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Book extract: Assimilation by Sophie Buchaillard

07 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Assimilation by Sophie Buchaillard is published by Honno

We are pleased to publish an extract from Assimilation, the second novel by Penarth-based Sophie Buchaillard.

It’s ‘one family’s story set against the backdrop of some of the biggest political and humanitarian events of the century. A tale of unravelling family secrets, belonging, betrayal and inherited trauma, transporting readers in time and place through one family’s history and struggle.

‘Charlotte, young and fiercely independent, desperately needs to escape the confines of her mother, Marianne’s expectations and a dreadful trauma. She leaves France and arrives in Wales, hoping to find peace and somewhere to rebuild her life.’


The market presented a wide stretch of polychromic spreads hoarding mounds of fleshy vegetables, bright kumquats, and spiky lychees.

Farmers stood amongst the monticules, dressed in varied 9 hand-dyed traditional wears, ornate with intricate jewelleries, signifiers of the many tribes from central Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia who came to Hanoi to sell their products, and had done so long before this part of the world came to be known as Indochina.

The market was the only place where Hue sometimes forgot the presence of the French. Their beige costumes and floppy hats seemed countless miles from here.

Walking from stand to stand, she collected the items Madame had listed in her neat handwriting: citrus fruits for the sauce, leafy greens to accompany the canard à l’orange Madame had planned for her daughter’s eighth birthday.

Hue thought that Helene would have preferred caramelised pork ribs and rice eaten in the kitchen amongst the indigenous help, so sticky it could only be eaten with fingers, teeth working their way around the bone, tongue licking at the toffee-coloured glaze.

Madame disapproved of course, but the thought made Hue salivate. As she left the market, the weight of her basket made her walk lopsided. Damn canard à l’orange, she thought.

Nearing the house, she heard incessant barking and loud exclamations, the words indistinguishable, so that she couldn’t tell who was shouting.

Past the street corner, she saw a gathering mass, men dressed in light colours coming down from the surrounding houses, men dressed in black appearing from tendered gardens, all with their backs turned, fixated on a small brown form curled at the foot of the mansion’s steps.

First, Hue noticed the hunting party rallied around Monsieur. Then she saw the turbaned attendant struggling to hold back the crazed dogs. Monsieur raised a hand, commanding silence. The noise died down.

“What is it?” someone asked from the crowd.

“A dog?” someone else hazarded.

Monsieur stepped forward and crouched near what appeared to be a mound of thick fur. What have they killed now, Hue wondered?

Monsieur placed his hand on the pelt and Hue registered a ripple, immediately met by the mounting growl of Monsieur’s dogs.

“Take them away,” Monsieur ordered, gesturing in the direction of the turbaned attendant. And then, to the crowd, “This here is a bear cub.”

He paused, waiting for the murmur carried through the assembly of men to die down. Hue watched as his hand started stroking the animal.

There was a shudder, then a little round ear fluttered. Poking his nose up, the miniature bear scanned the air. Monsieur continued to soothe the cub until it unfolded itself, causing the crowd to take a collective intake of breath.

The bear sat like a contented Buddha, front paws resting on a rounded belly, observing Monsieur with interest. No taller than Helene, the cub’s movements were clumsy, eliciting laughter from the observers.

Questions were asked. Monsieur explained that the hunting party had killed the mother bear. It was a terrible tragedy, he added.

“The men found the cub afterwards.” He pointed at the dogs. “They were making such a racket. The poor cub had a fright.”

“What will you do with him?” someone asked.

“We have the space. We will take care of this unfortuné.”

Nobody thought to question Monsieur, and after a while, the men just dispersed.

Assimilation by Sophie Buchaillard is published by Honno. It is available from all good bookshops.

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