cover image The Sky Above the Roof

The Sky Above the Roof

Nathacha Appanah, trans. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-64445-225-7

Mauritian French writer Appanah (Waiting for Tomorrow) offers a lyrical and striking story of a broken family. Wolf, 17 and prone to anxious fits, steals his mother’s car and drives to see his older sister, Paloma, who left 10 years earlier. Their mother, Phoenix, is emotionally distant and has deliberately kept her children from contacting each other, her lack of tenderness bound up in her trauma of sexual assault at 11. Wolf’s trip proves to be a disaster: he causes an accident and is put in jail, and as he languishes in custody, Appanah exquisitely renders each character’s sorrow and longing. Wolf doesn’t want Phoenix to visit him, only Paloma, who’s made a new life for herself in a commune, prompting Phoenix to reflect on her choices. A particularly acute scene emerges in flashbacks, as Phoenix remembers when her fawning parents dolled her up to perform a song at a Christmas concert at her father’s factory. Just before she goes on stage, a man from the factory forcibly kisses her, and when she gets to the mic, she lets out a “harsh... and prolonged scream.” It was then, she realized, that she “abandoned” the “sham that is girlhood.” It’s a tender and beautiful portrayal of unarticulated pain. (Apr.)