Book review: If You Cross The River

If You Cross the River

If You Cross the River,
by Geneviève Damas
Translated by Joddy Gladding
Milkweed Editions
Si tu passes la rivière
was first published in French in 2013
152 pages
Literary Fiction


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If You Cross The River was published in French in 2013, but I had not read it. Six years later, it finally became available in English. And it’s a very good thing. Keep reading to know why.

I would like right away to highlight the quality of the translation. Poet Jody Gladding did an amazing job at recreating the raw style of the original, and to make it fit the voice of the narrator, François, with the flowing first person narrative used throughout the book.

François can’t read nor write, he lives a very simple and isolated life on his family’s farm. 

As you start the book, you are led to think he’s a young boy.
But then you discover (this is not a spoiler, as it’s included in the synopsis) he is actually 17. That starts shedding a different light on his life. And then you discover he doesn’t remember his mother. His older sister left some time ago, she crossed the river and never came back. And his father can be violent.

“If you cross the river, if you cross the river,” said the father, “you’ll never set foot in this house again. If you go to the other side, you better watch out, if you go to the other side.”

None of us had ever taken off for the other side. Except Maryse… I didn’t really know why Maryse had up and fled like that one day.

So what’s going on on the other side of the river?
François is more and more curious, and eager to understand mysteries surrounding his family and his life. 

He is aware that not being able to read is a major handicap. So he asks the village priest to teach him to read, and reveals he is not the idiot everyone thought he was.
He is thus introduced into the magic world of stories.
New and unusual friendships will also help him broaden his horizon and begin his journey towards self-discovery.

If you don’t know how to read you’re like a blind man lost in the woods.

To come back to the style, I found some poignant images, rooted in natural life, like this one:

She had the odor of the outdoors and the damp, like when you leave wood out in the rain too long and moss begins to grow on it.

The story left me very moved. An author I definitely want to read again.

VERDICT: A moving and raw story highlighting the connection between words and identity. Exquisite writing style.


Or any other by the same author, or by another Belgian author?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge through Edelweiss Plus, for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.



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