prose > 2015

L'autre fille
Annie Ernaux

D’après l’état civil tu es ma sœur. Tu portes le même patronyme que le mien, mon nom de « jeune fille », Duchesne. Dans le livret de famille des parents presque en lambeaux, à la rubrique Naissance et Décès des Enfants issus du Mariage, nous figurons l’une au-dessous de l’autre. Toi en haut avec deux tampons de la mairie de Lillebonne (Seine-Inférieure), moi avec un seul—c’est dans un autre livret officiel que sera remplie pour moi la case décès, celui qui atteste de ma reproduction d’une famille, avec un autre nom.


Mais tu n’es pas ma sœur, tu ne l’as jamais été. Nous n’avons pas joué, mangé, dormi ensemble. Je ne t’ai jamais touchée, embrassée. Je ne connais pas la couleur de tes yeux. Je ne t’ai jamais vue. Tu es sans corps, sans voix, juste une image plate sur quelques photos en noir et blanc. Je n’ai pas de mémoire de toi. Tu étais déjà morte depuis deux ans et demi quand je suis née. Tu es l’enfant du ciel, la petite fille invisible dont on ne parlait jamais, l’absente de toutes les conversations. Le secret.

The Other Girl

translated from French by Jackson Gu

According to official records, we are sisters. We bear the same name, my maiden name, Duchesne. In our family’s tattered record book, under the category of Legitimate Children Born and Deceased, we appear one above the other: you above with two stamps from the city hall of Lille-bonne (Seine-Inférieure) and me below with one. My “deceased” box will be stamped in another book that belongs to the family I will have started under a different name.


But you are not my sister. You never were. We have never played together, eaten together, or slept together. I have never felt you or kissed you. I do not know the color of your eyes. I have never seen you. You are without body and voice. I have a few black and white photos of you but no memories. You had been dead two years by the time I was born. You are a child of the heavens, the invisible little girl of whom we never spoke, absent from all conversations. The secret.

Translator's Note

French author Annie Ernaux spent her childhood in Yvetot, Normandy. Her works are often based on personal experiences. In 1984 she won the Prix Renaudot for her novel La place (A Man’s Place), a narrative in which she recounts her relationship with her father. Many of her works have been translated into English. L’autre fille (The Other Girl) is a short autobiographical novel in which Ernaux describes how she lived her childhood in the shadow of an older sister who had died before Ernaux was born. Her parents kept the secret from her, but over the years hints and photos led her to the truth. She realized she was a replacement that would never measure up.

During the translation process, I tried to stay as true as possible to the structure of the original text. Several modulations were necessary, as French employs the preposition “of” much more frequently than does English. However, repeated use of “of” sounds heavy in English. Another notable feature is verb tense. The French passé composé tense can be translated as either the simple past tense or the present perfect tense in English. In the second paragraph of the excerpt, the author repeatedly uses passé composé, so I carefully considered which English equivalent more accurately conveys the meaning. Both are perfectly viable options, but I decided on the present perfect to emphasize past pain that lingers in the present. Though short and deceivingly simple, the excerpt required careful consideration, as every word conveys the feelings of disheartenment and inferiority felt by the narratrice.

JACKSON GU is a sophomore majoring in Economics and French at the University of Pennsylvania. Raised in Canada, he was exposed to French at an early age, but it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he discovered his passion for the language.