Reading Circle: Cercle littéraire 2018-2019

The Reading Circle is flourishing under the direction of Brian John.   The Circle chose seven books.  Their summer project was Le Père Goriot by Balzac (1836). The novel describes Goriot’s infinite selfless love for his daughters, whose rapaciousness leads to his death. He lives in a lodging-house with the young student Rastignac and a motley crew of characters. They loved its dissection of Paris society in 1819, exposing the selfishness and social climbing with which Balzac was familiar. Petit Pays (2016), by novelist and rapper Gaël Faye, is about the 1990s civil war in Burundi and the pain of exile. Faye, whose mother is Rwandan and father is French, left Burundi when he was 13, later obtained his master’s in finance and worked in an investment bank in London. In December, they read Vol de nuit (1931) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. A short, page-turning book about the pioneers of French aviation in the 1920s, it is based on Saint-Exupéry’s own experiences as a pilot for the airline that inaugurated airmail services from South America to France. As well as being a gripping adventure story, it also sets out the beginnings of Saint-Exupéry’s personal philosophy. In January, they discussed a biography of Marie Curie by Janine Trotereau.  Her early life in Poland is described. She goes to Paris to study mathematics, physics and chemistry (impossible for a woman in Poland). She becomes Pierre Curie’s co-researcher. They marry and are inseparable. After his early death (road accident), she becomes the first woman to win two Nobel Prizes (Physics and Chemistry). In March, they read Au Piano (2003) by Jean Echenoz. It starts in Paris, but after a surprising development on page 86 becomes a strange parable about purgatory, resurrection and frustrated love. In April, they discussed Proust’s Un amour de Swann (1913). Opinions were sharply divided. The lengthy descriptions of Swann’s obsessional love for Odette de Crécy were loved by some, while leaving others cold (or bored). Their last book, discussed in June, was Les Petits Enfants du Siècle (1961) by Christiane Rochefort. Josyane lives in an HLM in Bagnolet. Life is hard. Because of the falling birth rate, the French government gives a bonus to mothers, which they will spend on a washing machine, fridge, car or TV. Can there be a happy ending?  Members of the Cercle found this year’s books particularly varied and interesting.  If you would like to join the Cercle littéraire, please contact Brian John at

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