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    new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

    National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez at BU reading; new translation of lauded French novel

    Students for a Democratic Society rallied in support of striking US postal workers in Boston on March 24, 1970.
    globe staff file photo
    Students for a Democratic Society rallied in support of striking US postal workers in Boston on March 24, 1970.

    BU event to feature Nunez

    National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez, who’s spending this year as writer in residence at Boston University, tries to impress upon her students “to think of writing as a vocation rather than a career.” That means avoid viewing the work as a way “to enhance their lifestyle, or raise their self-esteem, or make them some version of their ‘best selves’ . . . writing does not owe the writer any of that,” she says over e-mail.

    As part of the annual BU Faculty Reading, which takes place Monday Nunez will be reading alongside Ha Jin, Robert Pinsky, Leslie Epstein, Nicole Sealey, and Neshat Khan. Nunez’s award-winning novel, The Friend (Riverhead), deals with writers and suicide and a great dane — in fact, animals figure in several of her books. She says she is “moved by the muteness of animals . . . Sitting near some person and listening to them prattling endlessly on their cellphone while their dog lies patiently at their feet — well, let’s just say the comparison is striking. And guess which one looks like the more civilized being to me.” The free event takes place at 7 p.m. at the BU Hillel House, 213 Bay State Road, in Boston.

    Translating ‘Le Garcon’

    French author Marcus Malte’s 2016 Prix Femina-winning novel, “Le Garçon’’ (Zulma), has just been translated into English by Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge, who run the Riffraff bookstore and bar in Providence. Titled “The Boy,’’ the propulsive, bewitching tale unfolds over three decades starting in 1908 and follows a no-named near-feral youngster who sets out alone, leaving the wild woods and moving ever closer to human civilization. The translators have created a sensory-rich rendition of Malte’s work, a saga of love, war, circus performers, ogres, forests, jungles, the sea. The rhythms of the sentences in particular lilt one into the world that Malte has created: “The leather is embedded in his skin, leaving a groove, violet like a fresh scar. Time will erase it.”

    Capturing a moment of social foment


    The essay collection You Say You Want a Revolution: SDS, PL, and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance (John F. Levin), edited by Earl Silbar and John F. Levin, gathers together stories of idealists and activists from the 1960s and 1970s, most of whom were involved in the Worker-Student Alliance, a group that splintered off the Students for a Democratic Society. The pieces recall a moment of social foment in this country, what went right and what went wrong, offering lessons on how to improve efforts to battle war, racism, oppression, and exploitation, and how best to lead “lives of principled engagement with the wider world,” as contributor Mary Summers has it in her essay. On Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, some contributors will read and discuss the work including editor Silbar, Emily Berg, Ellen Israel, Frank Kashner, John Pennington, and Summers.

    Coming out

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    Naamahby Sarah Blake (Riverhead)

    Tonguebreakerby Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Arsenal Pulp)

    Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emersonby Jeffrey S. Cramer (Counterpoint)

    Pick of the week

    Lauren Artiles at Harvard Book Store recommends Ghost Wallby Sarah Moss (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): “For a novel set sometime in the ’90s about characters play-acting at Iron Age life, the concerns fleshed out in its slim pages — the ugly allure of nationalism, the chafing of class stratification, what kinds of knowledge and learning are privileged over others, the precarious position of having a female body — are as pressing as ever.’’

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    Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at