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On teaching creative writing

1I began teaching creative writing in Paris nearly ten years ago at the American University. Since then I’ve taught the subject at the Institut Catholique de Paris, ESSEC Business School and Paris Pont Tech. The course I’m currently teaching is “Fictions of the Self,” the starting point of which is an examination of different approaches to writing about the people, places, and events that have shaped us. How do we, as writers, use language to create a world peopled with characters and actions? What must we do to take hold of the reader’s psyche and spin a tale so real, so convincing that disbelief is suspended? How might the writing process itself enable us to expand and bend conventional ways of seeing and thinking about the world?

2Teaching creative writing has made me examine my own intuitive writing process. While it is impossible to convey exactly how to write fiction, uncovering my own narrative strategies has helped me guide students while deepening my own practice. In class, we often start with close readings of short story excerpts, paying attention to the registers of language, the tone and mood of the writing and how it appeals to the senses. We look at the imbrication of form and content to see how the writing signifies and holds together. This practice, when often repeated, works on students both consciously and unconsciously, helping them to sharpen their writing. It has also been beneficial to me in honing my work. Most of all, I enjoy teaching the subject. Helping students put language to their experiences, sensations, and imaginations strikes me as wholly worthwhile, a field of exploration that enriches the Humanities and which could find a rightful place in the French university curriculum.

3J’ai commencé à enseigner l’écriture créative à Paris il y a presque dix ans à l’American University. Depuis lors je l’ai enseignée aussi à l’Institut Catholique de Paris, à l’ESSEC Business School et à Paris Pont Tech. Le cours que j’enseigne actuellement s’intitule “Fictions du Soi » et commence par s’intéresser aux diverses manières d’évoquer les gens, les lieux et les évènements qui nous construisent. En tant qu’, comment utilisons-nous la langue pour créer un monde peuplé de personnages et d’actions ? Que devons-nous faire pour pénétrer le psychisme du lecteur et pour narrer une histoire si plausible, si convaincante, que l’incrédulité en arrive à être suspendue ? Comment le processus d’écriture lui-même pourrait-il nous permettre d’étendre et faire dévier les manières conventionnelles de voir et de concevoir le monde ? Enseigner l’écriture créative m’a amenée à scruter mon propre processus d’écriture intuitif. Alors qu’il est impossible de transmettre exactement les techniques d’écriture de fiction, le fait de mettre à nu mes propres stratégies de narration m’a permis de mieux guider les étudiants tout en approfondissant ma propre pratique. Mes cours commencent souvent par des lectures fines d’extraits de nouvelles et s’intéressent aux registres de langue, au ton, à l’ambiance créée par l’écriture et à la manière dont elle fait appel aux sens. On étudie la manière dont la forme et le fond sont imbriqués pour comprendre la manière dont l’écriture devient signifiante, la manière dont elle se tient. Cette pratique, lorsqu’on la répète souvent, agit sur les étudiants consciemment et inconsciemment, les aidant à aiguiser leur écriture. Elle m’a également été bénéfique, m’aidant à peaufiner mon travail. Et surtout, je prends du plaisir à enseigner cette matière : aider les étudiants à trouver les mots pour exprimer leurs expériences, leurs sensations et leur imagination me paraît éminemment profitable, et il y a là un champ d’exploration qui enrichit les sciences humaines, et que l’on pourrait à bon escient inclure dans les offres de formation à l’Université française.

Maid and Mistress

4The four composers, all distinguished-looking sexagenarians, sat around a table in the garden of Pierre Maréchal’s quaintly dilapidated country house in Picardy, a small brick cottage that remained perennially damp inside, though the yard on a sunny day was suitable for a lengthy, Sunday lunch with colleagues. No longer poised on that far edge of precedent-setting novelty, the composers had nevertheless bequeathed their names to books on a former avant-garde; the renown they had achieved was the fruit of continuous work, constant self-promotion over the years, activities they still fervently pursued though against the law of diminishing returns. Now, however, assembled around the table, they were buoyed up by their mutual company and bantering, by the Sancerre which accompanied the succulent pine nut stuffed salmon and new potatoes, and now the cheeses; Beaufort, unpasteurised Camembert and a ripe Époisse whose pungent odour mingled almost sexually with the fragrance of the ripening fruit in the apple tree overhead.

