The Literary questionnaire of
Actress and friend of the House Elsa Zylberstein opens up about her relationship with reading and mentions the heroines who inspire her.
Does your lifestyle allow you to read as much as you would like to?
Sadly, not enough, but every time I travel abroad or have a break from shooting, I can read more. In Paris, it’s difficult, I need to empty my mind and create space to welcome a new book.
Is there a particular book that has affected how you lead your life?
Maybe Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke at some point, and then The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, as well as Jean René Huguenin’s Journal and Commentary by Marcelle Sauvageot.
“I need to empty my mind and create space to welcome a new book.”
What is the most liberating book you have read?
Surprisingly, when I was 16 or 17, I didn’t like reading that much, until I read The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola which filled me with joy. Then I discovered Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and I entered a fictional genre that suited me perfectly. I discovered women with incredible destinies and felt a great will to live and emancipate ! But also Henry James with The Portrait of a Lady, or Edith Wharton with The House of Mirth for example.
What is the most harrowing book you have ever read?
I would say Book of my mother by Albert Cohen, and maybe more recently Delphine Horvilleur’s book, Living With Our Dead.
Which fictional heroine would you like to be?
Maybe Jezabel by Irène Némirovsky, or one of Edith Wharton’s heroines. Or a Viennese heroine, for example Arthur Schnitzler’s Fräulein Else, or else a heroine from Stefan Zweig’s books like in Beware of Pity or Burning Secret. Heroines that are tormented, on the edge, fragile yet powerful.
What is the best place to read?
In a plane or a train, or far far away in the tropics.
“I discovered women with incredible destinies and felt a great will to live and emancipate !”
Are you more romance novel or adventure novel?
More romance novel, of course.
Do you prefer long novels or short stories?
It depends, I have loved some long novels that I was drawn to, but I like short stories, for example The Most Precious of Cargoes by Jean-Claude Grumberg which is beautiful.
Which book would you like to see adapted to film?
Valérie Perrin’s books, or Happy people read and drink coffee by Agnès Martin-Lugand.
The title of a book you always offer as a gift?
The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, or Letter from an Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translated by Reginald Snell, © Dover Publication.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet, © Penguin Classics, 2022.
Jean-René Huguenin, Journal, © Les Éditions du Seuil, « Cadre rouge », 1964, Points, 1993, n.e. 2020.
Marcelle Sauvageot, Commentary, Translated by Christine Schwartz Hartley, Anna Moschovakis, © Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.
Emile Zola, The Ladies' Paradise, Translated and edited by B. Nelson © Brian Nelson 1995, published by Oxford University Press as an Oxford World’s Classic, 2008.
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881.
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, 1905.
Albert Cohen, Book of my mother, Translated by Bella Cohen, © Archipelago Books, 2012.
Delphine Horvilleur, Living With Our Dead, © Europa Editions, 2023.
Irène Némirovsky, Jézabel, 1936.
Arthur Schnitzler, Fräulein Else. Translated by F.H. Lyon. First published by Pushkin Press in 1998.
Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity. Original text © S Fischer Verlag. English translation © Anthea Bell 2011. First published by Pushkin Press 2011.
Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity, Translated by Phyllis and Trevor Blewitt, published by New York Review Books, 2006.
Stefan Zweig, Burning Secret. First published in German as Brennendes Geheimnis in 1913 © Atrium Press. English translation © Anthea Bell 2008. First published by Pushkin Press in 2008.
Jean-Claude Grumberg, The Most Precious of Cargoes, Copyright © Éditions du Seuil 2019, Collection La Librairie du XXIe siècle, sous la direction de Maurice Olender. Translation copyright © Frank Wynne 2021.
Agnès Martin-Lugand, Happy people read and drink coffee, Translated by Sandra Smith, © Allen & Unwin, 2017.
J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, © Little, Brown and Company, 1991.
Stefan Zweig, Letters from an Unknown Woman. Original text © Williams Verlag AG Zurich. English translation © Anthea Bell 2013. First published by Pushkin Press in 2013.