Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

One of the most popular books at Broadway Books of late has been a novel out of France: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery (Europa Editions). The book, translated by Alison Anderson, has won numerous European literary prizes and is a New York Times bestseller. The narration alternates between Renee, a 54-year-old concierge of an elegant apartment in Paris who is attached to just about no one but her cat Leo, and super-smart 12-year-old Paloma, the youngest daughter of the family on the fifth floor.

Renee is a ferocious autodidact who is better versed in literature and the arts than any of the building's snobby residents. Paloma -- talented, precocious, and startlingly lucid -- has come to terms with life's seeming futility and has decided to end her life on her 13th birthday. Both mask their true intellect behind the masks of mediocrity they think are expected of them.

Into their lives comes a new tenant, a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu, who befriends both and helps them to discover their kindred -- and well-hidden -- souls. By turns funny and heartbreaking, this is a moving, witty, and redemptive novel.

The author, a philosophy professor in France when writing the novel, currently lives in Japan. Her first novel, Une Gourmandise, which has been translated into twelve languages, will be published in English by Europa Editions in 2009.

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