The Pick of the Week is The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnaud, published by Amazon Crossings on February 1, 2021.
The Story: Sidi lives a hermetic life as a bee whisperer, tending to his beloved “girls” on the outskirts of the desolate North African village of Nawa. He wakes one morning to find that something has attacked one of his beehives, brutally killing every inhabitant. Heartbroken, he soon learns that a mysterious swarm of vicious hornets committed the mass murder—but where did they come from, and how can he stop them? If he is going to unravel this mystery and save his bees from annihilation, Sidi must venture out into the village and then brave the big city and beyond in search of answers. Along the way, he discovers a country and a people turned upside down by their new post–Arab Spring reality as Islamic fundamentalists seek to influence votes any way they can on the eve of the country’s first democratic elections. To succeed in his quest, and find a glimmer of hope to protect all that he holds dear, Sidi will have to look further than he ever imagined. In this brilliantly accessible modern-day parable, Yamen Manai uses a masterful blend of humor and drama to reveal what happens in a country shaken by revolutionary change after the world stops watching. Via Goodreads
Blurb: “Warmth, compassion, and humanity, with here-and-there touches of sarcasm and humor. A well-told tale showing that modernity isn’t always a blessing.” — Kirkus Reviews
Book Info: Hardcover, fiction, 104 pages.
Excerpt: Everyone knew that Sidi would give his life for his girls, and do so without the slightest hesitation. His love was such that he was capable of anything. Hadn’t he devoted his life to them, building them citadel upon citadel? Hadn’t he confronted a Numidian bear just to bring them the most beautiful flowers? Hadn’t he defied princes and renounced love to dedicate himself entirely to them? And so, when news that many of them had died under troubling circumstances spread from mouth to mouth, a reaction seemed inevitable. Read more.
The Author: Yamen Manai was born in 1980 in Tunis and currently lives in Paris. Both a writer and an engineer, Manai explores the intersections of past and present, and tradition and technology, in his prose. In The Ardent Swarm (originally published as L’Amas ardent), his first book to be translated into English, he celebrates Tunisia’s rich oral culture, a tradition abounding in wry, often fatalistic humor. He has published three novels with the Tunisia-based Elyzad Editions–a deliberate choice to ensure that his books are accessible to Tunisian readers: La marche de l’incertitude (2010), awarded Tunisia’s prestigious Prix Comar d’Or; La sérénade d’Ibrahim Santos (2011); and L’Amas ardent (2017), which earned both the Prix Comar d’Or and the Prix des Cinq Continents, a literary prize recognizing exceptional Francophone literature. Via Goodreads
The Translator: Lara Vergnaud is a literary translator from the French. She is the recipient of the 2019 French Voices Grand Prize and two PEN/Heim Translation Grants, and was a finalist for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award.