In the morning, even before the sun rises, the fighter gets underway . Kitted out in black, it’s deadly load strapped to its underside, it starts up. The engine roars in the silence of dawn. The propeller spins. The plane shakes, lights out, rolls down the runway, lifts its nose and begins to climb.With a constant thrust it climbs to five thousand metres and levels out. The sun has risen. From the sea and from the sky the fighter is visible in every direction. My name is Laura Carlson. I was born on the 10th of January 1944 in New York. My father died on the 7th of April 1945 in Okinawa. ***
So begins Pascale Roze’s 1996 Goncourt prize winning novel, as Laura Carlson tells us of her life, of a father she never new, of her mother, a war widow left with nothing in a foreign land, forced to move back into her parental home in the ironically named Charity street with her baby daughter Laura. Her mother never really recovered from losing her husband, when Laura’s grandparents let her mother out, she would drink to excess and go to servicemen’s clubs looking for a man, any man and then come home drunk. Faced with this her tyrannical grandmother kept her mother sedated and locked in and in this state her mother didn’t speak to her or anyone else for the best part of eighteen years for which Laura could not forgive her, so that in her own words:
In the morning, even before the sun rises, the fighter gets under My childhood was grim. The appartement was grim, my grandparents were grim and my mother sank into a grim silence. ***
So, onto the main line of the story, as Laura grows up no one speaks to her of her father, at school for one year, she gets to know her only childhood friend, Nathalie, who’s family has just been forced to leave Algeria during the war of independence. Nathalie pushes Laura to investigate her fathers death and from the date of his death and the ship on which he was stationed, she learns that they were attacked by a Kamikaze and that he must of died in this attack.
The key point in this story occurs when Nathalie gives her a book written by a Kamikaze before his death, called Tsurukawa shortly before Nathalie’s family move back to Northern Africa. Laura is clearly perturbed and begins hearing the roaring noise of an engine in her ears at random moments of day or night and persuades herself that it is Tsurukawa’s Zero heading towards her. As she begins her studies in Paris, she meets and has a long term relationship with Bruno a student musician. Their relationship is interrupted when Bruno is called up and Laura’s mental state regresses, one day when Bruno is with her in Paris we understand that she is now mixing up Bruno and Tsurukawa:
Bruno seemed to be getting back to normal, or at least had recovered the will to work, he spent his whole leave seated at his desk. I preferred him like this. I could once again begin to admire him. And I told myself that an arrangement might be possible between Tsurukawa and him. ***
And then later she tells him:
I said that when we made love, it was now Tsurukawa who took means that he ravaged me. ***
As the book reaches its climax, Laura drives her car faster and faster along a road, trying as Tsurukawa had explained, to keep her eyes open to the last second. Then she awakes in hospital and looks at the photos of Tsurukawa and of her father:
For the first time I really looked at them and thought of my whole life. My name is Laura Carlson. I don’t know who that man is who has his arm around mum’s waist. I put the photos down next to Tsurukawa’s diary and compared them. I don’t know which of Andrew Carlson or Tsurukawa Oshi is my father. ***
First Published in French as “Le Chasseur Zéro” in 1996 by Albin Michel.
*** my translation