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Translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Joël, the unpopular proprietor of local hangout Bar Balto, has been found brutally murdered in the suburban nowhere town of Making-Ends-Meet. Yeznig is a thirteen-year-old mentally-handicapped boy with no sense of past or future – but what, if anything, does he know about Joel’s death?
[private]Yeznig, aka Baby, Fatty or the Spaz
This year, he started getting hair everywhere. Growing in every direction. In this place here, and there, most of all. Next week I was thirteen. I was a big boy now. Even if Mummy says ‘sweetheart’, and she says ‘my baby’ too. On telly, they never show babies with hair, and in the street, in their prams, they wouldn’t have hair either. I wasn’t a baby any more. She doesn’t want to stop with the baby. She’ll say ‘baby’ to me and to Daddy she says ‘bastard’. That’s it.
One day, I’d like to make her fall downstairs or tidy her away in the fridge, where she’d hide my ice-cream cones. One day, maybe. She won’t let me eat sweet things because the doctor says I was too fat but why is he so fat? If he’s allowed to say I’m fat then he can’t be fat. And he’ll say to Mummy, ‘Stop smoking, it’s bad for you,’ but one day I saw him doing it. A fat doctor who smokes isn’t a proper doctor, or else he has to let everybody eat sweet things and smoke lots of cigarettes. If he says something like that again, I’m giving his eyes to the birds to eat. That’s it.
I volunteer at HUW in the morning and I come home at night. HUW means: Helping Us Work. It’s Arnaud, the director, who’ll tell me that. He says he helps me but I’m the one who helps them: I’ll stick labels on boxes all day long. The same thing again, again, again. Labels, boxes, labels, boxes. I’ll be President of France, because he can be on telly and in the newspaper at the same time and he does what he wants, he goes to every country and he’s got lots of money and sunglasses. But Joël, the pinball boss, he told me I’m never President in my life, he says: ‘We’ve never had a mongol President in France,’ and he laughs at me. Joël’s more mongol than me. He’s always touching his hair behind his head, he’s scared it’s falling out maybe. He’s very hairy as well, under his shirt, in his ears, in his nose and on his fingers too. Another thing, he often scratches in his trousers. It’s not clean. Mummy will shout in her voice when I will do it. ‘No! My baby! Don’t do that! Its disgusting!’ So I didn’t do it any more. I was doing it when she isn’t there. Soon, when I was President, being hairy isn’t allowed.[/private]
Extracted from Bar Balto by Faïza Guène, translated by Sarah Ardizzone; published by Chatto & Windus at £11.99.
Faïza Guène was born in France in 1985 to Algerian parents. She wrote her first novel, Just Like Tomorrow, when she was seventeen years old. It was a huge success in France, selling over 360,000 copies and translation rights around the world, and was shortlisted for the Young Minds Book Award 2006 and longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2007. Her second book was Dreams from the Endz.
Sarah Ardizzone won the Scott Moncrieff Prize in 2007 for Faiza Guène's first novel, Just Like Tomorrow, with English PEN recommending her translation of Dreams from the Endz in 2008. She has a special interest in translating urban slang, after living in an Algerian quarter of Marseille. Sarah is also twice winner of the Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation.