Translated by Tess Lewis
5 x 8 inches, 264pp. Sptember 2014
ISBN : 9780857421661
Rs 525.00 (HB)
Shortlisted for the French-American Foundation Translation Prize, 2015
Abandoned by his wife and young daughter, without work or prospects and blind in one eye, the narrator of Privy Portrait moves into a minuscule apartment with his only inheritance—a 25-volume encyclopedia, which becomes a cause of war between him and his vulgar, narrow-minded, racist and authoritarian neighbours, the Shritzkys. Because he has no space for the encyclopedia in his room, he stores it in the communal toilet. It is also the only place he can find refuge from his neighbours’ blaring television and barricades himself in it to read his encyclopedia, much to the distress of all the residents of the building.
Amusing as it is devastating, Privy Portrait is the monologue of a man, disoriented by a gaping void—his father never spoke to him of his origins—suffering probably from cancer, recounting the final foundering of his own sanity and his life. In this buffoonish, even grotesque, yet profoundly pitiful man and through his voice—a blend of disappointed idealism, dark humour and vulnerability—Jean-Luc Benoziglio explores weighty themes with slyness and a light touch without ever sacrificing their gravity: the roles of family, history and memory in one’s interior life, one’s moral responsibility towards others, the Holocaust observed from a position of safety and, above all, the fragility of personal identity.
Jean-Luc Benoziglio was born in Monthey, Switzerland in 1941. He studied law and political at the University of Lausanne. Since 1967, he has lived in Paris where he worked as an editor in several publishing houses. He has written 14 novels and won several prestigious literary awards including the Prix Médecis for Cabinet portrait.
Tess Lewis has translated seven books and numerous essays and articles from French and German. Her translations include works by Peter Handke, Alois Hotschnig, Julya Rabinowich, Lukas Bï¿½rfuss, Philippe Jaccottet, Pascal Bruckner and Jean-Luc Benoziglio among others. She has been awarded a PEN Translation Fund grant and an NEA Translation Fellowship. She also serves as an Advisory Editor for The Hudson Review and writes essays on European Literature for various literary journals and newspapers.