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Foreign Words Paperback – April 1, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Autumn Hill Books; Tra edition (April 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0975444417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0975444412
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Vassilis Alexakis is the author of Avant, La Langue Maternelle, and Papa, all in French, and Talgo, which he wrote in Greek and later translated into French. He has also produced four films and a collection of drawings. Alyson Waters has translated Louis Aragon's Treatise on Style, Tzvetan Todorov's The Morals of History, and Réda Bensmaïa's Experimental Nations, or The Invention of the Maghreb. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Firefly Rebirth on March 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
As a student of language myself, I could really empathize with Vassilis Alexakis' narrator Nicolaides in Foreign Words. Nicolaides, a Greek novelist living in France, already has himself split between two languages when he decides, partly out of the grief over losing his father, to add a third. He settles on Sango, spoken in the Central African Republic. My favorite aspect of this novel was how Alexakis has Nicolaides develop a `relationship' with Sango, almost as if it were a woman, the heroine of the novel--Sango even plays the damsel in distress, as it is being crowded out by French in the CAR. There seem like there may be to be political messages in the book (colonization, poverty, et cetera), but really, Alexakis doesn't beat the reader over the head; he merely introduces the ideas as part of the landscape of the novel. Foreign Words is really the story of dealing with a loss, and of finding your same old self in a new language, a new place.

The writing--and the translation--are very well done, little details put here and there to add shape and texture to the world of the novel and its characters. I also especially enjoyed the things that didn't actually happen in the novel--bits of conversations he only imagined, backstories he projects onto otherwise background characters. Nicolaides worries about being older (fifty-two), but in some ways he is like a big kid.

Alexakis is the author of many novels, but this is his first available in English, thanks to publisher Autumn Hill Books and translator Alyson Waters.

P.S. Make sure to take notes on the Sango Nicolaides teaches you throughout the novel--you're going to need it :)
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Format: Paperback
Foreign Words deftly authored by Vassilis Alexakis and knowledgeably translated by Alyson Waters is an engaging novel depicting the aging narrator's decision to recount his familial history in a Central African Republic. Vividly carrying the reader through his life in Paris and his father's death in Greece, Foreign Words takes place in Alexakis' disposition and purity in finding soul and self in the midst of his studies of the Sango language and the profoundly expansive world of living and opportunity provided as he delves deeper into the language. Foreign Words is to be given high praise and strong recommended for its articulate detailing and gifted storytelling that holds the readers rapt attention from beginning to end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By E. L. Fay on April 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Vassilis Alexakis was born and raised in Greece but exiled to France by the 1967 coup d'etat. His first novel, "Le sandwhich," was written in French and the second, "Talgo," was written in Greek and translated by Alexakis himself into French. Not surprisingly, the interplay between language, life, and loss is the dominant theme of "Le mots étrangers" ("Foreign Words," translated from French by Alyson Waters), originally published in 2002. Nicolaides, the narrator, is also a Greek novelist living in France. Following the recent death of his father, he has decided to learn Sango, the main tongue of the Central African Republic (a former French colony). The resulting story is not plot-driven per se: it is a novel of ideas and introspection, in which events unfold organically, much as they do in real life. The depth of Sango proficiency exhibited in the narrative, as well as Nicolaides's strong biographical similarities to Alexakis, indicates a work that may be as much a memoir as it is fictionalized.

The first word of Sango Nicolaides learns is, appropriately, baba, which means "father." Now "orphaned" at age fifty-three, Nicolaides finds himself leading an ordinary, and somewhat stagnant, life in Paris. His last novel received lukewarm reception and his publishing contract demands he soon release another. He carries on a sporadic affair with a midwife named Alice and watches a friend fight cancer. Why he wants to learn a third language, particularly an obscure one, is something Nicolaides can't quite articulate at first, although he recalls that, "Whenever you begin to study a new language, you inevitably seem a bit foolish, you become a child again. . . The French language has become less amusing since it has become the tool with which I earn my so-called living.
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