The Federation of Alliances Françaises, U.S.A. (AFUSA) announced Le chapeau de Mitterrand by Antoine Laurain as its One Book, One Federation selection for 2015. One Book, One Federation is a program sponsored by the AFUSA to support French literacy throughout the United States. By encouraging the reading of one book by all chapters during a single year, the Federation is able to assist in the creation of a reading guide and encourage the formation of reading groups.

Review of Le chapeau de Mitterrand
by Katharine Branning and Yann Carmona, FIAF Library, New York.

Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him. After the presidential party has gone, Daniel discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind. After a few moments of soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow . . . different. Has Daniel unwittingly discovered the secret of supreme power? For two years the iconic item of headgear plays with the lives of the men and women who wear it, bringing them success that had previously eluded them.

The story is set in the mid-1980s, a time before smartphones and multi-channel TV, when people searched for lost possessions and missed connections in the classified pages of newspapers rather than on social media as in our technology-driven world of today. Published on the eve of the French presidential elections of 2012, Antoine Laurain’s fourth, fairytale-like novel was acclaimed by critics, readers and booksellers, who awarded it the Prix Landerneau Découvertes. It also won the Prix Relay des Voyageurs, a prize which celebrates the enjoyment of reading. The novel has been adapted for television in France. It has also been translated into English as The President’s Hat. The French is very accessible and is suitable for B1 and B2 language students. The book was selected for its simple style, straightforward vocabulary and plot line, and will, as such, reach a wide audience of Alliance Française members. This book can be used in a book club setting or as the basis for a course around the era of France in the 80s, filled with such events as the new pay TV channel Canal+, the Minitel, the arrival of the Left to power, Les Grands Travaux, “Touche pas à mon pote” and the fashions of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

A complete study guide will be available on the One Book One Federation Facebook Page in October. It will include a synopsis, biographical material, discussion questions, vocabulary lists, as well as some material for the creation of a course around the book and France in the 1980s.

You may visit the website of MEP/Schoenhof’s Books to order this book and benefit from the special One Book One Federation price of $6.

Previous One Book, One Federation Selections:

2014 Le Collier Rouge by Jean-Christophe Rufin
2013 La calèche by Jean Diwo
2012 La Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh by Philippe Claudel
2011 Le Banquier et le Perroquet by Philippe Simiot
2010 Sœurs Chocolats by Catherine Velle
2009 Héroïnes Françaises, 1940-1945 : Courage, Force et Ingéniosité by Professor Monique Saigal
2007 Victoire : les saveurs et les mots by Maryse Condé
2006 Le gone du Chéba by Azouz Begag
2005 Les Âmes grises by Philippe Claudel
2004 Le testament Français by Andrei Makine