Arsenault’s Rabelaisian fantasy is a gothic tale of the macabre and the bizarre, of black magicians and alchemists, and of the life and times of Zora Marjanna Lavanko, the daughter of a brutish tripe-dresser who dies for love. This surreal novel is set in the murky fictional domain of the Fredavian Forest, in the very real province of Karelia, then a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
Many years of work brought forth this finely rendered fantasy. While some readers might be put off by the cruelty, violence, and mayhem of text, those who persist will be rewarded with black humour and the fine display of a full range of human emotion. Rabelaisan certainly, but Zora is also inspired by the legends of the ancient Finns as well as other epic literary fantasies.
The English reader will feel the text, deftly translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, carries overtones of Mervyn Peake. Despite this ornate style, the narrative has surprising pace, perhaps because the reader is busy trying to keep his or her jaw from hanging open.
The original French novel won the 2013 Robert-Cliche Prize, awarded to an author for a first novel (and not a first work).
Fred A. Reed
International journalist and award-winning literary translator Fred A. Reed is also a respected specialist on politics and religion in the Middle East. Anatolia Junction, his acclaimed work on the unacknowledged wars of the Ottoman succession, has been translated in Turkey, where it enjoys a wide following. Shattered Images, which explores the origins of contemporary fundamentalist movements in Islam, has also been translated into Turkish, and into French as Images brisées (VLB éditeur, Montréal).
After several years as a librarian and trade union activist at the Montreal Gazette, Reed began reporting from Islamic Iran in 1984, visiting the Islamic Republic thirty times since then. He has also reported extensively on Middle Eastern affairs for La Presse, CBC Radio-Canada and Le Devoir.
A three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation, plus a nomination in 2009 for his translation of Thierry Hentsch’s Le temps aboli, Empire of Desire. Reed has translated works by many of Québec’s leading authors, several in collaboration with novelist David Homel, as well as by Nikos Kazantzakis and other modern Greek writers.
Reed worked with documentarist Jean-Daniel Lafond on two documentary films: Salam Iran, a Persian Letter and American Fugitive. The two later collaborated on Conversations in Tehran (Talonbooks, 2006). He is currently working on a memoir. Fred A. Reed resides in Montréal.
David Homel, born and raised in Chicago, is a Governor General Literary Award-winning translator and writer. His most recent translations include Kuessipan by Naomi Fontaine, The World is Moving around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake by Dany Laferriere, The Last Genet: A Writer in Revolt by Hadrien Laroche, and The Inverted Gaze by Francois Cusset (all Arsenal Pulp), and his own novels include Midway and, most recently, The Fledglings. He lives in Montreal.
"Welcome to the far reaches of 19th century Finland. Welcome to “a forest peopled with strange and very ugly creatures known as fredouilles.” Welcome to the Inn of the Farting Bear, where the scum of the earth and the dregs of society like to meet up for prostitution, under-the-table abortions, and widespread wickedness. But you are not welcome. This is not a welcoming place. The impressively named innkeeper Seppo Petteri Lavanko has not rolled out the welcome mat. Beware. Be careful. Run!" —Peter McCambridge, Quebec Reads
Praise for the French novel
"This book is a masterpiece, an immense pleasure in reading, and the highly worked, mastered work of a real writer. One enters in order not to leave, one takes delight of the gluttony, the violence, and the humour that mark each page".
—Colette Lens, jury member, Robert-Cliche Prize
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