Exclusive interview with author Nina George about her latest novel, featuring a woman in crisis who leaves Paris for Brittany
By Gabrielle Pantera
“I was sitting near a bar tabac, a mélange of a coffeehouse, bar, and tabac-shop,” says The Little French Bistro author Nina George. “Often these places are the heart and centre of a village’s market. I was watching some older ladies and gents, coming together out of the bar, a little tipsy. Their friendship was obvious, and I was shot in the heart by how they were interacting with each other. The story came up like a slap in the face: What if a German woman in the autumn of her life would meet this group of Bretons?”
In this charming new work, Marianne leaves Paris and moves to Brittany. After over forty years of marriage, she needs something more. In Brittany, the locals teach her to take pleasure in life’s small moments. It frees her to figure out what she really wants in the time she has left.
“I developed the story of 60-year-old Marianne, who is going on a road trip through France and Brittany, to at least find, at the end of the world, her beginning of the world,” says George. “To start in Paris is logic for me, the illusion of Paris: city of romance, free living, culture and so on, has to be broken up by the truth.”
“In literature Paris is often used to set up a very romantic background,” says George. “But I had been living there for a short while, and this city is great on one hand, but also depressing, poor, a city where inhabitants fight, with a lot of traffic, with tiny, expensive rooms to live in, with the fear of terror. To have a look under the sweet frosty-topping made it interesting for me. In The Little Paris Bookshop as well as in The Little French Bistro, Paris is just the beginning of the stories. They are a kind of road movies and inner quests, too.”
For her research, George repeatedly traveled through the historic Brittany. “In these periods of research I had been strolling the country, reading Breton legends and myths, learning to cook the Breton way, and again and again I would sit and watch, talk to people, try to figure out the special mentality, the food, the religions, the secrets of the region. The westernmost of Brittany’s four departments still bears the name Finistère, (the end of the world) although some Bretons prefer to call it ‘The beginning of the world.’ Indeed, according to Celtic legends, this is where the first land rose up from the water and spread around the globe from Brittany to the rest of the world. Regions and landscapes leave marks on the souls of their inhabitants.”
George became a journalist and novelist in 1992 at age 18. She has 27 or more published books, fiction and non-fiction, under five pen names. She received a DELIA award in Germany in 2011 for The Little French Bistro. She won the Glauser Prize for best mystery short story in Germany in 2012. This year she was elected Woman of The Year by the Association BücherFrauen (Women in Publishing).
George combines a daily routine of writing and political activities. She is author rights adviser for the German Writers Association VS and the German PEN-Centre.
“In every country and book market, are some similar and some totally different rules,” says George. “The most challenging part is always the cover and the title. I don’t believe that you can make a novel for a specific group of readers, who are divided up by age, gender or a sort of emotion. I believe that everyone is a potential reader for any book.”
George’s next novel in English is The Book Of Dreams, to be released in 2019.
As a result of writing about the region, George decided to move to a tiny seaside cabin near the hamlet of Kerdruc, where her book is set. She also has an apartment in Berlin and travels extensively. She was born in Bielefeld, Germany.
The Little French Bistro: A Novel by Nina George. Hardcover: 320 pages. Publisher: Crown. June 13, 2017. Language: English. ISBN: 9780451495587 $26.00