Books of the Month | Month of the Books #21

“They think reading is a nice little hobby. But we say it is a radical act of freedom, a revolutionary call to build a better world.” — Elif Shafak



This is a semi-autobiographical novel published in de Beauvoir’s native French in 1954, and in English transla­tion in 1956. The same year it was published in France, it won the prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt.

When “The Mandarins” was published outside of France, de Beauvoir was best known (as she is still today, perhaps) for her 1949 nonfiction book, “The Second Sex”, a feminist classic.

“The Mandarins” encompasses many of de Beauvoir’s favored themes, including existentialism, feminism, politi­cal structures (including communism), and morality.

The novel portrays a close-knit group of friends who call themselves “the Mandarins” — referring to the scholar-bureaucrats of imperial China. The core group of characters identify as intellectuals, and grapple with what kind of role they might play in post World War II Europe.

In this novel novel, Simone de Beauvoir does not flinch in her look at Parisian intellectual society at the end of the Second World War. Drawing on those who sur­rounded her — Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler — and her passionate love affair with Nelson Algren, Beauvoir dissects the emotional and philosophical currents of her time. At once an engrossing drama and an intriguing political tale, “The Mandarins” is the emotio­nal odyssey of a woman torn between her inner desire and her public life.



Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986) was a French author and philosopher. She was born in Paris. She wrote novels, monographs on philosophy, political and social issues, essays, biographies, and an autobiography. In 1929 de Beauvoir became the youngest person ever to obtain the aggregation in philosophy at the Sorbonne. After the war, she emerged as one of the leaders of the existentialist movement, working with Jean-Paul Sartre on Les Temps Modernes. Her book “The Second Sex”, first published in 1949, has been translated into forty languages and become a landmark in the history of feminism. Beau­voir was the author of many other books, including the novels “The Mandarins”, “She Came to Stay”, “The Inseparables”.




There is nothing unusual or remarkable about the Swart family, oh no, they resemble the family from the next farm and the one beyond that, just an ordinary bunch of white South Africans, and if you don’t believe it then listen to us speak…

The many voices of The Promise tell a story in four snapshots, each one centered on a family funeral, each one happening in a different decade. In the background, a different president is in power, and a different spirit hangs over the country, while in the foreground the family fights over what they call their farm, on a worthless piece of land outside Pretoria.

Over large jumps in time, people get older, faces and laws and lives all change, while a bro­ther and sister circle around a promise made long ago, and never kept…



Damon Galgut (b. 1963) is a South African nove­list and playwright. His latest novel, “The Pro­mise”, was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for 2021. Two other novels of Galgut, “The Good Doctor”, and “In a Strange Room”, have also previously been shortlisted for this prize. Hailed in the press as one of the world’s finest writers, Galgut published his first novel at seventeen and since then his work has been translated into six­teen languages. Two films were made of his book “The Quarry”.

Locally, his previous novel, “Arctic Sum­mer”, was awarded the Sunday Times Fic­tion Prize. Galgut is also a past winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Africa region. He lives and works in Cape Town.




What would you change if you could go back in time?

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In “Before the Coffee Gets Cold”, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time traveling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold…

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story — translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousse­lot — explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?



Toshikazu Kawaguchi was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971. He formerly produced, directed and wrote for the theatrical group Sonic Snail. As a playwright, his works include COUPLE, “Sunset Song”, and “Family Time”. The novel “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is adapted from a 1110 Productions play by Kawaguchi, which won the 10th Suginami Drama Festival grand prize.




Now a major motion picture from director Ridley Scott, starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver.

The sensational true story of murder, madness, glamour, and greed that shook the Gucci dynasty.

On March 27, 1995, Maurizio Gucci, heir to the fabulous fashion dynasty, was slain by an unknown gunman as he approached his Milan office. In 1998, his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani Mar­tinell — nicknamed “The Black Widow” by the press — was sentenced to 29 years in prison, for arranging his murder.

Did Patrizia murder her ex-husband because his spending was wildly out of control? Did she do it because her glamorous ex was preparing to marry his mistress, Paola Franchi? Or is there a possibility she didn’t do it at all?

The Gucci story is one of glitz, glamour, intrigue, the rise, near fall and subsequent resur­gence of a fashion dynasty. Beautifully written, impeccably researched, and widely acclai­med, “The House of Gucci” will captivate readers with its page-turning account of high fashion, high finance, and heart-rending personal tragedy.



Sara Gay Forden covered the Italian fashion industry from Milan for more than 15 years, chronicling the explosion of labels including Gucci, Armani, Versace, Prada and Ferragamo from family ateliers into mega brands. She is now based in Washington, D.C. with Bloomberg News, leading a team that covers the challenges faced by big technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.

@saragayforden; @saraforden