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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Babylon
Book cover for Babylon

Translated by Linda Asher

Winner of the Prix Renaudot

Shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt

Elisabeth is a woman whose curiosity and passion far exceed the borders of her quiet middle-class life. She befriends a neighbor, organizes a small dinner party, and then, quite suddenly, finds herself embarked with him on an adventure that is one part vaudeville and one part high tragedy. Reza's quiet novel of manners turns into a police procedural thriller. Elisabeth's motivations for risking everything she has are never transparent. In a world where matters of life and death are nearly always transported to a clinical setting, whether it be a hospital or a courtroom, here each character must confront them unassisted. Truly original and absorbing, Babylon is a masterful novel from one of the world’s most inventive and daring artists, playwright/novelist Yasmina Reza.

Book cover for Babylon
Book cover for Babylon

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“[I]n Reza’s work, characters have always been inclined to go too far, to act out the impulses most of us keep in check ... Reza is the bard of bourgeois, neoliberal angst.”

“The lightness of touch bordering on comedy that [Yasmina Reza] brings to an otherwise dark tale is a reminder of her strengths as a dramatic writer, and it all adds up to a strange and memorable short book.”

Babylon, translated from the French by Linda Asher, gives away its story early and belongs to that very popular category of books that use techniques of the thriller and mystery genre in what is essentially a character study. A whydunit, rather than a whodunit, so to speak. In this, it is reminiscent in some ways of Leïla Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny ... Reza attempts to elevate what her characters experience in their limited domestic sphere to a universal tale about how certain fears unite and drive us toward inexplicable acts. It is this push for universality that makes the novel hypnotic, often poetic.”

“It is Ms. Reza’s dissection of Elizabeth’s malaise that is the real detective work here, and she renders it in a taut, unsparing prose style that is both exacting and unsettling ... There’s no doubting Ms. Reza’s powers as a novelist. At her best, she can remind one of no less than Albert Camus and Joan Didion (those bards of 20th-century despair). Writers may endure more than a twinge of envy at how effortlessly the author flits from successful playwriting to prose. It just ain’t fair. But then—as the protagonist of this darkly compelling novel would have commented—what is?”

“French novelist and playwright Yasmina Reza has a knack for taking a small moment and using it to blow her characters' worlds to smithereens ... Reza deftly creates a woman who can recount her past, but barely explain it, who surmises that she is unhappy but cannot say how and where she went wrong ... Reza doesn't craft a clear-cut narrative of the how and the why of the characters' actions, but instead reveals the swirling mess of memory and fear that drives them forward.”

“Ms. Reza’s unique blend of farce and tragedy reaches new heights ... Babylon is a memorable and disturbing novel and comes as close to perfection as her play, Art, does.”

blog — June 29

Words expanded me: An excerpt from "Anne-Marie the Beauty" by Yasmina Reza, tr. Alison L. Strayer


An exclusive excerpt from Anne-Marie the Beauty by Yasmina Reza (tr. Alison L. Strayer)  


Gigi received her lovers slathered in beauty masks and while shaving her legs. She made her own masks from vegetables, aubergines, carrots

She had no intellectual life whatsoever

If you ask me, she never read a whole play, not even the ones she acted in

For Bérénice, she only read her own scenes

The playbill was posted at the entrance to the theater. My name was at the bottom. I passed it sixty times a day. I walked up and down rue du Calvaire to test the effect of the name Anne-Marie Mille on people passing by. It was in small letters at the bottom, next to last, but you could see it clearly because of the double space just below. The name caught your eye. Especially on the downhill walk

Anne-Marie Mille had the ring of stardom

Who’s playing in Three Sisters? . . . Anne-Marie Mille. Anne-Marie Mille!

Who’s playing Angélique? . . . Anne-Marie Mille. Anne- Marie Mille, magnifique!

My life was a near miss, madame. In some of the photos from Saint-Sourd, I have the hands of a girl in a coma. Arms dangling, wrists curled, fingers pointing upward. I saw on TV that when a person in a coma curls his wrists, he’s a goner

We gave poetry recitations at the youth club hall of the church, and people said, Anne-Marie’s diction is excellent, Anne-Marie has perfect enunciation

I did enunciate well

I enunciated well because I loved to say the words, mademoiselle

Words expanded me

On weekends and holidays, they made me wear white gloves like American women

I did not know how to hold myself in the bulky oldlady dress and the hairstyle they’d given me

Parted down the middle

The natural wave flattened on top, with kisscurls at the sides. I already had breasts

She cut my hair all the time, all the time

My mother was a laundress at the Hôtel du Quai. She’d started as a worker in the lace mills. In the blank where you wrote your parents’ occupations, I had to write pattern maker

She killed herself two or three times a year 

At thirteen, I made myself hairpieces from synthetic yarn to have the feel of bouncy locks on my cheeks

They were supposed to make me look pretty, mademoiselle

My mother said, we need to see her face, but my face was not right 

They worked on straightening and styling the hair, but my face never followed

The stiff white dress with puffy shoulders

Diamond-patterned tights

I felt hideous, hideous

I can spot an unhappy girl in her Sunday best from ten miles away

When an actor from Saint-Sourd passed, we stopped to look. Afterward the street seemed empty

They were tall and pale. They walked above the ground with graceful strides

We couldn’t hold a candle to them

The new generations will never witness this procession. Never, monsieur

It snowed last night. Real snow. The bus shelter is completely covered

My son told me, a woman your age took a migrant into her home and he knifed her

Right . . .

