07 Oct / The Strange Scent of Saffron by Miléna Babin, translated by Oana Avasilichioaei [in Shelf Awareness]
At a mere 160 pages, Miléna Babin’s The Strange Scent of Saffron might seem spare, but its sizable cast and numerous crisscrossing narratives produce a dense, intricate, utterly satisfying read. In the town of Le Bic, Quebec, two strangers meet over an exquisite meal at the Gourmand restaurant: Nil, on the run from a violent uncle and vicious twin brother, and Jacob, the restaurant’s owner, who feeds Nil’s voracious appetite even as he realizes she will be hard-pressed to afford his toothsome fare.
Of course, Nil flees. Their paths overlap soon enough and, despite all warnings otherwise, Jacob provides Nil with shelter, employment, and, unintentionally, a lover – his buddy Renaud with whom Jacob is plotting to commit quite the lucrative gastronomical crime. Jacob and Renaud’s history is long, having shared even a soulmate once upon a time. Now fatally ill, Jacob’s only chance of survival depends on the success of their plundering. Meanwhile, Nil, too, wants to stay alive, accompanied by her not-quite-pet fox Lavender. If Uncle John can track her down, though, can twin Yoav be far behind?
“This book contains a mix of stories I’ve been told, actual facts, and entirely invented elements,” Babin, who lives in Quebec, writes in her ending note. The resulting mélange becomes a chilling commentary on the myriad ways family and friends disappoint and betray each other – and yet somehow, saving agency just might be possible. Shortlisted for the Prix France-Québec 2019, Saffron is Babin’s second novel and first to be translated into English; prize-winning poet Oana Avasilichioaei proves especially adept in translating Babin’s elliptical prose.
Discover: French Canadian Miléna Babin makes an exceptional English-language debut with an elliptical novel populated by evasive strangers.
Published: 2018 (Canada), 2021