Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Winner of the 2016 Strega European Prize

Translated by Alison L. Strayer

The Years is a personal narrative from Annie Ernaux of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present—even projections into the future—photos, books, songs, radio, television and decades of advertising, headlines, contrasted with intimate conflicts and writing notes from six decades of diaries. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for the ever-proliferating objects, are given voice here. The voice we recognize as the author's continually dissolves and re-emerges. Ernaux makes the passage of time palpable. Time itself, inexorable, narrates its own course, consigning all other narrators to anonymity. A new kind of autobiography emerges, at once subjective and impersonal, private and collective. On its 2008 publication in France, The Years came as a surprise. Though Ernaux had for years been hailed as a beloved, bestselling and award-winning author, The Years was in many ways a departure: both an intimate memoir "written" by entire generations, and a story of generations telling a very personal story. Like the generation before hers, the narrator eschews the "I" for the "we" (or "they," or "one") as if collective life were inextricably intertwined with a private life that in her parents' generation ceased to exist. She writes of her parents' generation (and could be writing of her own book): "From a common fund of hunger and fear, everything was told in the 'we' and impersonal pronouns."

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The Years is an earnest, fearless book, a Remembrance of Things Past for our age of media domination and consumerism, for our period of absolute commodity fetishism.””

“Annie Ernaux is ruthless. I mean that as a compliment. Perhaps no other memoirist — if, in fact, memoir-writing is what Ernaux is up to, which both is and isn’t the case — is so willing to interrogate not only the details of her life but also the slippery question of identity . . . . Think of The Years . . . as memoir in the shape of intervention: ‘all the things she has buried as shameful and which are now worthy of retrieval, unfolding, in the light of intelligence.'”

“The process of reading The Years is similar to a treasure box discovery. . . . It is the kind of book you close after reading a few pages, carried away by the bittersweet taste it leaves in your mind. . . . Ernaux transforms her life into history and her memories into the collective memory of a generation.”

“"[H]umble and generous, an homage to the great French writers and thinkers of the previous century. The “she” of The Years could be (and indeed is meant to be) any woman who grew up in a small town and moved into the literary world. . . . To her, the book will “give form to her future absence.” The Years is not the testimony of a woman who once existed, but of a woman who no longer exists.”

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Born in 1940, Annie Ernaux grew up in Normandy, studied at Rouen University, and later taught high school. From 1977 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d’Enseignement par Correspondance. Her books, in particular A Man’s Place and A Woman’s Story, have become contemporary classics in France. Ernaux won the prestigious Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place when it was first published in French in 1984, and the English edition later became a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The English edition of A Woman’s Story was also a New York Times Notable Book. Ernaux’s more recent works include Simple Passion and The Possession.