5“Who wants salad?” shouted a woman from the kitchen window. As the men didn’t respond, Yasmina took the plastic salad bowl outside and set it brusquely on the table. She was wearing a silver lamé mock turtle neck top and black hareem pants. On her small, size six feet were burgundy velvet babouches with a gold stitched motif. Her plumpness flattered her figure but lessened the beauty of her face whose delicate features sat like tiny, dwindling islands in an encroaching sea, overwhelmed by dimply roundness. Her eyes were intelligent, their blackness at once severe and generous, as if hinting at the seriousness she would attribute to a gift. At forty-five, she had smooth, honeyed skin and a way of pushing her cushiony body into people. She addressed strangers and friends alike, using the informal “tu”. Though she knew better. “Salad!” she announced, plopping herself down heavily in her chair. Somewhere between the kitchen and the table she had managed to light a cigarette. “Serve yourselves.” She pushed the bowl towards one of the composers, a pipe-smoking Swiss named Yves. The conversation, which had just turned to the vanguard composer who had mentored all four years ago, began to heat up: unresolved jealousies between André and Pierre vehemently resurfaced; the hard-held opinions justifying the entire oeuvre, indeed, the entire life of Jean-Marc were brushed aside as passé by Yves; André stamped an enraged fist against the table when Pierre criticised one of the master’s monolithic sonatas; Jean-Marc got up to leave the table but Pierre held on to his arm, imploring him to sit down again. They were enjoying themselves immensely as Frenchmen of the same office and trade do over a Sunday lunch in the garden.

6“All right then. I’ll serve you.” If Yasmina was in any way affected by the men’s enflamed discussion, she didn’t show it. The subject of their vociferating didn’t interest her a bit, but the rush of their male energy did, immensely, and as the only woman present, she was not only its sole and privileged recipient, but the very source of the nourishment which kept them at table. She stood up over the men, the cigarette pursed in the corner of her mouth, several centimetres of grey ashes hanging precariously from the butt of it, and spooned the salad onto the cheese-smeared plates.

7“Thank you,” said Yves distracted for a moment by her fleshy arm which leaned with insistence against his own. She was not promiscuous, although she adored men, relished their attentions and, on good days, wore a perfume called Ploum-Ploum, advertised to drive men in convertibles wild.

8“Yasmina, your cigarette!” growled Pierre, shifting the attention of his colleagues to the menacing tip of his mistress’ Gauloise blonde. “I thought you’d given that up for Ramadan.”

9“Ramadan?!” The ashes of her cigarette hung a crumbling chimney over Jean-Marc’s head. André quickly picked up a bowl of olive pits, held it under Yasmina’s hand. Still looking at Pierre, her pooling khol-lined eyes now narrowed in on him. She tapped her cigarette on the edge of the outstretched bowl.

10“Ramadan ended two months ago. The sheep have been slaughtered and eaten. Now the Good Lord leaves us alone.”

11“No Muslim wants the Lord to leave him alone, that’s obvious” he retorted, laughing at her. “It’s Allah’s will,” she affirmed, shaking her head.

12“What’s Allah’s will?”

13“That I have to suffer, that I have to put up with you. What misery! And so He lets me smoke.”

14“And drink, let’s not forget that!”

15“I only drink when I am offered one. A Muslim does not refuse a gift when its bearer is sincere. Anyway, what do you know about it? You’ve never read the Qur’an.”

16“Oh but, I have. I’ve read it in great detail. The important question is, since you are the Muslim, not I, have you?” Pierre’s eyes grew lively as he provoked her. Yasmina did not know how to read; her father didn’t send her to school along with her eight brothers but possessively kept her by his side at the couture shops he ran in the medina of Marrakech. She was, however, quick at mathematics.

17“I was taught the Qur’an by my very own father, he was a hafiz, he knew the Holy Book by heart. May Allah who is Merciful...” Yasmina stopped to let the emotion pass. She then burped discreetly and touched her heart:

18“Hamdullah!” Jean-Marc, who had the seductive, Latin manners of an homme à femmes, brought a bottle of Château Margaux out from the kitchen. With an affected gallantry, he filled Yasmina’s glass.

