Metin Arditi ‘Le Turquetto’


Stood up, his right hand grasping his cane, the master was unable to tear his eyes away from the canvas. He had before him the most beautiful portrait that had ever been painted. The lines were of an absolute precision. And the colours…. How had he managed to obtain such nuances in the darker colours? There was the young man’s look, the beauty of his age, a charm, but a force as well, a kindness…. He moved forward towards the painting looking for the signature. He couldn’t find it. His eyesight weakened…. He tried again three times and finally found it, in the lower right hand corner, a capital T, painted in dark grey.img_3098
He stepped back from the painting and once more took it in slowly. What he needed to do to save it was shameful. and even obscene. But there was no other solution but this, and he did his duty.***


Welcome to Metin Arditi’s art world, in this work of fiction Arditi begins with a chromographic examination report leaving some doubt as to whether the work, “Man With A Glove” from the Louvre was actually by Titien, leading him to create the character the Turquetto, who had actually painted this work, and why there is no other trace of Turquetto’s work, taking us right up to the terrible decision by Titien himself to add his signature to the painting as illustrated in the opening quote.

The book written in three parts takes us from sixteenth century Constantinople, with its varied population of Turks, Jews, Greeks and Armenians, each with their own religions and very different rights but all having one thing in common, reproducing any of God’s creation is forbidden. Elie a young jewish child who had been brought up in a greek family and who moves easily amongst the Turkish merchants eventually escapes to venice and on the journey takes a Greek name, becoming a christian overnight.

In the second part of the book in Venice, due to heis natural skill but also due to his mixed cultural experience he becomes a painter of great renown, but as he matures, he finds he no longer wants to hide who he really and eventually falls foul of the inquisition, finally escaping and returning to Constantinople where things are becoming more difficult for the Greeks and the Jews.

This is a fascinating story as Arditi draws us a picture of the sixteenth century world and the inability of the different people to live with each other, any resemblance with what is happening around us today is purely coincidental!

First Published in French as “Le Turquetto” in 2011 by Actes Sud
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Debout, la main droite agrippée à sa canne, le maitre n’arrivait pas à détacher ses yeux de la toile. il avait devant lui le plus beau portrait qui ait jamais été peint. Un trait d’une précision absolue. Et des couleurs… Comment avait-il réussi à obtenir de telles nuances dans les sombres? Il y avait dans le regard du jeune homme la beauté de son âge, un charme, mais aussi une force, une bonté….
Il s’approcha du tableau et chercha la signature. Il ne la trouva pas. Ses yeux déclinaient…. Il s’y reprit à trois fois et fini par la répérer, au coin inférieur droit, un T majuscule, peint en gris foncé.
Il s’éloigna de la toile et une fois encore la regarda longuement. Ce qu’il devait faire pour la sauver était indigne. Et même obscène. Mais il n’y avait d’autre solution que celle-là, et il fit son devoir.

Antoine Bello ‘The Falsifiers’


“What was the plan? asked Magawati dryly.
“The plan was to, one hour exactly before the Sputnik 2 launch, send a press release from TASS to around fifty media outlets announcing that the satellite had onboard a two year old dog called Laïka.”
“Even though the satellite was empty?” asked Youssef, in disbelief.
“Even though the satellite was empty,” repeated Vargas, “What happened?”
***


After a hectic month of November, reading for the Roman de Rochefort and for the Booker Prize, I was having trouble getting back in the saddle so, off to the library and after twenty minutes with Véronique, “I need something easy to read with a certain intrigue”. Away I came with the first of this trilogy by Antoine Bello and, shame on me, I’d never heard of him. He may well be an American author who writes in French, but his main protagonist here is Icelandic, Sliv Dartunghuvet. Sliv, fresh from university is easily recruited by an environmental research company, one of many fronts for a tentacular organisation, the CFR (Consortium de Falsification du Réel). Sliv asks some questions but faced with an absence of answers from his recruiting agent, Gunnar, he turns out to be a trusting fellow:


And what can be said about the motives of CFR? Gunnar talked away normally, without ever revealing anything of importance. Three conversations later, and I had no more idea than the first day. Why did the CFR falsify reality? With what money and on behalf of who?***


Sliv soon learns of some of the older cases the CFR has worked on such as Laïca from the opening quote who never actually existed. Sliv is pulled into the ludic side of the job, working on scenarios that, after examination and correction, the organisation may decide to put into action.

