The young French author Faïza Guène is a literary sensation, having published her first bestseller, the contemporary novel Kiffe kiffe demain (published as Just Like Tomorrow in the UK), when she was just 19. That novel’s translator, Sarah Ardizzone, is back on board for Men Don’t Cry, a brilliantly funny, insightful and affectionate novel about life in 21st-century France.
Out go the Emily in Paris cliches of berets and baguettes and in comes a cast of characters who are multilingual, multicultural black and brown French citizens who view their country, and their diasporic histories, with a winning combination of affection, exasperation and pride. The novel is narrated by Mourad, who describes his theatrical mother, gruff but loving father and sisters Mina and Dounia with warmth and wit. At a teacher training seminar, Mourad hears that “being a teacher is a form of bereavement. It means saying goodbye to your passion for literature and mourning the loss of everything you’ve learned at university.”
The vignettes and observations about contemporary French foibles are wonderful. As the siblings make their way in the world, Mourad gets caught up the life of his cousin Miloud, who plays “the handsome toyboy with a tan” to his older lover, Liliane. At a dinner party full of “architects, film-makers, policymakers, artists”, Mourad notices a fellow guest, “a fit looking 50-something ultra-free-market divorcee, with no kids and a serious work ethic about looking laid-back. You’d almost have fallen for his relaxed and urbane persona, if the psoriasis visible inside his shirt collar hadn’t betrayed his pathological anxiety.”
The book riffs hilariously on everything from French celebrity feminism and local politics to Parisian detective movie cliches: “[the detective] jumps every traffic light along the boulevard… on the way, he remembers to call home, to check his teenage son is safely back from school and doing his science assignment”.
The bright buoyancy of Guène’s voice, plus the humour and generosity make Men Don’t Cry a sophisticated and immediately entertaining read.
• Men Don’t Cry by Faîza Guéne is published by Cassava Republic (£11.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply