Javier Cercas ‘Terra Alta’


“I’m sorry mate”, said his colleague. “My son broke his finger playing handball”.
“No problem” Melchior reassured him as he did up his safety belt. “I listened to a bunch of old people to pass the time”.
“I’ll bet all they talked about was the war”.
Melchor turned towards him.img_2777“How did you know”?
“Don’t talk rubbish”, said Sirvent.
“Here, the old folks don’t talk about anything else. As if nothing else has happened here in Terra Alta in the last 80 years”.***


This book, my third read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and my second by Javier cercas after ‘Outlaws‘ follows the main protagonist Melchor, who identifies his life with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and in particular, not to Jean Valjean but to Javert. Not the man who must choose between “Staying in heaven and becoming a demon or going back into hell and becoming an angel” but “the pretend bad guy, and pretend bad guys are the real good guys”. He even names his daughter Cosette.

Just for a change(heavy sarchasm) the story follows two distinct time lines, the present in Terra Alta and the past which has moulded Melchor. In the present, the story begins with an atrocious murder, the owner of the largest company in the area, Francisco Addel and his wife are sadistically tortured to death in their home, enough to shock the police at the death scene as illustrated below. In Terra Alta everyone knows everyone and the enquiry soon becomes bogged down and the task force eventually gets re-deployed. In the second time line we learn that Melchor much like Jean Valjean has been in prison and then with false paperwork was able to become a policeman, following a shooting incident where Melchor puts to good use the training he had working for a Cartel, he shoots dead four terrorists, making him famous, the police who had begun to realise his paperwork was suspect ensure his legitimacy and send him into the isolated Terra Alta until things quieten down.


Goma watches them all for a moment then points to a puddle of sticky stuff on the floor.
“Can anybody explain to me what this is”?
“The patrolman who came in with me vomitted”, Melchor answers.
“He wasn’t the only one”, adds deputy inspector Barrera. “Except that the others were more discreet”.***


This is a story of meanness, of cupidity and of revenge. And what if Javert once again had to choose, would he arrest the killer or let him go? throw into the cauldron the murder of Melchor’s wife.

Cercas keeps our attention and leaves enough doubt about Melchor’s choices.

First Published in spanish as “Terra Alta” in 2021, by Booket
Translated into french by Aleksandar Grujicic and Karine Louesdon and published as “Terra Alta” by Actes Sud in 2021
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

—Je suis désolé, mec, dit son collègue. Mon fils s’est cassé un doigt en jouant au hand.
—Pas de souci, le rassura Melchor en bouclant sa ceinture de sécurité. J’ai écouté un groupe de vieux, ça m’a fait passer le temps.
—Je parie qu’ils parlaient de la guerre.
Melchor se tourna vers lui.
—Comment tu sais ça?
—Arrête tes conneries, dit Sirvent. Ici, les vieux ne parlent que de ça. Comme s’il ne s’était rien passé en Terra Alta ces quatre-vingts dernières années.

Goma reste un moment à les observer puis montre du doit une flaque d’une matière pâteuse qui souille le sol.
—Quelqu’un pourrait m’expliquer ce que c’est?
—Le patrouilleur qui est entré avec moi a vomi, répond Melchor.
—Il n’a pas été le seul, ajoute le sous-inspecteur Barrera. Sauf que les autres ont été plus discrets.

Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021

It’s that time of year again, Literary prizes once again and here in France, there are of course the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot amongst others but of absolutely enormous importance once again is our village prize, The Prix du Roman de Rochefort. No shortlist here! Ten books chosen on the 5th of september, the jury (everyone who has read the books, about 20 people) meet end of november amid much food and drink to debate the winner. The debate is almost more important than the winner itself. Almost!

And as you will notice, true to form unable to choose Ten books we have 11 to read in the same time. yoopeee.



La face nord du cœur, Dolores Redondo (Gallimard)

Broadway, Fabrice Caro (Gallimard)

Terra Alta, Javier Cercas, (Actes Sud)

Farallon islands, Abby Geni (Actes Sud)

Le lièvre, Frédéric Boyer (Gallimard)

L’autre moitié de soi, Brit Bennett (Autrement)

Une république lumineuse, Andrés Barba (Christian Bourgois)

L’inconnu de la poste, Florence Aubenas (L’Olivier)

Dibbouks, Irène Kaufer (L’Antilope)

La Tannerie, Celia Levi (Tristram)

L’ami impossible, Bruno de Strabenrath (Gallimard)

Fabrice Caro ‘Broadway’


For Denis’s fortieth birthday, Beatrice organised a surprise party, she thought it would be a good idea to hold it in a Karaoke bar.I suspect Denis and Beatrice rack their heads to try to find activities that are the exact opposite of my desires.***


This book was read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and has left me with mixed sentiments, a lot of work has gone into shaping the story and linking the witty stories together using running jokes. The tone is slightly disenchanted with life, a mid life crisis? But at the same time that is all this book is, a string of witty stories and for this reader I soon lost patience. and no longer appreciated his drollery, I wanted to scream too much! The following quote is an example of Axel wanting to tell his daughter Jade that her boyfriend that has left her just isn’t woth the sorrow. The paragraph in itself is mildly amusing, the blue envelope is one of the running jokes; basically he received a colorectal test kit through the post four years earlier at 46 years old than the 50 years at which the kit is normally sent:


Maybe I should tell her: you know, today you admire him, but one day he’ll change, he’ll put on weight, slowly a fatty layer will appear around his midrift, his hair will recede, he’ll try to limit that by the use of Minoxydil 5% to no avail, you’ll notice CDs from the 90s (even the 80s) in the glove compartment, he’ll tell you its ironic, but it won’t be it’ll just be bad taste, in the evening on the sofahe’ll read car mags and sport pages, now and again he’ll say something about a transfer out loud and you’ll ask yourself if he hasn’t anything better to say to you, you’ll dye your hair and he won’t notice it, you’ll argue with each other more and more for less and less and one day he’ll go for the mailand find a blue envelope….,colorectal blue, that’s what you’re crying over Jade.***


In a nutshell Axel talks about his life, which should be happy, but as the opening quote shows, it’s all about him.

I won’t be voting for this book, much like king John, it died of a surfeit.

First Published in french as “Broadway” in 2020 by Gallimard.*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pour les quarante ans de Denis, Béatrice lui avait organisé un anniversaire surprise, elle lui avait trouvé judicieux de faire ça dans un bar karaoké – je soupçonne Denis et Béatrice de se creuser la tête pour tenter de ne me proposer que des activités qui sont aux antipodes de mes aspirations.

Peut-être devrais-je dire: tu sais, tu l’admires aujourd’hui, mais un jour il changera, il va prendre du poids, sensiblement, des contours de graisse vont faire leur apparition tout autour de son ventre, son front va commencer à se dégarnir, il essaiera d’enrayer ça avec du Minoxydil 5% mais ce sera peine perdu, tu vas voir apparaitre des CD des années 90 (voire 80) dans sa boîte à gants, il te dira que c’est du seconde degré mais ça n’en sera pas, ce sera juste du mauvais goût, le soir sur le canapé il lira des magazines automobiles et des journaux de sport, de temps à autre il fera un commentaire à haute voix sur un transfert de joueur et tu te demanderas s’il n’a pas autre chose à te dire que ça , tu feras une couleur et il ne remarquera pas que tu as fait une couleur, vos disputes se feront de plus en plus fréquentes, avec de moins en moins d’enjeu et un jour il ira au courrier et y trouvera une enveloppe bleue…, bleue colorectal, voila ce que tu pleurniches ma Jade.

Dolores Redondo ‘The North Face of the Heart’


Alvord Texas
The field in front of the Allen’s house showed little or no signs of the hurricane’s passage.For an observer, the farm seemed to give, at first sight, an impression of absolute normality……Only when you looked at the first floor,the windows, you noticed that the house didn’t have a roof.***


The wheel has turned another year and the Roman de Rochefort is upon us again, this year their are several thrillers in the short list, and as I was away on hols I’ve begun with one of these, The North Face of the Heart. Move over Star Wars, Dolores Redondo has written a prequel to her Baztan trilogy featuring Amaia Salazar which are available on Netflix. In this then her fourth book, Salazar is a young assistent detective sent on a course for international police forces at Quantico, to learn about profiling serial killers, but she is not just another student. The renown, somewhat maverick team leader, Aloisius Dupree, has noticed her before she arrives. We should mention here that she has already, at the age of 25, single handedly caught her first serial killer in her native Basque country at Baztan.

Early on in her training, Dupree seconds Amaia onto his team to look for an active serial killer dubbed “the Composer” who has passed under the radar by killing whole families during natural disasters, he then composes the family members with their heads facing north, to make it seem as if the father has killed the whole family, his wife and three children as well as the children’s grandmother before ending his own life. By profiling the victims, Amaia closes in on the composer, for instance as in the opening quote when she visits the Allen’s farm it seems her profiling may not be right as only the parents and the three children are initially found, but she is sure of herself and finally finds the grandmother who had tried to escape, shot and dragged under the houses missing roof.

Amaia closes in on the “Composer”, sure that it is a Martin Lenx, whose 5 family members had been found dead 18 years earlier, she talks to the photographer who had taken his family picture just before the massacre all those years before and who had recognised the frustration in him that his family were not what he had planned:


Look at Lenx’s mouth. It looks like a notch carved out by an axe. She agreed. It was exactly whhat she had thought on seeing it.
In fourty years of trade, I’ve often seen it, it’s what I call the “syndrome of the bride and the rain”.***


In this story, with team rivalry and loyalty put in question and explored, Dupree leads the down to New Orleans in 2005 ahead of Hurricane Katrina, ostensibly to get ahead of “the Composer”, but Dupree has unfinished business following the previous Hurricane to hit New Orleans, Betsy. From here on in I’m divided, the descriptions of Katrina and what happened are excellent historical reading, for instance that after hurricane Betsy the then mayor had encouraged everyone to have an axe in their attic ready for the next hurricane (to get out of course). However the story of the abductions and the voodoo with Dupree carrying a gris gris left me exasperated.

There is also the story of Amaia’s childhood played in flashback, explaining her sensitivity to evil.

The main story of the search for the serial killer, including the hunt for him in New Orleans was a page turner, Amaias own story in flashback was of interest but the third story of the abductions and voodoo could have been left out shrinking a near 700 page book back to a more reasonable 500 pages.

First Published in Spanish as “La cara norte del corazón” in 2021, in Spain by Booket.
Translated into french by Anne Plantagenet and published as “La face nord du coeur” by Gallimard in 2021.
Translated into english by Michael Meigs and published as “The North Face of the Heart” by Amazon Crossing in 2021
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Alvord Texas
Le champ devant la maison des Allen trahissait à peine le passage de l’Ouragan. Pour un obserateur, la ferme pouvait donner, dans un premier temps une impression de normalité absolue…..Seulement quand on regardait l’étage, les fenêtres, on s’apercevait que la maison n’avait pas de toit.

Regardez la bouche de Lenx. On dirait une entaille fait à la hache.
Elle acquiesça. C’était exactement ce qu’elle avait pensé en la voyant.
En quarante ans de Métier, je l’ai souvent observé, c’est ce que j’appelle le “syndrome de la mariée et la pluie”

Julia Deck ‘Private Property’


I knew about Annabelle’s hot pants. She had a whole collection, which she wore with high heels when she spotted a sucker at the agency. I’d also noticed to what extent hot pants make the person that wears them amusing, and just how much the listeners suddenly credit then with inimaginable wit.***


The Cardarecs are a middle class hipster Parisian couple, with middle class aspirations, to move from Paris, but not too far, to be able to benefit from more space, to get out doors a little but not to leave their Parisian lifestile behind. in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort.

He, Charles, a long term hypochondriac that she, the narrator, an architect, with their social consciences buy into a new eco-district in the suburbs, energy-neutral, low waste footprint etc. only to find that it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Any small set back sends Charles scuttering for his bed. The walls of the houses are paper thin, and the self-sufficient energy system has been under-sized. The Cardarecs could have made a go of it in spite of all this had it not been for their neighbours, the Lecoq family.

