Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Winner of the Prix Renaudot

Translated by Linda Asher

Elisabeth, a pensive, memory-laden science professional in a long and tender marriage, has barely befriended their touching younger neighbor when in a fit of blind pain over a scornful scolding the man kills his beloved and appealing wife. Elisabeth is drawn, out of sympathy, to help her sad friend cover up his crime. Her account of her unaccountable impulse moves into a quick-moving, canny police procedural—humor and sorrow, life. An absorbing tale from the skilled hand of playwright/novelist Yasmina Reza.

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“[I]n Reza’s work, characters have always been inclined to go too far, to act out the impulses most of us keep in check. . . . Reza is the bard of bourgeois, neoliberal angst.”

“The lightness of touch bordering on comedy that [Yasmina Reza] brings to an otherwise dark tale is a reminder of her strengths as a dramatic writer, and it all adds up to a strange and memorable short book.”

Babylon, translated from the French by Linda Asher, gives away its story early and belongs to that very popular category of books that use techniques of the thriller and mystery genre in what is essentially a character study. A whydunit, rather than a whodunit, so to speak. In this, it is reminiscent in some ways of Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny ... Reza attempts to elevate what her characters experience in their limited domestic sphere to a universal tale about how certain fears unite and drive us toward inexplicable acts. It is this push for universality that makes the novel hypnotic, often poetic.”

“It is Ms. Reza’s dissection of Elizabeth’s malaise that is the real detective work here, and she renders it in a taut, unsparing prose style that is both exacting and unsettling. . . . There’s no doubting Ms. Reza’s powers as a novelist. At her best, she can remind one of no less than Albert Camus and Joan Didion (those bards of 20th-century despair). Writers may endure more than a twinge of envy at how effortlessly the author flits from successful playwriting to prose. It just ain’t fair. But then — as the protagonist of this darkly compelling novel would have commented — what is?”

“French novelist and playwright Yasmina Reza has a knack for taking a small moment and using it to blow her characters' worlds to smithereens. ... Reza deftly creates a woman who can recount her past, but barely explain it, who surmises that she is unhappy but cannot say how and where she went wrong ... Reza doesn't craft a clear-cut narrative of the how and the why of the characters' actions, but instead reveals the swirling mess of memory and fear that drives them forward.”

blog — December 14

Winter 2018 newsletter

 
Dear Friends,
  
A couple of years ago we met Ed Young, the multi-Caldecott-winning legendary children’s book author and illustrator, and began traveling up to Hastings-on-Hudson to visit with him in his labyrinthine studio and home. Many things he was working on interested us, but there was one book in particular, something other publishers had turned their backs on as “too sad.” But we didn’t find it sad, it was too emotionally rich to be sad, too true. Together Ed, writer Mark Reibstein, and our art director Stewart Cauley embarked on a journey to tell the story of a boy recalling his mom in the simplest, most unadorned way possible—spare words, shaped into a seventeen-syllable form of haiku that Mark calls American Sentences (a term coined by Allen Ginsberg); brown ink drawings by Ed of the utmost simplicity, in which you discern cats and the moon, people, but never without searching; and a textured, plainspoken design. We think it’s a masterpiece, and the advance reviewers seem to agree.

"Subtly rhyming haiku relate the poignant story, told from a child’s viewpoint, of a mother who leaves home, returns, and leaves again. Both the poetry and illustrations reveal the love between the mother and son.…Text and pictures skillfully combine to portray the emotions of a small boy who is left to wonder if his absent mother will ever return. The Author’s Note defines the Japanese word yugen as 'subtle and profound,' which will be how readers describe their feelings about this second author/illustrator collaboration."Booklist (starred review)

"Step into a dream of a story by the team that created Wabi Sabi (2008). Reibstein and Young reunite in this sophisticated, dreamy, lyrical tribute to maternal love and loss, the eternity of memories, and the power of nature to depict human emotions.... This unconventional picture book offers opportunities to discuss poetic form, Japanese culture and customs, artistic style, and storytelling—making this book perfect for older readers as well. Beauty is ever present in this book, amid loss and mystery." Kirkus Reviews
 
Paul Robeson Jr. published A Black Way of Seeing with us some years ago, a fiercely intelligent collection of essays. Paul became a friend and through him we got to know his daughter, Susan, and wife, Marilyn. So it felt like kismet when agent extraordinaire Marie Brown brought us Susan’s children’s book about the time her grandfather actually stopped a battle in the Spanish Civil War by singing to the combatants on both sides, illustrated by the amazing artist Rod Brown. That book is finally coming out in January from Triangle Square, a true story, in these times of unending war, of peace touching the hearts of fighting men. In its advance review, Kirkus calls out “Brown’s deeply saturated, highly textured illustrations [that] effectively capture the dangers Robeson encountered to try to bring peace to war-torn Spain” and describes Susan’s personal story as “a story worth hearing about a cause worth fighting for.”
 
