, even an apparently anodyne resource, such as art or fuel, emerges to be at least as dangerous as drugs. And to this mix, the new currency of black gold oil is added to the old one sourced in drugs. – Amanda Hopkinson
Tuesday 13 March, 1973
Dawn on Tuesday, Nice
Almost 3 a.m. The night is chilly, fragrant and silent over the Promenade des Anglais, said to be one of the world’s most beautiful avenues. A man and a woman leaving the Casino emerge through the main door of the Palais de la Méditerranée. In the distance, the throbbing of a motorbike starting up. The couple pause under the high arches supporting the monumental Art Deco façade, grandiose and unreal. A liveried valet hurries over to the man – well into his fifties, broad-shouldered, a burly form in a sober dark suit – who hands him the keys to his car. The valet heads off in the direction of the car park. The young woman, in a light-coloured dress with a plunging neckline, shivers from the cold. There’s snow on the peaks in the distance. The roar of a motorbike drawing closer, concealed from view by the plant pots that divide the arches and entrance to the Palais de la Méditerranée from the Promenade. The man bends towards his companion, smiles and helps her adjust a colourful cashmere shawl around her shoulders. The valet disappears around the corner of the building. The motorbike stops in front of the red carpet leading up to the entrance. The helmeted pillion rider jumps off the bike, confronts the couple, takes a firm stance, legs spread, knees bent, then raises the pistol he’s clasping with both hands to eye level and shoots. A bullet, the man’s body judders, his hand clenches his companion’s shawl. A burst of gunfire, two, three, four bullets. The man, still clutching the shawl, keels over in slow motion. Blood spurts everywhere – the woman’s face, her bare shoulders, her light dress are splattered with blood. One, two three, four more shots in quick succession. The woman is rooted to the spot, her mouth open in silent horror. The man has crumpled to the ground. The killer fires another two bullets into the lifeless body. Mission complete. He slips his weapon inside his jacket, into the holster under his left armpit, brushing his left breast with the barrel as he does so. A burning pain, he loves that pain, the contraction of his stomach muscles, arousal, intense pleasure. He’s alive, very much alive. He clambers back onto the bike, and it roars off. The woman collapses unconscious in the pool of blood soaking into the red carpet, staining the white marble floor.
The scene lasted less than twenty seconds.
Daquin still hasn’t arrived. Bonino starts going through the police files, more out of boredom than in the hope of discovering anything useful. Emily Frickx. Surprise, surprise, she does have a record at Nice police HQ.
28 May 1971. The duty officer at Nice police headquarters logs an anonymous telephone call reporting a fight involving at least ten people on the Promenade des Anglais, in front of the Palais de la Méditerranée. Sergeant Kosciusco’s team is despatched to the scene. Their report reads:
“A group of around ten individuals, the men in suits and bowler hats, the women wearing evening dresses and flowers in their hair, had set up a piano on the Promenade des Anglais. We identify the usual young troublemakers straight away, the “arty” set connected with Ben Vautier’s boutique. The men are hitting the piano with sledgehammers, applauded by their female companions. There is a loud crash and the piano reverberates, splits and shatters while they shout and sing. Alerted by the racket, horrified passers-by protest and attempt to stop the massacre of the piano. They clash with the group of screaming women who protect the men demolishing the piano with their fists. Fights break out. We decide to proceed with the arrest of the troublemakers to restore order. The wrecked piano is left at the scene and the municipal refuse collection department is notified.”
Then comes the list of those arrested, including the name of Emily Frickx.
Bonino immediately turns to the young woman’s statement.
Emily Frickx states: “We were thumping on a piano. We were making music, it was a concert. The woman I fought with I didn’t know her, by the way wouldn’t listen to my point of view, and she attacked one of my friends very viciously, trying to bite him. I wanted to stop her, and we ended up trading punches.”
After several hours of mayhem at the police station, the exasperated officers had eventually released them all. – Ros Schwartz (p. 23, 42-43)
Born in Paris in 1942, Dominique Manotti’s first career was in teaching Contemporary [C20] Economic history at Nanterre University. A leftwing activist and trade unionist, she experienced what became known as “the 1968 generation” at first hand. In 1995, serious illness obliged her to take early retirement, and she took up her pen. Since then she has published a dozen novels, all political thrillers of a decidedly noir shade, four of them involving the precocious young Inspector Daquin. Alongside his meticulous and dispassionate concern for the truth – seeing things as they are and not necessarily as they appear, or as others would have us see them – he refuses either to advertise or to disguise his homosexuality. Here again, Manotti makes use of writing in this century about the crimes of the last, including the exposure to blackmail of gay men, and in exploring the proliferation of new crimes of the C20.
In Rough Trade, human trafficking in illegal workers and double-dealing even within the trade union movement was highlighted. In The Lorraine Connection, the abuse of EU money and police corruption in the transit of illegal labour and money. In Dead Horsemeat, expensive race horses start dying in their tracks as Parisian markets are suddenly saturated with cocaine. In Affairs of State, international prostitution rings merge with those dealing in weapons to Middle Eastern countries under embargo and in Escape the connection is with the Italian Red Brigade, apparently disbanded but now resurfacing thanks to a jail breakout. And these are just those available in English translation, courtesy of Arcadia Books!
Manotti’s grasp of global markets, clearly rooted in her academic research, and of the ways in which different social sectors combine to work together in undermining others, often rooted in her experience as a political militant, brings a unique aspect to her multi-layered black novels, in which violence is never more than a means to an end – one that ultimately adversely affects all of us, the world over. Her books appeal to intellectuals (with a strong student readership) and to those of us who just enjoy a cleverly turned thriller crammed with sharp turns and sudden surprises alike.
Manotti has been honoured with the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger in 2008; the Trophée Noire Francophone in 2010; and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policiere (the most prestigious award for French Crime Fiction) in 2011. Nos Fantastiques Années Fric was made into a film (directed by Eric Valette in 2009), under a close back-translation of its English title Une Affaire d’Etat (Affairs of State). – Amanda Hopkinson
Amanda Hopkinson is a non-fiction writer, literary translator and academic. The author of numerous works on Latin American and European culture, particularly literature and photography, she also translates from the Spanish, Portuguese and French. Translated authors include Elena Poniatowska, Carmen Boullosa and Ricardo Piglia (Spanish); José Saramago, Paulo Coelho and Pedro Rosa Mendes (Portuguese) and Dominique Manotti (French). A former Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, she is currently Professor of Literary Translation at City, University of London.
Over the last 35 years, Ros Schwartz has translated some 70 works of fiction and non-fiction from French, particularly Francophone writers such as Andrée Chedid, Aziz Chouaki, Fatou Diome and Dominique Eddé. Her new translation of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince was published in 2010. In 2009 she was made a Chevialier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her services to French literature. She is currently involved in the Penguin Classics retranslation of Georges Simenon project and her most recent publication is Tahar Ben Jelloun’s About my Mother, co-translated with Lulu Norman.
For more information about this title and its availability for publication, please contact Amanda Hopkinson at Amanda.Hopkinson.firstname.lastname@example.org
IMAGE: By Benh LIEU SONG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons