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An English-language debut that reveals and subverts contemporary conceptions of normative sexuality, capitalist culture, and environmental degradation.
Winner, Prix du Livre Inter, 2019
Shortlisted for the Prix Femina, Prix Medicis, Prix de Flore
Longlisted for the Prix France-Culture, Prix Wepler
Farah moves into Liberty House—an arcadia, a community in harmony with nature—at the tender age of six, with her family. The commune’s spiritual leader, Arcady, preaches equality, non-violence, anti-speciesism, free love, and uninhibited desire for all, regardless of gender, age, looks, or ability. At fifteen, Farah learns she is intersex, and begins to go beyond the confines of gender, as she explores the arc of her own desires. What, Farah asks, is a man or a woman? What does it mean to be part of a community? What is utopia when there are refugees nearby seeking shelter who cannot enter?
Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam delivers a magisterial novel, both a celebration and a critique of innocence in the contemporary world.
French writer Bayamack-Tam's rich English-language debut chronicles the coming-of-age adventures of a teenage girl who lives in a commune with her family. After moving from Paris, Farah adjusts to new life at Liberty House, a technology-free space where the harmonious "love conquers all" credo is echoed among the followers and promoted by their spiritual guru, Arcady. Farah and her family are de-baptized and renamed upon entering the community, and remain carefully attuned to Arcady's daily exegesis and impassioned sermons. Farah is a bulky, awkward adolescent who soon discovers she is intersex and grapples with conflicting male and female impulses. Meanwhile, she is coddled by an increasingly creepy Arcady, who passionately promises her unconditional acceptance and unbridled sex with him once she's old enough. Eventually, Farah learns to embrace and treasure the "androgynous creature" her body has become, particularly after a migrant integrates himself into the community and promotes independence among Arcady's followers. While the supporting characters are a bit too thinly drawn, Bayamack-Tam builds out the family's swift acclimation to Liberty House with clever detail and flashes of humor, as when Farah's nudist grandmother frolics on the commune's grounds and her mother claims to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. It all adds up to an engrossing and provocative character study.