Sliv turns out to be an exceptional creator of scenarios and begins to take more and more risks until he puts the organisations existance at risk and has the unfortunate experience of meeting the Special Ops.

This was a really good book to get back to reading, this first book of the series was written back in 2007 and treats the pre-internet falsification of reality as Dartunghuvet climbs the lower levels of the CFR, waiting to see how the later books take on the whole fake news thing.

First Published in french as “Les falsificateurs” in 2007, by Gallimard *** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

—Quel était le plan? demanda Magawati d’une voix sèche.
—Le plan consistait, une heure exactement après le lancement de Spoutnik 2, à envoyer un communiqué de l’agence Tass à une cinquantaine de rédactions annonçant que le satelite emportait à son bord une chienne de deux ans du nom de Laïka.
—Alors que le satellite était vide? demanda Youssef, incredule.
—Alors que le satellite était vide, répéta Vargas. Que se passa-t-il?

Et que dire des mobiles du CFR? Gunnar discourait habituelement, sans jamais rien révéler d’important. Trois conversations plus tard, j’en savais à peine plus qu’au premier jour. Pourquoi le CFR falsifiait-il le réel? Avec quel argent et pour le copte de qui?

Frédérique Boyer ‘Le lièvre’


I knew he was lieing. But I wanted to believe him. His voice had all the reassurance of a warrior who had suffered a terrible setback and was looking for revenge. And it would take the time it would take. img_0259He had long been locked in the room of lost chances. Life was a dangerous game. There were only a fews hours left for him to find the key to free himself.***


This book, my seventh read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, a relatively short book with the narrator revisiting an events in his childhood as one of his parents neighbours who lived above them befriended the narrator who needed to leave the straightjacket of his home as he approached adolescence. His neighbour is a rough character who is supposed to have a job involving driving around the south west of France towards the end of the sixties but doesn’t actually seem to do much as he drives around with the boy in the car. The narrators description of him in the opening paragraph seems to sum him up well.

His view in his own family looking back is in a way like his view of the neighbour, the word “inexorablel seems to say that their fate is also fixed:


It wasn’t necessarily sad, or it doesn’t seem so to me these days when I see us so, and we resembled small characters from a silent movie, trying hard, to the beat of some infernal music, to repeat the mistakes without seeing them, led inexorably forward as if by a cruel joke they didn’t understand.***


He seems at one point to ask himself why he keeps mulling over these memories so many years later and the answer is in the precise words of his analysis.


Because, without a doubt, like an assassin, childhood always revisits the the scene of it’s crime.***


So what was the event that troubles him all these years later? Some thime before the police come to get the neighbour, whom he never sees again, he is taken hunting and the neighbour pushes him to shoot at a wild hare, he is retrospectively only partially taken in by the fact that his shot killed the hare, supposing that the neighbour fired in quick succesion to kill the hare. It is the carrying the hare back to their appartment block, not being able to bring it back to life and the moment that he realises that dearh is definitive that troubles him so much. This moment far more than the very public arrest of the neighbour.

A short troubling book, well written but which didn’t ring a bell for me.

First Published in french as “Le lièvre” in 2021, by Gallimard
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je savais qu’il mentait. Mais je voulais y croire. Sa voix avait l’assurance d’un guerrier qui aurait subi un revers terrible et promettrait de revenir se venger. Et cela prendrait le temps qu’il faudrait. Il avait depuis longtemps élu domicile dans la salle des chances perdues. La vie était un jeu dangereux. Il n’avait plus que quelques heures pour trouver la clé qui le libérerait.