My son bought me a blood pressure monitor

I made the mistake of telling him the new doctor thinks my blood pressure’s high

Who wants that kind of thing around? I chucked it in the cupboard with the cane

He’s a worrier. A worrier like his father

Advice, advice, advice

He has a new tic. He clears his throat on the phone. He clears it every two sentences. I say, if you’re phoning just to clear your throat, don’t bother

When he comes to the house, I bring out the blood pressure cuff. I leave it lying around as if I used it. The sight of those medical gewgaws makes my skin crawl. They spell the end

He’s barely in the door when he says, it’s an oven in here! I say, I like it this way. —It’s eighty degrees! I can’t stay in this kind of heat. —Well, go, then! It’s my home and I’m fine. I have to grab him before he fiddles with the dials on the boiler. Why must you take control of everything against my will? —Someone has to keep an eye on you. You exhibit disturbing behavior. Wanting to be warm is a disturbing behavior?

That’s how it is with us, the world shrunk down to the strictest run-of-the-mill

If I ask about his life, he gets all worked up. We only talk about my woes, never anything of interest. He goes to the kitchen and lines up my boxes of prescriptions in a row so I don’t mix them up

I say, what’s the point? Your grandmother—my mother—had a plastic bag full of pills she nibbled at like Haribos. She just dug in, not knowing what she was taking

And look how she ended up

Dead, same as everyone else. Who has it any better in the end?

I almost forgot an important detail, madame: I started with cut-out pictures of Brigitte Bardot

My mother brought home old magazines from the hotel. She flipped through them at night, sipping a Gypsy Rose. She powdered herself like a corpse and went full tilt on the rouge. I never knew if it was due to bad lighting over the sink, or because she was a nutter

In the magazines, I always looked for photos of Brigitte Bardot. I clipped them out and pasted them in an album that I showed to invisible visitors

I narrated episodes from my life, turning the pages with modesty because of course this beauty was me. Anne-Marie the Beauty

I posed with thigh-high boots like Nancy Sinatra, and pulled funny faces on a boat in Norway

Sometimes I told my visitors, yes you’re right, I do look pensive sitting on that bench. It was a dark time of my life

But I didn’t talk about my beauty or my hair

Or I just said, yes, a French twist is the height of chic! I like to do my hair that way once in a while

Giselle never had hair like Brigitte Bardot’s. No!

I spoke loudly in a voice that was not mine. I was always afraid someone would hear or see me. Our room was a hallway. You could enter through two diagonal doors. We had a trundle bed. My sister slept on the lower shelf, which was never properly raised off the floor. For her entire childhood, she slept low to the ground. In the daytime, her bed disappeared. It ticked me off when she sat on mine. Sometimes I gave her a push. People would yell at me. They said, where do you expect the poor thing to sit? Poor thing! Always the poor thing

Anne-Marie the beauty did not have a bedroom with daisy-patterned walls. Anne-Marie the beauty was beautiful, her hair wasn’t parted down the middle, or set in an ugly perm, or flat as a pancake at the top of her head and puffed-out around the ears

She was an unknown, you know



Another thought-provoking master class in how we perform life by the award-winning novelist and playwright Yasmina Reza.

“Aging but indomitable actress Anne-Marie shares her reminiscences as she recuperates from knee surgery in her Paris apartment. She may be telling her story to someone, but exactly who remains a mystery. Perhaps she's speaking to a journalist writing a feature about her recently deceased long-time friend, French actress Giselle Fayolle. Anne-Marie recalls the pivotal events and people in her life, including the phantasmal and formative vision of watching actors as they seemed to walk above the street in her small town in northern France and about creating a photo album for an alter ego named Anne-Marie The Beauty. At 19, Anne-Marie goes to Paris, wins an audition, and is mesmerized by beautiful Giselle, who, at 21, is already destined to become astar, overshadowing Anne-Marie. Celebrated novelist and playwright Reza is interested in more than surface beauty in this tale of friendship, aging, and what gives life meaning. Anne-Marie, who still remembers the names of those hometown players from her youth, endures, sharing her view of life as a great arc in this brief yet richly symbolic, humorous, and poignant tale.

—Mary Ellen Prindiville, Booklist

"Yasmina Reza, a French novelist and playwright, has centered much of her work on the buttoned-up crises of the middle class. Her most recent book, Anne-Marie the Beauty (in Alison L. Strayer’s translation), dips into the fickle glamour of life onstage. Anne-Marie is an aging, lonely actress who worries she might be losing her marbles. In a richly layered monologue, she looks back on her life, starting with her childhood dreams of the theater, which never resulted in more than middling fame — and the contrasting success of her luxuriant friend Giselle, who did reach the stars, despite, or perhaps thanks to, her fabulous languor. Reza, herself an erstwhile actor, has said that she realized early on that acting “was a life of waiting and dependence” that offered little control over one’s destiny, and Anne-Marie’s life is a testament to this peripatetic existence. “What’s a person looking for, going from bar to bar like that?,” Anne-Marie asks as she recalls her youth. This novel reminds us that dreams are sometimes more precious than the real thing."

—Kira Josefsson, Vulture

Yasmina Reza

Playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza's work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. Her play Art was the first non-English language play to win a Tony Award, Conversations After a Burial, The Unexpected Man, and Life X 3 have all been award-winning critical and commercial successes internationally, and God of Carnage, which also won a Tony Award, was adapted for film by Roman Polanski. A new play, Bella Figura, premiered in Germany in May 2015. Her fiction includes Hammerklavier, Desolation, and Adam Haberberg. Reza lives in Paris.