Jérôme Ferrari’s book ‘The sermon on the fall of Rome’ a ‘Goncourt Prize winner’ which has now been translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan is a book of many layers centred on a village in Corsica (which could be a village in any disappearing rural community), following one family from the first photo ever taken in the village at the end of the First World War, where all of the family were present except the central character of the first layer, Marcel, up to tragic events in the present day and the death of Marcel. A perspective is drawn using excerpts from St. Augustine’s Sermon on the fall of Rome. On the 24th August 410, an army of Visigoths sacked Rome, causing amongst other things a large number of refugees to flee towards North Africa where Saint Augustine was Bishop of Hippo. Augustine, felt he had lost his bearings with news of the collapse of Rome. Once Rome had gone, what sense was to be made of the world? The book is amazingly compact, every one of the large number of exploits or diversions within this book fit together like bricks in a wall completing the picture Ferrari is drawing. Time advances and we can be spectators or take an active part. Marcel leaves his village and his island to add his part to the French colonial exercise, loosing his family in the attempt, only to find that life back home moves on without him and the sudden disappearance of the French empire leaves him a tragic figure whose only purpose seems to be to bear witness to the death of everyone present on the initial photo. Marcel’s son whom he sent back to the village to be raised by his sister upon the death of his wife, finishes in an incestuous relationship, marrying his sister’s daughter leading to the second layer of the book concerning his grandson Mathieu born from this relationship. Mathieu, brought up in Paris and who studies philosophy at the Sorbonne dreams of nothing more than returning to his family village. The major part of the story is about Mathieu returning to run the village bar, the villagers, their isolated life and the young things the bar attracts, leading up to the events deemed ‘the end of the world’ and a sense that time marches on. An interesting story full of cleverly observed moments, a lively read.
Le Sermon sur la Chute de Rome: First published in French by Actes Suds in 2012
Translated by Geoffrey Strachan and published by MacLehose Press in 2012