19“That’s a good wine,” she said after taking a sip. “What now? Shall I play the bendir? Dance?” With her fingers balletically positioned, she lifted her arms to fifth position and flicked her hips side to side, warming up for a shimmy.

20“We haven’t had dessert yet, nor coffee. Later, Yasmina,” said Pierre, dismissing her with a paternal tone. Yasmina continued her dance, expecting the other men to contradict him, to urge her on, but none did. Pierre set his latest bone of contention, the Composers Royalty Bureau, upon the table and the others joined in airing their discontent: all the money they had paid into the system, and now just a pittance for retirement! Yasmina scowled and went back into the kitchen, cursing them all under her breath. They were so dull that even Allah wept with boredom when He listened in, which He sometimes did with infidels in spite of Himself. And worse, they didn’t know how to appreciate a woman, particularly Pierre, who brought her here not because he cherished her but because his stomach needed her cooking. Because the solitude was unbearable otherwise, because he was helpless, could not feed himself, could not play the tambourine and dance for his company. He needed her fleshy body to buffer his failures, to season with delicious Moroccan dishes the unpalatable truth that he had sacrificed far too much of his life and his family’s to attain this pittance of glory in music.

21In the kitchen, Yasmina lit another cigarette mumbling under her breath. She put the stovetop coffee maker over the gas flame and pulled an apple tart from the oven. In the beginning she had been Pierre’s upstairs neighbour and housekeeper. She cleaned his apartment once a week, then began cooking dinners for him when he was in town. That was after his second wife had left him, when every other weekend he had the keep of his three children. He would bring them to this house in Picardy, leaving them to their own devices while he composed in one of the upstairs rooms, a convenient arrangement until his unsupervised ten-year-old son fell from the barn one Sunday breaking bones. After this incident, he began taking Yasmina with him to cook and care for them, yet even before that, she had begun to share his bed, having been invited there, she remembered, after a couscous royal dinner prepared with extra care: the lamb marinated in lemon, garlic and coriander, the beef basted with olive oil and cumin, the chicken roasted with green olives and confit lemon. She had outdone herself; by going for the gut and pleasuring the palate, she gained admittance to the composer’s paper-strewn bed. In truth, Yasmina did not like sex so much, but he was quick at it and she could tolerate it. Above all, she loved sleeping rolled up in his arms, although some nights she was not invited in even though she had cooked an excellent meal of roasted meat and washed up the dishes. Sometimes for whole weeks the bedroom door would remain shut, and then she would throw her dishrag on the floor cursing the miserable cunt that pushed him into the world, and stomp up to her flat on the fourth floor refusing to come down when he called. Ma jolie, viens ma biche… he’d coo at her landing until at last she’d agree to listen, her ear to the door, to his excuses. And the next morning he’d announce five guests for dinner and would she mind putting on the meal? She knew she should refuse but never did. He no longer paid her for her services: he expected them.

22Sharing an infidel’s bed was much the same as sharing a Muslim one; it kept her slaving in the kitchen. Still, she would cook and clean through the worst humiliations for the privilege — if it could be called that — of sleeping with him; in truth, it was a beggarly need. She played the hostess whenever given the chance, knowing she was cooking up her own bad fortune, simmering her misery; and his fancy friends regaled on her dishes, taking seconds and thirds. They held the life of the mind above all others while she took a secret pleasure in lording over the life of the gut.

23Yasmina cursed Pierre’s frequent business trips to Switzerland; she suspected he had a girlfriend there. Once, upon his return, she found a pair of tiny pink panties in his suitcase and nearly fainted. Lifting them from the bag with a fork, for she wouldn’t have dared touch such a thing, she carried them downstairs to Pierre’s bureau.

24“A Souvenir from Switzerland?” she provoked him. Her nostrils flared taurine-like as she dangled the evidence. But before he could deny the accusation, she flung the scanties at his face and spat with rage, “She has an ass the size of my two thumbs!” After this incident she refused to see him for three weeks. But eventually, the conciliatory spirit of a dinner party in honour of six conductors brought this separation to an end; Yasmina descended from her maid’s room and returned to the stove. Then one day, when snooping through Pierre’s mail with her Tunisian neighbour Naima who could read, Yasmina discovered he had been in hospital for surgery of the private parts. Naima reassured her that this happened to lots of men, that even the King of Morocco had had it and... Yasmina put her finger to her lips. “Never talk about His Highness’ royal balls!” Naima had giggled and added, “At least now you won’t have to anymore. Yasmina put her hand to her heart and sighed, Thanks be to Allah! Now I can sleep in peace.”

