La Presse

Ryoko Sekiguchi is widely recognized as one of France’s most unusual experimental writers. Her acclaimed texts are developed by passing back and forth from Japanese to French several times, creating a layered poetic effect like no one else’s. Born in Tokyo, she has been living off and on in Paris since 1997; she studied art history at the Sorbonne and received a Ph.D. in comparative literature and cultural studies from the University of Tokyo. She has published numerous books of poetry and hybrid genre, most recently Ce n’est pas un hasard (P.O.L, 2011). She also writes on esoteric aspects of food, and published L’Astringent and Manger fantôme in 2012.

Translator Sarah O’Brien, is also a poet and a photographer. A graduate of Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Her first book of poetry, Catch Light (Coffee House Books, 2009), was a finalist for the 2008 Cleveland State University Poetry Center first book prize and won the National Poetry Series that year. But what really caught her heart was baking. After studying the art of French pastry in Paris, she opened The Little Tart in the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. It made it onto Travel + Leisure’s “America’s Best Bakeries” list (they only list 28!). Her croissants, it is said, are simply to die for. 

The lush world of the botanical garden forms the backdrop of this extended meditation on birds and plants and their often oblique relation to the names we give them. Written in short prose blocks, and often tongue-in-cheek, the book takes many points of view: bird’s-eye and plant’s-eye as well as the human. The form and tone of this work are indebted to the muwashshah, a medieval Arabic song form practiced in Andalusia, while much of its information is gleaned from several centuries of works on botany and ornithology. Originally written in Japanese and French, the text constitutes a cultural hybrid that reveals Sekiguchi’s rich and unique view of the world. 

"The sound of the call reaches the birds, and the whistler faithfully imitates the beak’s cadences without understanding the language he’s speaking; from the foliage, another voice calls back; the bird’s response is not always understood, consonants uttered to follow vowels, and vowels follow other vowels, making the center of life out of something like a flood or circuit – no one doubted it at the time."​