In this short sharp concise writing style Julia Deck tells the story of the neighbours from hell, Annabelle from the opening quote, young thirty something and her husband Arnaud, partying loudly into the early hours and eventually annoying the whole neighbourhood. After Charles complains about them in an informal neighbour’s meeting the Lecoq family cat is found dead and cut in half down in the trench in the street meant to bring gas to their houses. Then Annabelle dissapears.

When her body shows up on waste ground Charles is suspected and arrested, Arnaud the husband had been out all night with Patrick Lemoine, a neighbour who avoids going into too much detail about their evening out and as the narrator tells us:


Ok, Lemoine had never been able to get it up, it was a miracle that he had managed to knock her up, and that twice. And what’s more he had doubly lied. It most definitely wasn’t a coincidence that he’d come across Arnaud Lecoq at the Voltigeur the evening Annabelle had dissapeared. They had arranged to meet there and to go on to a private club where they had accidently met some time before and found that they had something secret in common.***


First Published in French as “Propriété privé” by Les Éditions de Minuit in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Je connaissais les microshorts d’Annabelle. Elle en possédait toute une collection, qu’elle assortissait avec des talons compensés quand elle avait flairé le gogo à l’agence. J’avais également noté à quel point les microshorts confèrent de l’esprit à celle qui les portent, et combien leurs auditeurs les créditent soudain d’une verve insoupçonnée.

Oui, Lemoine avait toujours bandé mou, c’était un miracle qu’il l’ai engrossée par deux fois. Et puis il avait doublement menti. Ce n’était absolument pas une coïncidence s’il était tombé sur Arnaud Lecoq au Voltigeur le soir de la disparition d’Annabelle. Les deux hommes s’étaient donnés rendez-vous. Ils étaient convenus de se rendre ensemble dans un club privé où ils s’étaient croisés par hasard quelques temps plus tôt, se découvrant par la même occasion un point commun inavoué.

Claudie Hunzinger ‘Les Grands Cerfs’


The economic impact for the Rhineland can be summarised as follows: 1 deer shot = 1260 euros saved for the timber industry.***


Years ago, Nils and Pamina, still students take the radical decision to move to the mountains and live on a high prairie cut of from the world in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort. Sure each year at set times they heard wild life noises and discovered their young trees had been massacred in the morning, but then Léo arrived, maybe an ex-military man, wanting to know if he can set up an observation post on their land and then for ten years not much happens.

Léo tells Pamina of the stags he observes and of which he takes photos, of Wow of Apollo, of Arador and of Geronimo. Léo who has observed these animals and knows them has given them names to personalise them. Slowly Pamina is pulled into the story until one day she gives in to a whim and goes to the observation point. She slowly learns that observing these animals is 99% waiting and 1 % observation, she is drawn in to Léo’s tales and marvels at these wonderful creatures. As she gets to know more about them, of their world, of their vocabulary, antlers, horns, velvet, moult and feels she knows them, of their life cycle, the animals begin to be shot, the wonderful Wow and the old clever Arador.

Claudie Hunziger renders their lives real to us, their growing antlers, shedding their velvet by impact with the trees, rubbing their antlers up against the trees to give them a finish, colour, rubbing up against a nut tree for instance to give an antler a gold colour. She tells us of the nights where they fight for ascendancy, of their mating and of then losing their antlers, their moult until the cycle begins in the spring. She tells us of their surviving the hunger of winter in the snow, eating tree bark.

Léo brings Pamina into contact with the forestry commission and the hunters who together “regulate” the “stock” of deer and learns of the future for the deer as shown in the opening quote from the representative of the commission. He explains to her that the forestry commission who regulate the livestock, auctioning of bracelets, the right to kill a deer, are only interested in the timber the forest produces:


He presented himself, what’s more, as a representative of the forestry commission responsible for implementing the national policy which is to ensure the regeneration of the forest and of its financial returns. That is to say to favour coniferous trees, silver firs, spice trees, Douglas firs, the woody species the most chewed by stags, eaten if you like……And that that required a population of deer reduced to a strict minimum.***


And of course what the hunters really want are the antlers, the stags are their real prey. Pamina lives this as her personal window onto the sixth great extinction which is now underway.

If you didn’t know about the life of stags before you read this, you certainly knew more afterwards. This was written passionately.

First Published in French as “Les grands cerfs” by Grasset in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

L’impact économique pour la Rhénanie Palatinat se résume ainsi: 1 chevreuil tiré = 1260 euros d’économie pour l’industrie forestière.

s’est d’ailleurs présenté comme un agent de l’ONF chargé d’appliquer la politique nationale qui est de veiller à la régénération des forêts et à leur rendement financier. C’est à dire de veiller à privilégier les conifères, sapins pectinés, épiceas, douglas, espèces ligneuses les plus “abrouties” par les cerfs, bouffées, quoi…. Et que ça passait par un peuplement de cervidés réduit au minimum

Iegor Gran ‘Competent Departments’

We should have neutralised Pasternak for good. Back in the good old days….the valiant Tcheka…the NKVD….I don’t understand why we put up with it.
What a dumb fool he is!
We have to be tactically astute, declares Pakhomov. We can’t just go in all guns blazing when the eyes of the world opinion are on you……the international interest of the foreign media have created an invisible protective dome around Pasternak.***


Iegor Gran takes us back in time to Moscow in the 1960’s and illustrates this schitzophrenic period by the true story of his parents and the five year hunt for his father by the eigth section of the KGB, responsible for anti-soviet propaganda.

This is a time, following Krouschev’s recognition of Stalin’s crimes, where we follow the life of lieutnant Evgueni Feodorovitch Ivanov as he tries to find out who is hiding behind the name of Adrien Tertz, a jewish name, and is publishing in the West, first in French and then in Russian. His writings criticising the Soviets are too precise and could only come from within the USSR. Tertz begins by quoting the union of Soviet writers:


Socialist realism is the fundamental method in soviet literature and in soviet literary criticism. It requires of the artist a true historically tangible representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Amongst other things it should contribute to the ideological transformation and of the education of workers in the spirit of socialism.***


Siniavski and the French diplomat that helps him get his works out of the USSR laid down at the beginning, the strategy that allowed him to write for so many years, a Jewish name, hints of links with both Poland and Lenningrad that had Ivanov well off track in his hunt.

The main choice of Iegor Gran to reverse the vision and to write the story not from his father’s point of view but from Ivanov’s liberates the author to show the contradictions from within, for instance Gagarin’s first space flight and his hero’s welcome contrasting with his reward being a state secret, if the West were to get their hands on the clothing list he was granted as a hero, they would understand the state of things for the Soviet Peoples, as Gran points out the list was signed in person by Krouschev:


Coat mid-season – 1 off
Light summer coat – 1 off
Raincoat – 1 off
Suits – 2 off (one light, one dark)
Shoes – 2 pairs (black and light)
Shirts white – 6 off
Hats – 2 off
Ties – 6 off
Gloves – 1 pair
Handkerchiefs – 12 off
Socks 6 pairs
Underpants, vests – 6 off
Electric razor – 1 off***


As Ivanov laments, if only they could have found Adrien Tertz quickly, the Soviet Union was in a state of constant flux following the death of Stalin, each change affecting the resources and morale of the KGB, Krouschev denounces Stalins crimes, Stalin’s body is removed from the mausoleum he shared with Lenin and buried secretly, Krouschev is “retired” and throughout all of this the eigth section is unable to find Tertz. Meanwhile Siniavski knows he will be caught, sometime, he just doesn’t know when as months turn into years.

Iegor Gran then through his narrator tells us of the french and Italian, communist parties, the hope of whose victories kept the KGB hardliners in check, of the Nobel literature prize for Pasternack for the Dr. Zhivago that was forbidden in the USSR, as illustrated in the opening quote, of the eigth section often finding illegal copies on raids of the intelligentsia.

I particularly liked the raid on Siniavski’s house when his mother after years of preparation was more than a match for the officers, telling them when they revealed that her husband was in the Lubyanka of her relief to find out that he wasn’t with another woman. And of course when she quickly places her young baby, Iegor Gran, in Ivanov’s hands before he could avoid it.

He gives a sense of the time in history to the story and brings Ivanov to life as a complex character. Their very hunt for Tertz and his imprisonment bring the light of the western media on an otherwise little read author. This is an engaging book that will do well and would deserve a translation.

First Published in French as “Les services conpétents” by P.O.L in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

On aurait dû neutralisé Pasternak définitivement. Au bon vieux temps… La valeureuse Tchéka… Le NKVD…Je ne comprends pas pourquoi on tolère.
Quelle brute épaisse, celui-là!
Il faut être tactiquement astucieux, affirme Pakhomov. On ne peut pas y aller à la hache quand les yeux de l’opinion internationale sont braqués sur vous…….l’attention des médias étrangers à créer autour de W Pasternak un dôme de protection invisible.

Le réalisme socialiste est la méthode fondamentale de la littérature et la la critique littéraire soviétiques. Il exige de l’artiste une représentation véridique, historiquement concrète, de la réalité dans son développement révolutionnaire. En outre, il doit contribuer à la transformation idéologique et à l’éducation des travailleurs dans l’esprit du socialisme.

Manteau demi-saison – 1 unité
Manteau léger d’été – 1 unité
Imperméable – 1 unité
Costume – 2 unités (un clair, un sombre).
Chaussures – 2 paires (noires et claires).
Chemise blanche – 6 unités.
Chapeau – 2 unités.
Cravate – 6 unités
Gants – 1 paire.
Mouchoir – 12 unités.
Chaussettes – 6 paires.
Slip, maillot de corps – 6 paires
Rasoire électrique – 1 unité

Arnaud Cathrine And The Anonymous Project ‘Andrew est plus beau que toi’

Arnaud Cathrine has put together this marvelous book from a selection of amateur colour slides from the 1940’s through to the 1970’s chosen from Lee Shulman’s Anonymous Project www.anonymous-project.com, a large private collection of anonymous Kodachrome slides. He has imagined a story linking these images and as the story moves on we don’t initially realise that the images of the recurring characters, the brothers Andrew and Ryan Tucker are never twice of the same persons. The story he tells us is a story of California from the 1940’s through to the 1980’s and of the different life trajectories of the two brothers.

The story is told in alternating chapters by the two brothers beginning with their fathers arrival in California just before the outbreak of the war and the meeting with their mother in Santa Monica. The marvelous images at every page of the book give us a full immersion into working class homes, which seem by today’s standards to be sparse. The two brothers take different roads as Andrew discovers his attraction to men, take this photo with his first boyfriend:

As things become more difficult at home Ryan advises him to move to San Francisco where he meets his life partner. Capturing the post war tensions, his father refuses to see him from then on, even to his death.

Ryan on the other hand meets his wife to be, shown in this photo titled by Arnaud Cathrine “Come near her and I’ll crush you”

An interesting way to give life to these 90 or so photos, as for instance their mother has a secret liaison with the neighbour who then dies in a car crash or their childhood friends move away and always these remarkable photos.

First Published in French as “Andrew est plus beau que toi” by Flammarion in 2019

Stéphane Carlier ‘Madame Halberstadt’s Dog


People have their eyes riveted on their smartphones, what do you expect. And the rare readers all buy the same book…..
My editor
There was an article about it in L’Obs, not long back. The people that still read are divided into three categories. The old because they’re insomniacs. Women with little or no qualifications who read in public transport. And occasional readers who buy one or two books a year.


Baptiste is down, he’s just released a book that’s number 475758 on the Amazon sales list and as he says “People had preferred to buy “Teaching Physical Education to our Children”, a text book written in 1907 by the Abbot François Calot, classed number 475612.” In this state he meets up with his editor and she tells him of her analysis in the opening quote.