25The stovetop coffee maker began its garrulous orgasm over the flame. Yasmina picked it up and poured the steaming liquid into a demi-tasse for herself. She had drunk too much wine and was feeling it; the coffee would clear her head. Making it brought back memories of her father. As a child she prepared the beverage for him in the morning over a Bunsen burner. She had been his darling, his Heart of hearts and, since the age of two when her mother died — may Allah, the Sustainer, who created humankind from a clot, protect her —- slept beside him on the roof top of their riad, nestled against the soft linen pyjamas he wore, cherished and protected like a precious carbuncle. Yet Allah whose justice must be respected even if it cannot be fathomed or enjoyed like a baklava, took him away when she was but ten and her brothers ousted her from his generous inheritance, leaving her with nothing, not even a plate of grief-healing date fritters. Ever since that loss and betrayal she hungered for retribution, hungered for the composer’s bed like a man of God bets the force of all his appetites on a manifest sign of the Lord.

26“Yasmina! Come back out.” Pierre was trying to make his voice sound inviting. She knew that voice. So now he wants me? So now it is time to dance? She shut the kitchen window, letting Pierre know that she heard him but would ignore him. She nevertheless got out five dessert plates from the cupboard. Her mind sped and a feeling of persecution which had been laying in abeyance rose without warning. She knew the feeling well, that once it appeared, it pursued and now the powers of sight nearly abandoned her; she grasped at the walls to guide herself, touching their hard, damp surface to the bedroom where she lay down. Something like a madness invaded her: His girlfriend is a sorcerer, she is trying to kill me. Now I cannot see; she has made me blind. Allah save me, she’ll take my ears too, to hear into his heart the way I have. Yasmina moaned and rolled over to beach on her fleshy stomach. She will be the death of me. Her runty ass will kill me in my sleep. She pushed aside the pillow next to her head and unearthed a pair of barber’s scissors. At the sight of them, for now she could see again, as well as or perhaps even better than Pierre and his witch woman in Switzerland who was not yet powerful enough to take away her sight entirely, Yasmina, greatly tormented, sat up invoking the name of Allah. She inspected the scissors as she did a cut of meat under plastic wrap, to see if it was clean and potent. Her panic subsided. Calmly she set them back under the pillow as she had early the previous morning. Inside the pillow case she’d stashed a photo of Pierre, a Swiss flag cut out from a muesli box, and a tangle of her own hair mixed with menstrual blood, wrapped in a cloth napkin. Who had taught her this trick? Was it Naima who had made her husband stop beating her by grinding his gin bottles to sand and sprinkling it over his couscous? No one had taught her exactly, yet she knew. Obeying a forward-looking instinct, she went to her purse and pulled out a lace handkerchief. She inspected it to make sure it was clean, then set that too in the pillow case. He will need this when the Swiss miss leaves him. To dry his tears! The thought of her imminent success guaranteed by the magical arts provoked a homeopathic dose of pity in her heart for Pierre, but the hankie would provide.

27“Yasmina? Are you in there?” It was Pierre, sounding more irritated than concerned. He remained behind the door, poking his head in. With his white beard and hair, slightly bulbous red nose and paunchy stoutness, he looked not unlike a vacationing Santa.

28“We’re waiting for you. Let’s finish lunch. I’ve suggested we all go to Amiens to see John the Baptist’s head. But we need to get moving. It’s almost three.” Yasmina said nothing but walked past Pierre out the door, pushing against his protruding belly with a sly sentiment of pride, the kind perhaps felt by a father-to-be, for its jolly girth was, after all, her doing.

29In the garden, the apple tart was relished and washed down with coffee. Yasmina sat upon a stool propped a head above the others, puffing on a Gauloise and chattering on about the United States of America, a country she disliked, although there were many Muslims there, but not exactly the right kind. They did not speak Arabic, not really, and could not know the beautiful message of Allah which is only conveyed in Arabic words and certainly not in American ones. The Arabic she knew was the Arabic of the Qur’an and if she were to go to the marketplace in Cairo she would speak Qur’anic verses and be understood but if she got thirsty, she would not be able to ask for buttermilk. “Nonsense! N’importe quoi!” said Pierre at first to egg her on. Yasmina took a swig of wine; her black eyes glistened with puerile villainy. She was about to go on, when Pierre, noticing his company was losing interest in her parochial claims, cut her off sharply.

