Romain Gary's "The Kites" [BTBA 2018]

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Mark Haber of Brazos Bookstore, an upstanding young citizen whose novel will be published by Coffee House next year.

The Kites by Romain Gary, translated from the French by Miranda Richmond Mouillot (New Directions)

Romain Gary’s final book (and my first experience reading him) is a story about a young French boy falling in irredeemable love with a Polish girl at the onset of World War II. On its surface it seems like a traditional, exhausted trope: young love, lost innocence and the tribulations of war. I can tell you The Kites is anything but. To begin with, the writing (and stunning translation by Miranda Richmond Mouillot) bursts with energy and lovely turns of phrase. The novel, published in 1980 and in English for the first time, feels highly contemporary. The language certainly, but the humor and irony of the book, even the tone, feels highly now. Toward the beginning I found myself laughing at the descriptions as well as the richly developed minor characters, knowing full well war was on the horizon and things would darken. Things indeed darken, but not at the expense of the book, which doesn’t spare the reader the terrible effects of losing friends and family and even one’s own country, but tells a fabulous story in the most fabulous way. I would recommend The Kites to just about any type of reader, it’s that good. The Kites is also a reminder of what great fiction can do even in genres that feel well-trodden.

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