Astragal

Overview

As alive as a Godard movie, this lost classic of ’60s French literature is back

As if the reader were riding shotgun, this intensely vivid novel captures a life on the lam. “L’astragale” is the French word for the ankle bone Albertine Sarrazin’s heroine Anne breaks as she leaps from her jail cell to freedom. As she drags herself down the road, away from the prison walls, she is rescued by Julien, himself a small-time criminal, who keeps her hidden. They fall in love. Fear of ...

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Astragal

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Overview

As alive as a Godard movie, this lost classic of ’60s French literature is back

As if the reader were riding shotgun, this intensely vivid novel captures a life on the lam. “L’astragale” is the French word for the ankle bone Albertine Sarrazin’s heroine Anne breaks as she leaps from her jail cell to freedom. As she drags herself down the road, away from the prison walls, she is rescued by Julien, himself a small-time criminal, who keeps her hidden. They fall in love. Fear of capture, memories of her prison cell, claustrophobia in her hideaways: every detail is fiercely felt.

Astragal burst onto the French literary scene in 1965; its fiery and vivacious style was entirely new, and Sarrazin became a celebrity overnight. But as fate would have it, Sarrazin herself kept running into trouble with the law, even as she became a star.

She died from a botched surgery at the height of her fame. Sarrazin’s life and work (her novels are semi-autobiographical) have been the subject of intense fascination in France; a new adaptation of Astragal is currently being filmed. Patti
Smith, who brought Astragal to the attention of New Directions,
contributes an enthusiastic introduction to one of her favorite writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her 1965 semi-autobiographical debut composed while in prison for a botched hold-up, Sarrazin conjures Anne, a young French girl of the streets, helpless but full of lust and dreams. Patti Smith, in her introduction, calls this book the "bone that fused fact and fiction," and this piece of bone assumes center stage when Anne jumps from a prison wall and shatters her ankle: "I've flown away, my dears! I flew and soared...for one second, which was long and good, a century." Thus begins her flight from incarceration to immobility. She is rescued by Julien, an ex con who makes love to her and moves her from his Mother's home to a roadhouse and finally to Paris. The ankle does not heal, nor does Anne's need for Julien. Readers will relish Anne's lack of symmetry; her smoking, drinking, whoring, and thieving through the Parisian streets of the 1950's. She contemplates her failures with a cat-like need to pick herself up and pretend nothing hurts, while limping through her days looking over her shoulder in fear of being caught. This is the poetry of a beautiful, misplaced mind; echoing freedom, recklessness, and daring. Sarrazin blends the sadness and joy of youth, exuding vibrant passion. (May)
Bookforum
“The prose is hard-boiled, funny, sometimes gross, oscillating between indolence and intensity, riddled with ellipses and exclamation points. It is wayward, hard to pin down; it can’t be forced to behave. There are associative leaps, synesthetic flights, and characters introduced without preamble or identification. Sarrazin brooked no exposition, no laborious knitting of circumstance to circumstance. One might call her style stream-of-consciousness, but that modernist term fails to account for the impression of Pop hyperreality that communicates itself through her steady drumbeat of allusions.”
Bookslut
“Smith's essay and Sarrazin's crackling and incandescent prose make Astragal a gift, a memento of a decade that was both rough and radical, yet full of potential, and the testament of two astonishing lives, one real, one fictive, both self-invented and utterly extraordinary.”
Sara Freeman - The Brooklyn Rail
“With Astragal’s English reissue and Patti Smith’s new introduction, there is the hope, perhaps slight, that Sarrazin will find a new audience and, with it, a new kind of freedom.”
Pop Matters
“Sarrazin’s career may have been tragically curtailed, but her legacy is a novel that grateful readers are discovering now, almost 50 years after her death.”
Full Stop
“The story — drawn from Sarrazin’s own life — of Anne’s escape from prison, subsequent incapacitating ankle break (the book is named for the bone she snaps), and arduous recovery, is so alive with Anne’s voice that reading it, one wants simply to remain in her presence, to sit by her bedside as she squirms, frustrated, towards recovery. Anne makes good company.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811220736
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 4/26/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 186
  • Sales rank: 499,345
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Albertine Sarrazin (1937–1967) was a French-Algerian writer. At an early age she abandoned her studies and turned to a life of crime and prostitution. She wrote her first two novels in prison and died at twenty-nine.

Patsy Southgate (1928–1998) was an integral figure of both the 1950s Parisian literary scene and the New York School.

Patti Smith is a poet, performer, visual artist, and author of the National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids. She has twelve albums, has had numerous gallery shows, and continues to give concerts of her music and poetry. Her books include Early Work, The Coral Sea, Witt, Babel, Auguries of Innocence,
Woolgathering, Land 250, Trois, and many others. She lives in New York.

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