From Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to the moveable feasts of the Lost Generation, France and the United States have long shared a special relationship, defined as much by romantic fascination as occasional incomprehension. François Busnel, host of the acclaimed literary talk show La Grande Librairie, seeks to bridge this gap with America, a journal of literature and politics conceived in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, now available to English readers for the first time.
In this insightful collection of pieces from the magazine, Alain Mabanckou sketches the outlines of his Los Angeles, where he finds a sense of belonging far from his home country of the Republic of the Congo. Leïla Slimani considers the ways #MeToo is shaping a new discourse around consent on college campuses, and Philippe Besson takes an old-fashioned road trip through the American heartland as he drives from Chicago to New Orleans. Joël Dicker traipses through Yellowstone National Park on the lookout for grizzlies, while Alice Zeniter wanders the scorching streets of Las Vegas on foot. Featuring a poignant interview with National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich and original work in English by luminaries including Richard Powers, Colum McCann, and Laura Kasischke, America suggests a new way of understanding the enduring relationship between France and the United States, one that has never been read in quite this way before.
From the streets of Manhattan to the Wyoming wilderness, across rural Pennsylvania’s Amish country to the bright lights of Hollywood, America takes us on a criss-crossing road trip across the country as it archives accounts of the administration of the past four years and offers a moving testament to the essential power of literature to unite in times of division.
Praise for America:
“Busnel presents a fine anthology of essays originally published in the French quarterly America… The writers’ varied approaches mean that, even for readers familiar with the issues at play, the pieces will be consistently entertaining. As such, an American audience should lap up this thought-provoking tour.”—Publishers Weekly
“While we wait for the ‘great works’ inspired by the Trump era, the novelists and reporters at America will continue to discover the country that elected him, painting a picture while leaving prejudice to one side.”—France-Amérique
“A form of sophisticated literary activism.”—Literary Hub
“A kaleidoscopic reading list of a divided nation.”—Columbia Journalism Review
“Lucid and humanist, a political literary magazine in which today’s most prestigious writers witness, each in their own ways, a disillusioned country.”—L’Express
How many times have you heard someone say, “In the Trump era, truth is stranger than fiction”? This is why some friends and I founded a magazine in which specialists in fiction—novelists—can describe the reality of America.
America came about after Donald Trump was elected. The idea was to tell the story of the world’s number one superpower on a quarterly basis, for the length of a presidential term. Trump’s victory didn’t just stun many Americans. It shook the whole world. As a Frenchman, I feel I belong to what is sometimes called, without irony or submissiveness, the fifty-first state. In other words, the rest of the world. Whether we like it or not, we are all deeply affected by what happens in the United States. If we accept the prevailing cynicism and see Donald Trump simply as a clown, we’re just fooling ourselves. The current resident of the White House is much more astute than people think. He shrewdly proves the Mark Twain maxim “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.”
Since America is anything but homogeneous, America has sent writers all over the country, to big cities and little towns, to collect impressions and opinions face-to-face in unbiased fashion, so that literature can cast its net to capture the images that are the truest, the strongest, and sometimes the most disturbing.
Novelists’ inspired visions, which are the basis of our approach, seem to be more necessary than ever. We are currently experiencing one of the biggest challenges to democracy: in a puzzling paradox, it seems the more we know about our world—with the Internet, new technologies, and the accessibility of the written word—the less we know what to think about it. There is only one solution: novels. When the authorities preach, novelists take a skeptical stance. When experts try to simplify things, novelists restore complexity. When politicians spin the facts, novelists pull back the curtain on deception. How? By asking questions. By telling stories. How did Trump’s reign happen? How did the populist wave triumph, with its accompanying intolerance, ignorance, racism, and partisanship? How are Americans living today, both those who brought this movement to power and those who are simply enduring it? What does the United States of America look like today? A line from investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr has inspired my readings and travels for years now: “You may know the facts, but you don’t know the story.” Like many people, I’m a collector of stories.
Novelists don’t affirm anything; they seek. Their job is not to solve problems, but to express them. It’s quite possible that human stupidity comes simply from trying to have an answer for everything. The novel’s wisdom is to have a question for everything. America wants to take up this challenge: to understand rather than to judge.