cover image Arcadia


Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam, trans. from the French by Ruth Diver. Seven Stories, $19.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-64421-053-6

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. (May)