30“Who’s coming to Amiens then?” he asked. “This may be the only chance you’ll ever have to see John the Baptist’s head. And to venerate it!” It was the feast of Saint John and in the Cathedral of Amiens the proclaimed skull of the Baptist had been lifted from its reliquary to be paraded on a silver tray. His suggestion was met with chuckles.

31“Grotesque entertainment… I’m not keen on bones, but I’d like to see the organ. I’d like to play it. Aren’t you on good terms with the bishop?” asked Yves.

32“I was, but he died recently… in his mistress’ arms they say,” Pierre’s eyes were twinkling. “A good man. A musician…a friend of Schoenberg’s in his younger years.”

33“I think I’ll stay here,” declined Jean-Marc yawning and giving Yasmina, who poured him a refill, a wink. “A nap in the grass is what I need.”

34“How about you, Yasmina?” asked André, making an effort to include her.

35“Never!” she shouted, obviously pleased he had asked and even more so to show she was offended.

36“Come on, Yasmina,” insisted Pierre. “It’s worth seeing, if only from a cultural point of view. You can tell them about it in Morocco. Just how depraved these Christians really are.”

37“Never! Do you think I would set foot in the house of cannibals who believe in three gods!”

38“Let’s not exaggerate, Yasmina,” said Yves, calming her excitement with a pedantic voice, “Cannibals symbolically perhaps, but you see, Christianity is a monotheistic religion. Just like Islam.”

39“Three gods!” she insisted. “Never mind,” said Pierre, waving away her little scene with his hand. “Let’s get on the road.”

40When the three had left, Yasmina began clearing the table, her manner careless, her rouged lips collapsed in a fleshy pout. She badly wanted to see the head of John the Baptist on the silver platter. The thought of that stinky skull displayed for all to see thrilled her terribly. The macabre, in general, excited her nerves; she loved American horror films and went to see them at a fancy cinema on the Champs Elysées pocket-money permitting, sometimes with Naima who whimpered and pulled the hood of her djellaba over her eyes when terror struck, but most often alone. Before she went, she always sprayed herself with Ploum-Ploum from head to foot, even under her arms and at the crotch in case fate, aided by the seductive charms cinematographic gore made blossom in her cheeks, brought her face to face with a handsome man at the wheel of a convertible. It was a prestigious avenue, one never knew. The more gruesome the film, the better her chances.

41In the kitchen she set the dishes down in the sink and poured herself another glass of wine. They hadn’t finished the bottle; the wine was too good to go to waste, but as she drank, the taste got sour in her mouth and she spit it out. No use in making herself sick; Pierre had done that already. He had ruined her fun, belittled her in front of his friends. But she knew about the Christian’s three gods, had heard the Hadj el Hamadou on Radio Maghreb righteously defame them. She had been right not to go to Amiens.

42She decided to go outside to find Jean-Marc who of all Pierre’s friends seemed to take an interest in her; it was genuine if ambiguous. Once he brought her a silk scarf from the Galeries Lafayette; she had tied it around her hips after dinner and performed a little belly dance to a Turkish version of the Love Story tune. And of course she noticed how, when he gave her the bise, he pressed his lips into her cheek at the ear lingering a second too long. On her way out of the house, Yasmina picked up her bendir and shook it so the metal discs hissed, then slapped the camel-gut center. Jean-Marc who had been lying on a chaise lounge, sat up. Yasmina watched him run both hands through his wavy salt and pepper hair, then over his face, palming his attractive gray eyes.

43“How have you been, Yasmina?” His sleepiness lent his question shades of intimacy which made her feel that the entire day, its angers and hurts, had all been some trying preparation for this moment.

44“Not so well,” she said shaking her head, then added more brightly, “Did you like your lunch?”

45“Perfect. You outdid yourself, Yasmina. My highest of compliments to the chef. Pierre’s a lucky man.”

46“Ha! No doubt! But I am an unlucky woman. Unlucky, unlucky,” she repeated shaking her head. She felt her bile stir, but then, noticing the man’s expression retract, shutting its solicitous windows, she grew careful; this little audience with Jean-Marc must continue on a more playful note. Holding up her tambourine, she tapped a 6/8 rhythm.

47“That’s the one for weddings,” she said. “I was married once,” she went on, smiling. “My brothers married me off when I was thirteen.”

48“Thirteen?” he repeated in mock surprise. He had heard this part of the story before.

49“That’s right. And he was forty. I tell you my wedding night is best forgotten but it is imprinted on me for life like the words of the Qur’an on a grain of rice. It took him five hours to do it, to pierce me, and with everyone waiting to see the sheet. Oh I never liked it, you see. I don’t mind that Pierre can’t, that he’s condemned. How can I be jealous of that Swiss whore of his? When he can’t… When all I want is…” She shrugged her shoulders. Her monologue was sing-song, she smiled, frowned, brightened again. Jean-Marc listened but seemed bored. She wrapped it up.

50“When I was eighteen, we moved to France and I divorced him. Here,” she said, pushing the tambourine at him. “You play now.” The composer made a guttural noise: a chuckle? Did he find the disclosures she made about his friend, and rival, amusing? But he said nothing, accepted the instrument, and after inspecting it with a professional air, began to tap a beat, rhythmic enough for dancing. Yasmina kicked her babouches off onto the grass and shimmied, her silver lamé belly and breasts jiggling jelly-like, her face as golden and wide as a Mediterranean sundial. She drew figure eights with her hip, she threw coy glances at her audience. Jean-Marc watched her intently, drummed his music into her. She shimmied harder to match his insistence. Goodness like the arms of a loving world trapped her in a shivering embrace, honed her body with kinetic bounty; his percussing led her home. Yes, home! She had forgotten what it was like. How could she have! Forgotten this!

51Three thundering strikes at the tambourine’s gut, then silence. Yasmina flopped on the ground next to Jean-Marc, the bendir tossed somewhere behind him, out of sight. She closed her eyes and watched her dizziness; its repetitive honeycomb geometry caught and filtered out light, bourdoned at the frequency of bees. She was home and could rest peacefully at last on the rain-fed grass. Her mouth opened under the pressure of Jean-Marc’s lips. They swam together for a moment, their tongues frolicking in the froth of the tide, then a gentle wave came breaking against her breasts; the warm water lapped at her with tender insistence, rhythmically, caressingly. How wonderful to be in the sea again, the Mediterranean, to float weightlessly upon the great turquoise bed, the sun above a bright yellow canopy! Do you have pleasure, Yasmina? Will you let me give you pleasure? Then she discovered he had a thrilling power to transform her into a song bird and an unfamiliar, sharp-edged sound released from her; it was plaintive and high-pitched like a partridge pierced by an arrowhead.

52When Pierre and the others returned from Amiens, it was six o’clock. Jean-Marc’s car was no longer parked outside, a fact that Pierre remarked and which made him instinctively call out to Yasmina as soon as he had walked around the house to the back door. As there was no answer, he went in, passing through the kitchen. It was clean; all the dishes had been done and leftovers sat on the counter in Tupperware containers, ready for their return to Paris. He continued through the hallway until he reached the bedroom. The door was shut but rather than knock, he opened it and poked his head in. Yasmina squatted on a low stool next to the fireplace, tending a small fire.

