A little less than two years ago, a title caught my eye in a list of newly published novels in France. L’Elégance du hérisson. Hérisson meaning hedgehog. I’ve always had a soft spot for hedgehogs, ever since visiting my friend Christina in a remote village in Bulgaria in 1974; they had adopted a stray hedgehog. Yesh, in Bulgarian. I learned a word and an affection for an oddly repellent little animal–they prickle, and smell, and have lots of bugs; they shuffle and sniffle–and yet they are in some way tender in their awkwardness. They are fragile, vulnerable little creatures, as anyone who has driven down country roads in Britain or Turkey can attest; they are secretive, and Beatrix Potter made them lovable in The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
In short, I have a thing about hedgehogs. I have hedgehog stuffed animals, a keychain, a charm, a wax candle, coasters, and most recently, a hedgehog toy for my cat (he doesn’t like it that much). My daughter drew me a little hedgehog when she was a child, a tiny picture I carried in my wallet until it became too fragile and now it is framed and hangs above my bed. When I moved into my new little house in Switzerland, a hedgehog foot-wipe brush was waiting outside the front door.
So this novel intrigued me by its title. I finally got hold of a copy a few months later, and within twenty pages knew this would be, for me, the translation of a career, of a lifetime. Even if the word hedgehog only comes up once, and the book has nothing to do with hedgehogs…ostensibly. But the humor, the humanity, the quirkiness, all evoke the tenderness that the little Bulgarian yesh did so many years ago.
Read this book. Read my translation. I dare not say more, for fear of overkill, hype. Avoid the Amazon reviews, avoid any review. Please just read it. Send me your comments — on the book, on the translation. On hedgehogs.
Here is the link to the publisher’s site, for more information.