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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Translated by Ros Schwartz

One afternoon in a Paris train station, as 35-year-old literature professor Aline Berger struggles to re-read Virginia Woolf's Orlando, a novel she has never enjoyed, an odd feeling comes over her when a handsome but strange young man asks her for aspirin. Haunted by the harsh words of her domineering mother, who demanded that she suppress her tomboyish tendencies during her childhood, Aline has become a demure, passive, conventional woman. But she soon finds that the body before her, which belongs to that of Lucien Lèfrene, a lithe 20-year-old rock journalist, is inhabited by her once-silenced spirit, and possesses her knowledge, memories, and desires, including her love of men.

When the two meet again in Belgium, Aline subconsciously sheds her prim tendencies for more assertive behavior, as she begins to understand that the audacious and lively Orlanda was born from her psyche. The more time the two spend together, the less time they can stand to be apart.

Winner of the Prix Médicis, this lyrical novel, which recalls the erudition and imagination of Michael Cunningham's The Hours and Patricia Duncker's Hallucinating Foucault, is a stunning evocation of a woman who is forced to confront every part of her soul, and embrace herself whole.

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“A twisting, teasing exploration of sexuality, inner motives and desires … Harpman cleverly manipulates an elusive narrative 'I' and shifting perspectives in cool, insouciant, yet seductive style, to attack the well-worn existentialist query, 'Who am I?'”

“Harpman artfully shapes this lighthearted gender confusion into a witty comment on the incompatibility—and interdependency—of the sexes.”

“Imagination. Jacqueline Harpman certainly doesn't lack any. . . . With incredible mastery, she juggles with identities, intertwines desires and fears, fantasies and frustrations.”

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Jacqueline Harpman (1929–2012) was born in Etterbeek, Belgium. Her family moved to Casablanca to avoid persecution when the Nazis invaded, and returned home after the war. After studying French literature Harpman began training to be a doctor, but became unable to complete her medical studies after contracting tuberculosis. She turned to writing in 1954, and her first book was published in 1958. In 1980 Harpman qualified as a psychoanalyst and continued to practice throughout her life. She had given up writing after her fourth book was published in 1966, and resumed her career as a novelist only some twenty years later. Harpman wrote over 15 novels and won numerous literary prizes, including the Prix Médicis for Orlanda.