Monday, October 5, 2009

Parables on Happiness

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has been called one of Europe’s most popular writers. “The Most Beautiful Book in the World” is his first book to be translated from French to English. The translation was done by Allison Anderson. "The Most Beautiful Book in the World" is a collection of eight Novellas. The stories are written in a thoroughly engaging, whimsical style and all have a moral or a truth to be told.

The main character of each of these stories is a woman who inadvertently finds happiness or redemption. “Wanda Winnepeg” tells the story of a very rich woman who has attained her wealth by adhering to two principles: marry well and divorce well. Wanda strangely finds redemption by secretly returning a favor to her first benefactor. In “A Fine Rainy Day”, Helene could never remember having ever experienced a perfect moment. Her sour disposition is countered by the ultimate optimist, Antoine, who falls madly in love with Helene. And ultimately and strangely Helene finds she has become Antoine. In “Odette Toulemonde” a struggling widow worships a famous writer. But she is the one who teaches him how to live and find happiness.

The last story has same title as the book itself, “The Most Beautiful Book in the World”. A group of women prisoners in Stalin’s Gulag want to make a book to leave for their daughters. The gift they create is an eloquent book that is made with simplicity and love using something they each have in common to offer to their daughters.

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a wonderful storyteller. Each of his characters is unique and engagingly quirky. He tells a story in a whimsical, humorous way yet all of the stories have a philosophical twist that is brilliant in its simplicity. Reading this book was a treat and I hope this popular French author will choose to translate more of his writing for us to enjoy.

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