October 2022
Anne Weber: Epic Annette

Bucheinband: Epic Annette
© Indigo Press

If you enjoyed Inua Ellams’ The Half-God of Rainfall, spend some time with Anne Weber’s biography-in-verse Epic Annette.

Once upon a time, as poets and literature professors are keen to remind us, poetry was a key narrative form, a container for passing stories from generation to generation. Epics fell out of fashion a good couple of centuries ago, but novels in verse have been making a comeback over the last few years, with Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, for example, shortlisted for the Booker Prize. My personal favourite is Inua Ellams’ beautiful and harrowing The Half-God of Rainfall, which faces head-on the injustices and hurts often glossed over in Greek and Roman myths.

A new addition to the growing number of book-length poems is Anne Weber’s Epic Annette: A Heroine’s Tale, rendered beautifully in English by Tess Lewis. Epic Annette recounts the true tale of Annette Beaumanoir, a young resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied France, who – later in life – is arrested for her work supporting the Algerian independence movement and flees abroad to escape imprisonment.

Tess Lewis states in her translator’s note that her main aim in the translation (which worked from German and French versions of the text, both created by Weber) was rhythmic consistency, and Lewis’ free verse acts as a sort of engine driving the story forward, its momentum mirroring Annette’s own.

Weber’s choice to use the epic for this biography bestows on Annette the status of a hero – and trust me, I would follow Beaumanoir far further than I ever would Odysseus. She really does lead a remarkable, often inspiring life: joining the resistance as a young girl, risking the wrath of the Communist party by saving the lives of two Jewish children from a raid (“No individual actions, she had sworn / to the Party. No initiatives. She is just a cog / in the wheel and her only job is to turn”), later striving for action in dissident meetings as “the men drone on and on”.

Yet despite clearly marvelling at her subject, Weber doesn’t fall into the trap of idolising her. She recognises Annette’s blindspots when working with the Algerian National Liberation Front or FLN, particularly once liberation from colonial France has been achieved, and the government that emerges is far from the socialist utopia Annette had dreamed of and worked towards. Weber is full of questions (“Are these political acts / or acts of kindness?” “Are there many things she didn’t notice or / only noticed later and much too late?”), which percolate through the text.

Amongst many other things, Epic Annette is a reminder of the importance of fighting for what we believe in, even as it recognises that we can never predict the outcome of our actions. Heroism isn’t, as young Annette envisions, wielding a gun, but rather than many small steps which make up a lifetime:

“active resistance is different than one imagines,

that is, it’s not one clear and final decision

but an imperceptibly slow slide

into something still unknown.”

About the author

Annie Rutherford makes things with words and champions translated literature in all its guises. A writer, translator and events organiser, she's currently researching the possibility of setting up a Writers in Exile residency in Edinburgh, and also runs Lighthouse Bookshop's Women in Translation book group. She can spot a misplaced apostrophe at a distance of fifty yards.

Reserve the original German title Annette, ein Heldinnenepos in our Glasgow library.

Reserve the English translation Epic Annette: a heroine's tale in our London library.

E-Library: Borrow the original German title Annette, ein Heldinnenepos digitally.

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