OPINION Suzy Ceulan Hughes

NWR Issue 119

Mastering Marguerite

In February 2018, Parthian Books was granted an award by the Institut français to fund and promote my translation of La Blanche, the debut novella of young French-Moroccan author, Maï-Do Hamisultane. It is a deceptively slight book, intense and tightly written, that leaves the reader with lingering questions and haunting images. The story is fictionalised autobiography, centring on the unexplained murder of Hamisultane’s grandfather when she was a child. Other storylines include a young woman jilted on her wedding day and reduced to madness, and an obsessive love affair leading to a regretted abortion. The threads of shattered lives are woven together to create an intricate pattern of subtle shades.

The title was the first thing Parthian editor Alison Evans and I talked about. The primary meaning of ‘la blanche’, as a noun, is ‘the white woman’. It is an epithet that might just be applied to the narrator and her mother, more so to her grandmother, marking them as different, as outsiders in Moroccan society. But the title is also loaded with broader meaning. The colour white pervades the novella both literally and metaphorically: the white city of Casablanca, a white art deco villa with its white marble staircase down which a man falls to his death, the white limestone island of Sidi Abderrahmane, the white clothing worn for mourning and marriage, white shrouds, the white sheets that must cover mirrors for forty days after a death, and white, of course, for purity and innocence. There seemed to be no English equivalent that held the resonance and breadth of reference of the French, so keeping La Blanche as the title felt right: it would be familiar to many English readers, while retaining a sense of otherness, which is one of the novella’s themes...

Suzy Ceulan Hughes is a writer and translator. She was awarded joint third prize in the John Dryden Translation Competition 2015, and her translations of short fiction have appeared in previous issues of New Welsh Review/Reader. Her translation of La Blanche is due out with Parthian next year.

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