Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

My Internet service has been haywire since last Thursday—the joys of living in the countryside. But it’s on right now and I wanted to write quickly about a book I just finished reading: Ouragan (Hurricane) by Laurent Gaudé. You may have heard of him through his 2007 novel which was translated as The Scortas’ Sun (UK) and The House of Scorta (US). I haven’t read his other work, but will be looking for it directly.

Because Ouragan…Wow. Really wow.

The book is set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and told in six different voices – an old woman, a prisoner, a priest, a single mother and her former lover. Each individual has a different relationship to the storm. Each individual must suffer through the storm in a particular way. Handling that many voices in a single, tightly-knit narrative can be difficult, but Gaudé pulls it off with great skill. I literally could not put this book down. The story, the writing, the ideas and history behind the story and the writing.

Wish I had time to write more now about the writing. Gaudé’s writing was intense and emotional. He uses a first person narrator for most of the characters, but third person for two of them. That blend was useful, especially for two sections in which all of sudden the voices begin to merge together, telling each other’s stories. Really very well done.

I find it very interesting that such an incredible work of fiction about an intensely American experience should come from a French writer. I’m assuming Gaudé did a lot of research or was already deeply familiar with the culture and history of New Orleans.

I hope the book is currently contracted with translation into English, but I can’t find any confirmation of that on the web yet.

I will have more to say when my Internet issues get worked out…

9 Responses to “first thoughts on Laurent Gaudé's Ouragan”

  1. litlove

    I’ll be ordering this – I read Le Soleil des Scortas (that was the title, wasn’t it?) by him and loved it. He is a really punchy author with wonderfully easy, evocative prose. Thank you for the heads up!

    • Michelle

      Litlove – I think you would really enjoy it. If you want my French copy, just let me know and I’d be happy to send it to you.

  2. Biblibio

    That is rather interesting that a French author would take on what we perceive to be a purely American occurrence, but there’s no reason why more authors shouldn’t do this. It isn’t considered weird for an author writing in English to discuss European wars or experiences… As long as the book is well-researched and good, there should be no problem regarding the origin of the author (theoretically).

    I’d be really curious to read this just for the different perspective. Taking into account the fact that there aren’t many homegrown books about Katrina at all, I really hope Ouragan will find its way to a language I can read…

    • Michelle

      Good point on the American writers taking up European Wars – hadn’t thought of that.

      I’m sure it will be translated – at least I’d be very surprised if it didn’t. But it just came out in the Fall 2010 in France so it may take a year or so. Maybe it will get into German or Spanish first?? Not sure what other languages you read, but maybe one will come faster than English.

  3. Lilian Nattel

    I wondered the same thing (French writer etc). But it sounds fascinating and I hope it comes out in English.

    • Michelle

      I hesitate to use the word ‘powerful’ to describe this book, because that can come out sounding cliché, but it does have a real emotional pull on the reader, and a momentum in the prose. I think you would like it.

  4. Litlove

    Would you really send me your copy? I’d be delighted, if that was no trouble for you. We could perhaps do a swap – I’ll look over my French titles and see if there’s anything you might like!

    • Michelle

      Absolutely! Let me email you and get your address (which I should already have somewhere, but just in case!)

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