The White Dress, by Nathalie Léger


Nathalie Léger, translated by Natasha Lehrer

Published in the UK by Les Fugitives, and in the US by Dorothy Project

French booksellers’ award Prix Wepler 2018

‘She wanted to bring peace to countries that had known war. She said she thought she could do that simply by wearing a wedding dress. I wasn’t interested in the grace or foolishness of her intentions; what interested me was that she hoped this gesture would be enough to mend something that was so out of proportion with it – and that she did not make it. Can a white dress ever be enough to make amends for the world’s torments? Probably no more than words can ever be enough to do justice to a weeping mother.’ – Nathalie Léger

On 8 March 2008, the Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca undertook an unusual and symbolic journey: her aim was to promote the cause of peace by hitchhiking from Milan to Jerusalem, wearing a customized white wedding dress, and documenting the experience by video.

In telling the young woman’s story, which overwhelms her and inexorably draws her in, Nathalie Léger recounts the different stages of her research and strikes upon something fundamental within Bacca’s performance: the desire to remedy the unfathomable nature of violence and war. Through this intense examination of Bacca’s final work and of the often polarised public reaction to the role of women in art, Léger also compellingly addresses her own conflicted relationship with her elderly mother.

‘Exceptional translations….I can’t think of another project that so radically captures both the font-voices and the self-consciousness of womanhood, the nature of being watched, judged, seen by others however they want to see — the artist losing control of the frame, and then somehow reclaiming it. Seeing these women through Léger’s eyes feels like excavating a wound, ‘ Laura Marris, On the Seawall

‘This trilogy feels more than a feminist recovery of narrative: it is a method through which the lives of women artists are reimagined and remade through the writer herself, a mode of hospitality in which lives coalesce and transform one another,’ Katie da Cunha Lewin, The White Review

‘These Léger books are lush, obsessive, and self-reflective and in each one, Léger studies a different haunted woman caught in the riptide of cultural history. The White Dress focuses on the 2008 death of Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca, who was raped and murdered while hitchhiking from Italy to the Middle East in a wedding dress to promote world peace. The White Dress, as well as Exposition (translated by Amanda DeMarco) and Suite for Barbara Loden (also translated by Lehrer) are unnerving, singular, and spectacular,’ Nate Mcnamara, Lithub

‘As a reader of lots of creative nonfiction, no books have excited me more than this triptych by Léger. Sebald’s sequence—Vertigo, Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, and Austerlitz—comes to mind…Leger’s three books are master works that deserve multiple readings,’ Jay Ponteri, Essay Daily

‘Natasha Lehrer’s translation skilfully captures the fiendishly digressive style of Léger… Léger’s melodious intertwining of another’s story with her own recalls her other works, but this is an altogether darker, altogether more unashamedly melancholic exploration of narrative,’ Charlie Stone,  The Arts Desk

“Readers should not miss this smart, skillful reckoning with acts of selflessness, betrayal, and grief,” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Read an excerpt on Granta.

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