One that I have recently read is called The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain, which I picked up not because it was originally written in French, but because it sounded fun and had actually been selling fairly well in the store. Lucky for me, it turned out to a delightful little novel. It's set in France in the 1980s when Francois Mitterand was the president of France, and it is basically the story of what happens when you believe than an object can empower you to take control of your own life.
It opens with an accountant named Daniel, who decides to treat himself to a solo dinner at a fancy brasserie one night when his family is out of town. Not long after he's ordered, President Francois Mitterand sits down with a small party at the table next to him. The President accidentally leaves his hat behind on the banquette between himself and Daniel, so Daniel surreptitiously picks it up and leaves with it, thinking of it as an accidental souvenir of the night he sat next to the President. But lo and behold, after he starts wearing the hat, Daniel begins acting a bit differently at home and at work. He takes charge during a business meeting, he gets a promotion, he acts more confidently and with authority--that sort of thing. He's just beginning to attribute his new success to the President's hat when he accidentally leaves it behind on the train...
...Enter a young woman named Fanny, who notices an abandoned hat on the luggage rack of her train. It's clearly going to be next to impossible to find the owner, so she dons that hat herself, little knowing what is in store for her. Now she is feeling empowered and emboldened in new ways. Fanny finds a way to break off an unproductive affair with her married love, and then the short story she submits to a national contest wins the grand prize. Now she in turn leaves the hat on a park bench, where it gets picked up by Pierre, a once-mighty perfumeur who has fallen on hard times...
...You can guess what happens when the perfumeur puts on the President's hat, n'est-ce pas?
We see various people whose lives are changed by this presidential hat, and the big question is, does the power lie within the hat, or does it simply awaken the power in each individual who wears it? I ended up thinking of Mitterand's hat as a cross between a benevolent version of Tolkien's One Ring and Mary Poppins, transferring its attachment from one owner to the next, always going where it happens to be needed.
For a small novel (it barely reaches 200 pages), it really covers a lot of territory both large (love, life, work, politics) and small (random chances can change your life, and so can accessorizing). Though I read it in two short sittings, the quiet contentment that pervades these pages stayed with me for days--a kind of magic all its own. I recommend it to just about any reader, but especially if you're looking for a book that is life-affirming without being hokey, or gentle without being dull. The President's Hat got lot of raves in France and it won both the Prix Landerneau Decouvertes and the Prix Relay des Voyageurs in 2012. Sadly, the translation is not attributed to any one person but to Gallic Books in general.
What about y'all? Do you seek out works in translation to read? Have you read anything marvelous lately that was not in its original language?
NB: I read an uncorrected proof version of this book that I found in the ARC pile at my bookstore. It is published in the US by Gallic Books, which is distributed by Consortium.