53“Everything all right? Did Jean-Marc leave?” Yasmina nodded her head, pushing back a stray ember with a poker. “Raks zeina” she crooned softly, serenading the licks of flame. “Dance, Oh Beautiful One.” “We need to get on the road, could you get us packed up?” Her eyes closed as she listened inwardly to her song: “Raks el sehr...” “I’ll be waiting for you in the car in twenty minutes,” he barked. From a stack of papers sitting behind her, Yasmina began feeding it, sheet after sheet, mesmerised by the strobing colours of the flames. The sheets were riddled with hand-drawn, straight-legged pollywogs alone or joined at the tail, trapped and immobile. Where she was from musicians had better ears and better memories, they didn’t need to be guided by the progeny of toads. She thought of the hours Pierre spent laboring at these amphibious markers, jotting them on the paper while he played the same notes over and over again on his keyboard. It only proved that he was not so great a man. Hearing the horn honk outside, Yasmina got up and sprinkled water on her fire, then gathered their things, stuffing them quickly into a suitcase. She glanced at the pillows on the bed, knowing puissant spirits were now at work with the severing tools. The house was dark as Pierre had closed and locked all the shutters. She turned on the kitchen light and put the remains of their meal in a plastic bag to take with them. He would be hungry again by the time they got home, but she would not eat. She remained perfectly still for a moment, making a mental checklist. Yes, she had everything. She had turned off the gas earlier, all the lights were out. Then, suddenly, she remembered her bendir: where was it? She hadn’t packed it, that was certain. It must still be out in the garden. Locking the front door, she went looking for her tambourine, searching underneath the shrubby pines and in the uncut grass on her knees. She went over every inch of the small garden, but to no avail. Had she taken it back in with her? No, she was sure she hadn’t. Then it dawned on her that Jean-Marc had taken it, the bendir her father had given her long ago as a present; she had cherished it all these years. He had it now and he would operate on it the way they all did, these composers, until he returned it, and when he did, the sound of it would provoke a thousand shivers in her soft, foamy body and her warm rhythms would melt all the frozen anxieties that locked her in servitudes, God-be-willing.

54The horn honked again, several times; Pierre was growing impatient. She picked up the bags and went around the house to where the car was parked. Without a word or glance at Pierre, she tossed the bags in the back seat and got in. “Ah ya helu...” she sang to herself, “Ah ya helu,” “Oh Beautiful! Oh Sweetie!..” The engine chugged and they drove out the driveway, past the beet fields of Picardy, as the night purpled. Yasmina lit up a cigarette and not a word was said between them, not that night, nor for many nights to come.

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Anne MARSELLA, « Maid and Mistress »e-Rea [En ligne], 20.1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2022, consulté le 02 mars 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Université Paris-8 Vincennes-St Denis
Anne Marsella’s first collection of stories, The Lost and Found and Other Stories (NYU Press), was published in 1994 to critical acclaim and awarded the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers by New York University. Since then, her stories have appeared in American and French reviews such as The Southern Review, Europe, The Nebraska Review, The Charion Review, and Gargoyles among others. In 2003, her short story Saint Fever was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and adapted for All the Pieces, an off-Broadway production, directed by Carol Monpere.
In 2007 Anne Marsella’s first novel Remedy was published by Portobello Books in London. A year later, her second novel Patsy Boone was published, this time in French, by Editions de la Différence. Functioning as mirror narratives these two novels recount the life of a young American woman in Paris and her encounter with the capital’s multiple worlds – its men, its exiles, its religions and ways of thinking and being.
Remedy was translated into Italian as Per Tutti I Santi and published by Feltrinelli Editore, Milan. Her third novel, The Baby of Belleville (Portobello Books, June 2010), is a picaresque tale of family life and the mob set in the Belleville district of Paris. It is the third volume of this Parisian trilogy.
Le premier recueil de nouvelles d’Anne Marsella, The Lost and Found and Other Stories (NYU Press), a été publié en 1994 et a remporté un vif succès critique, l’Université de New York lui décernant l’Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers. Depuis lors, ses nouvelles ont paru dans plusieurs revues françaises et américaines telles que The Southern Review, Europe, The Nebraska Review, The Charion Review, and Gargoyles, entre autres. En 2003, sa nouvelle Saint Fever a été sélectionnée pour le Pushcart Prize, et a été adaptée pour All the Pieces, une production Off-Broadway, mise en scène par Carol Monpere.
En 2007 le premier roman d’Anne Marsella, Remedy, a été publié par Portobello Books à Londres, et un an plus tard un deuxième, Patsy Boone, a paru, cette fois-ci en français, aux Éditions de la Différence. Ces romans sont des récits en miroir, sur la vie d’une jeune Américaine à Paris et ses rencontres avec les mondes multiples de la capitale : hommes, exilé.es, religions, modes de pensée et d’être. Remedy a été traduit en italien sous le titre de Per Tutti I Santi, chez Feltrinelli Editore, Milan. Son troisième roman, The Baby of Belleville (Portobello Books, June 2010), est un conte picaresque sur la vie familiale et la mafia situé dans le quartier de Belleville à Paris, qui vient clore cette trilogie parisienne.

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