In one sense, The Years is a memoir spanning Annie Ernaux's childhood in post-war Northern France and up to the present day, but it isn't really, not at all. The Years is a collective memoir - of France, of the world, of the late 20th century. Ernaux, in the kind of relentless unsentimental prose of Sontag or de Beauvoir, writes without ever using an 'I', without ever mentioning a feeling, and demonstrates like nobody else I've ever read the ways that politics and history work on a life. JFK being assassinated? Not important when you're 22 and 8 weeks pregnant. Sexual liberation? Not such a liberation when you're married at 25, with a baby and a teaching position and a long grocery list, for all your education and philosophical acumen. The Years is personal writing like I've never encountered before, a memoir of a generation.— Madeleine
*Shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize*
Co-winner of the 2018 French-American Foundation Translation Prize in Nonfiction
Winner of the 2017 Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her entire body of work
Winner of the 2016 Strega European Prize
Considered by many to be the iconic French memoirist's defining work, The Years was a breakout bestseller when published in France in 2008, and is considered in French Studies departments in the US as a contemporary classic.
The Years is a personal narrative 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."
About the Author
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 Placewhen it was first published in French in 1984, and the English edition became a New York Times Notable Book. Other New York Times Notable Books include Simple Passion and A Woman's Story, which was also a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist.
Ernaux’s most recent work, The Years, has received the Françoise-Mauriac Prize of the French Academy, the Marguerite Duras Prize, the Strega European Prize, the French Language Prize, and the Télégramme Readers Prize. The English edition, translated by Alison L. Strayer, won the 31st Annual French-American Translation Prize for non-fiction and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation and was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. Her new book, A Girl's Story, will be out from Seven Stories in 2020.
ALISON STRAYER is a Canadian writer and translator. Her work has won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, the Governor General's Award for Literature and for Translation, the Grand Prix du livre de Montreal, and the Prix litteraire France-Quebec. She lives in Paris.
"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." —Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review
"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.'"
—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
"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.” —Azarin Sadegh, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Annie Ernaux’s The Years, translated by Alison L. Strayer, is ostensibly the author’s autobiography, but if a book can be both sinuous and fragmentary, this one is, circling around the truth, presenting a collage of images, episodes, memories and flights of imagination. The narrative voice moves between the first person plural and the third person. It’s just a glorious novel – think JM Coetzee meets Joan Didion." —Alex Preston, The Guardian
"... a memoir that is humble and generous, an homage to the great French writers and thinkers of the previous century." —Bookforum
"The author of one of the most important oeuvres in French literature, Annie Ernaux’s work is as powerful as it is devastating, as subtle as it is seething." —Edouard Louis, author of The End of Eddy
"One of the few indisputably great books of contemporary literature." —Emmanuel Carrère, author of The Kingdom
"One of the best books you'll ever read." —Deborah Levy, author of Hot Milk
"Attentive, communal and genuinely new, Annie Ernaux’s The Years is an astonishing achievement." —Olivia Laing, author of Crudo
"A book of memory, of a life and world, staggeringly and brilliantly original." —Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
"The Years is a revolution, not only in the art of autobiography but in art itself. Annie Ernaux's book blends memories, dreams, facts and meditations into a unique evocation of the times in which we lived, and live." —John Banville