But then his neighbour, Madame Halberstadt asks him to look after her dog whilst she is in hospital and things begin to look up, his book begins to climb Amazon’s sales table and he meets an unbelievably beautiful woman whilst walking the dog and tells his mother that the dog is lucky! Soon his mother asks to borrow the dog and then comes around unexpectedly to walk the dog.

When Madame Halberstadt comes back to her apartment she refuses to take the dog back, claiming it’s not hers.
A short pleasant read as Baptiste tries to get to the bottom of the missing dog enigma; since his mother walked the dog Baptiste’s good fortune, as he remarks, had run out.

First Published in French as “Le Chien de Madame Halberstadt” by Le Tripode in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Les gens ont le nez collé sur leur téléphone, qu’est-ce que tu veux. Et les rares qui lisent encore achètent tous le même livre…
Mon éditrice…
Il y avait un article là-dessus dans L’Obs, y a pas longtemps. Les gens qui lisent encore se répartissent en trois catégories. Les vieux parce qu’ils ont les insomnies. Les femmes pas ou peu diplômées qui lisent dans les transports en commun. Et les lecteurs occasionnels qui achètent un ou deux livres par an.

Sylvain Prudhomme ‘Par Les routes’


What do you think you’re looking for, asked Jeanne turning back towards the hitchhiker. What I want to say is when you do it, why do you do it. You don’t make money from it. It separates you from Marie and Augustin. It takes you several days each time. You come back exhausted. You’re not a reporter, nor a writer or photographer. You don’t want to make a film, or an expo or a novel, at least as far as I know. So why do you do it.***


Sacha moves to a town, V, in the south east of France, the town where his roommate, who he hasn’t seen since university ten year’s earlier, lives. Sacha undertakes to visit him and finds the hitchhiker living happily with Marie and their son Augustin. Sacha and his roommate had hitchhiked in their university days, which were, as Sacha tells us, already well past the golden age of hitchhiking.

The call of the roads is however still there and the hitchhiker we soon learn still leaves his family for days at a time before coming home tired and dirty to the incomprehension of their friends as illustrated by the opening quote. Marie on the other hand seems proud of his freedom. We learn from the discussions between the two men that what drives him to the open road is the encounters he makes with the drivers:


With time the hitchhiker began to regret that the trip’s ended. That his journey should always, inevitably end by separating him from the people he meets. He began asking them if they realised the extraordinary set of circumstances that had lead to their routes crossing.***


As his absences grow longer, the postcards he sends show that his trips take on themes, for instance:


The hitchhiker described his projects. Trips abroad without leaving France: Saint-Benin, Venise, Montréal, Porto, Grenade, Le Désert, Dunes.***


The pride that Marie had for his freedom slowly turns to resentment as it becomes obvious that he doesn’t care for everyday life, has Sacha’s arrival freed him? Knowing, sensing, even maybe expecting Sacha to move in and replace him. One day he asks Sacha to join him for a trip where we better understand the lack of romanticism in his endeavour, sleeping short hours in his little tent, cold in his sleeping bag but always meeting people. Hitchhiking as a means not an end.

First Published in French as “Par les routes” by Gallimard in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Mais tu penses que tu cherches quoi , a demandé Jeanne en se tournant à nouveau vers l’autostoppeur. Je veux dire quand tu fais ça, tu le fais pour quoi. Ça ne te rapporte pas d’argent. Ça t’éloigne de Marie et d’Augustin. Ça te prend plusieurs jours chaque fois. Tu rentres épuisé. Tu n’es pas reporter, pas écrivain, pas photographe. Tu ne veux pas faire un film, ni une expo, ni un roman, enfin pas que je sache. Tu le fais pour quoi alors.

Avec le temps l’autostoppeur s’est pris à regretter que les trajets se terminent. que sa route doive toujours à la fin inéluctablement, se séparerde celle des gens rencontrés Il s’est mis à leur demander s’ils se rendaient compte. S’ils mesuraient quel extraordinaire concours de circonstances avait permis que leurs routes se croisent.

l’autostoppeur racontait ses projets. Voyages à l’étranger sans quitter la France: Saint-Benin, Venise, Montréal, Porto, Grenade, Le Désert, Dunes.