The question at the start of any social movement is often about what will radicalize people and draw them in, what will be the issue that will be important enough for them to give of their time, even to take to the streets. Noam Chomsky talks about how at the start of the movement against the Vietnam War they would call a meeting, and to get even a dozen people to show up they would have to make the meeting not just about the Vietnam War but also about a handful of other pressing social and political issues.

We’re convinced that the social and political issue that is going to galvanize people in 2019 will be the question of who has control over abortion access in this country. On January 22, the forty-fifth anniversary of the Roe v. Wadedecision, we will release reproductive rights journalist Robin Marty’s Handbook for a Post-Roe America, a true handbook that addresses the needs of the present moment, a moment when laws in twenty states limiting abortion rights are already in place, and there is a new balance of power in the US Supreme Court. Widespread media coverage is expected in the Los Angeles TimesNew York TimesThe NationBitchBustRewireSeattle Post-Intelligencer, NPR, and much more.

Two current SSP titles from France share an unexpected kinship: Yasmina Reza’s new novel, Babylon, which the New York Times has called "haunting," and the French blogging sensation Emma’s The Mental Load, which we launched first in England through Seven Stories Press Limited, and then here in the US. While Yasmina Reza’s novel can be read as a literary tour de force, and Emma’s book is a much more direct account of the burden that women bear that men do not, and what to do about it, both books espouse an implicit political wish, and both reveal profound class and gender inequalities.
 
Lastly, I want to call your attention to a book we didn’t publish this year, but that I wish we had, Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump, a meditation on the complex reality and history of identity politics, a book I hope everyone will read.
 
Back in May, we had just launched a Pride Month special collection online when I got an e-mail from Eileen Dengler, executive director of NAIBA, with a request: Couldn’t we find a way for booksellers to participate in what we were doing online? I loved the question, and wrote to our sales and distribution partners at Penguin Random House. They too loved the idea and were willing to make the titles we selected for themed collections available to booksellers through a special promotion. Together with NAIBA, we came up with a plan to launch periodic themed collections, starting in August with two, “Women in Translation” and “For Human Rights, Against War,” and we added a dollar prize for the best in-store display, juried by NAIBA, based on photographs the booksellers sent in, with half the prize money going to the store and the other half going to the individual staffperson who designed the display. We didn’t think we had all the answers. We were experimenting. But we were also listening. And we were enjoying the conversation over the course of those months. There was a lot that the president of NAIBA, Todd Dickinson, and Eileen were saying that made all kinds of sense to us. The initiative succeeded well enough for us all to want to continue it.

After a few months, we decided to expand, inviting a small group of independent publishers to participate in 2019, and with Eileen reaching out to other regional bookseller associations to invite their participation. And so far what we’ve learned already is that the right answers come if you only continue asking the right questions, and we have. Next year it looks like there will be five participating publishers and possibly all the regional associations. We’ve chosen three months, March, June and October, that don’t conflict with big holiday months. And we think the upshot will be that not only will a bond be strengthened between independent publishers and independent booksellers but also that within stores there’ll be a special place for readers to find an “Indie Playlist.”

Partly coming out of that ongoing conversation, we’ve now altered our online profile. We still have our annual sale for the holidays, and other online initiatives and sales. But this year we are trying something a bit different; in solidarity with our friends at independent bookstores across the nation, we are excluding from any discount all new books and all frontlist titles, meaning anything published in the past year, and our top twenty all-time best-selling titles. You’ll find these at your local indie bookseller, along with the other discoveries that physical independent stores are all about. And we no longer automatically discount all the books on our site. You can still come to our website for deep discovery, since physical stores may find the right book for you, but they can’t carry in their limited space the thousand or so political and literary titles on our backlist. You can get those from our website, and also receive a free e-book in .mobi format (for Kindles) or .epub (for all other devices) every time you buy a printed book from us (something even Amazon can’t or won’t do, btw). And don't forget to e-mail sevenstories@sevenstories.com a copy of a receipt showing the purchase of any of our books from indie bookstores and we’ll gladly send you the e-book version gratis.
 
We mourn the loss last month of our dear friend Juris Jurjevics, former editor in chief of Dial, co-founder and former co-publisher of Soho Press, novelist, and founding member of the Seven Stories Advisory Board. Juris was an original, and one of the great contributors to publishing culture, and someone who had managed to make the transition successfully to his later career as a novelist.
 
Our best holiday wishes to all for the holidays and in 2019,
Dan
 
      

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Playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza's work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. Her play Art was the first non-English language play to win a Tony Award, Conversations After a Burial, The Unexpected Man, and Life X 3 have all been award-winning critical and commercial successes internationally, and God of Carnage, which also won a Tony Award, was adapted for film by Roman Polanski. A new play, Bella Figura, premiered in Germany in May 2015. Her fiction includes Hammerklavier, Desolation, and Adam Haberberg. Reza lives in Paris.