Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

The Little Communist Who Never Smiled

by Lola Lafon


Winner of France's Prix de la Closerie des Lilas

Translated by Nick Caistor

An award-winning novel powerfully re-imagines a childhood in the spotlight of history, politics, and destiny. Montreal 1976. A fourteen-year-old girl steps out onto the floor of the Montreal Forum and into history. Twenty seconds on uneven bars is all it takes for Nadia Comaneci, the slight, unsmiling child from Communist Romania, to etch herself into the collective memory. The electronic scoreboard, astonishing spectators with what has happened, shows 1.0. The judges have awarded an unprecedented perfect ten, the first in Olympic gymnastics, though the scoreboard is unable to register anything higher than 9.9. In 
The Little Communist Who Never Smiled, Lola Lafon tells the story of Comaneci's journey from growing up in rural Romania to her eventual defection to the United States in 1989. Adored by young girls in the west and appropriated as a political emblem by the Ceausescu regime, Comaneci's life was scrutinized wherever she went. Lafon's fictionalized account shows how a single athletic event mesmerizes the world and reverberates across nations.


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“In The Little Communist Who Never Smiled, French writer Lola Lafon considers a less common perspective – the female body as an ideological battleground. The result is enthralling – a thought-provoking, surprisingly touching story about a little girl who shook up the world.”

“[A] brilliant blend of fact, invention, and creative historiography. . . . This is a fiercely feminist novel. It’s compulsively readable, too, with descriptions of feats of physical daring to stop your heart.”

“[A]n impossibly insightful imagining of the events and the political and emotional aftermath of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s incredible performance at the 1976 Olympics.”

blog — November 18

Guess What's on Zadie Smith's Night Stand

Well, as one might guess, a lot of books.

But somewhere nestled among big names like Colson Whitehead, Michael Chabon, Teju Cole, and Proust, there's the little book that could . . .Lola Lafon's The Little Communist Who Never Smiled.

Winner of France's Prix de la Closerie des Lilas, Lafon's The Little Communist Who Never Smiled tells the complicated story of gymnast-wunderkind Nadia Comaneci, who stunned the world at the 1976 Olympic Games when she scored a perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars at the age of fourteen.

But it's also deeply, brilliantly ambivalent book about a clash of cultures between the United States and Communist Romania, where Comaneci grew up, as well as a thoughtful examination of gender and celebrity.

We hope that Zadie Smith find time in her busy schedule to give it a read! Check out her interview in the New York Times here.

Lola Lafon is a bestselling Paris-based novelist and musician. The author of three previous novels, Lafon was born in France and grew up in Sofia and Bucharest. The original French edition of The Little Communist Who Never Smiled won ten prizes. She lives in Paris.