Ce n’était pas forcément triste, ou ça ne l’est plus tout à fait à mes yeux aujourd’hui quand je nous revois ainsi, et que nous ressemblons alors aux petits personnages d’un film muet, appliqués sur une musique infernale à enchaîner les erreurs sans les voir, et entraînés inexorablement dans la mécanique d’un gag cruel qui leur échappe.

Parce que sans doute, comme l’assassin, l’enfance revient toujours sur les lieux de son crime.

Florence Aubenas ‘L’inconnu de la poste’


One evening, he’d imagined a bank job in front of the other two sat on the sofa. He’d pulled one of Corinne’s stockings over his head, waving about as if he had a shotgun. img_0248There’d be two motorbikes, one of them would be burnt at the bank, then everyone would head of into another county. He’d seen it in an american film. Rambouille shrugged his shoulders: “You don’t even have a bike license.”***


This book, my tenth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, is based on another true story, investigated by Florence Aubenas. In a small town in the Bugey region of France where everybody knows everybody, and the only employment in the area is ensured by the “Plastic Valley” which originally developed in the sixties and seventies in mostly family businesses with little investment or health standards. Unemployment is high as is petty crime. The postmistress is found murdered in her micro post office. At once the thought is that the murderer must be an outsider, but as none is found suspicion falls slowly falls on a marginal character, living in a run down flat opposite the post office, “the actor”, Thomassin. The opening quote of him showing his friends how he would carry out a robbery was later brought against him in the case:

Aubenas tells the story of Thomassin and his band of friends, Thomassin had been brought up from foster home to foster home, with his brother Jerôme before being discovered at a casting by a french film director looking for someone who really looked that they could live the part of the rough character in a film, a film for which he won the major award of the year for a promising young actor. But with no real outside support he was happy to show off to his friends in his housing estate and easily spent all of his money. A pattern he was to repeat with each of his following more and more spaced apart films until we find him living in Bugey where he had once been weaned off drugs by a childhood friend. As after the murder the police were listening in on his phone calls, they hear him, drunk, talking to his brother about his youth:


Thomassin dials Jerôme’s number…..”at mother Picolo’s place, her son forced us to do blow jobs, we were raped.” He said “I lost my virginity when I was eight”.***


The story is a series of tragedies. The micro post office only existed because the father of Catherine Burgod, the dead woman, had been mayor for a number of years and had used his influence to keep the agency open for his daughter. Thomassin’s friends all die from substance abuse and Thomassin himself is incarcerated for several years awaiting trial before being freed when the law would not let them keep him inside any longer without trial. France’s current justice minister, a previous famous barrister had taken up his case. This was when Florence Aubenas first heard of Thomassin:


The First time I heard of Thomassin was from a Casting Director he’d worked with at the start of his acting career. She showed me some of the letters he had sent her from prison.***


Florence Aubenas keeps us on tack with this interesting read full of detailed background on each of the characters, fascinating from start to end.

First Published in french as “L’inconnu de la poste” in 2021, by L’Olivier*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Un soir, il a imaginé un braquage devant les deux autres posés sur son canapé. Il s’était enfilé un vieux bas de Corinne sur le visage, gesticulant comme avec un fusil. Il y aurait deux motos, dont l’une serait brûlée sur place, puis tout le monde se replierait dans un autre département. Il avait vu le truc dans un film américain. Rambouille avait haussé les épaules: “T’as même pas le permis.”

Thomassin compose le numéro de Jérôme……”Chez la mère Picolo, son fils nous obligeait à faire des fellations, nous avons été violés.” Il dit: “moi j’ai été dépucelé à huit ans”.

La première fois que j’ai entendu parler de Thomassin, c’était par une directrice de casting avec qui il avait travaillé á ses débuts d’acteur. Elle m’avait montré quelques-unes des lettres qu’il lui avait envoyées de prison.

Celia Levi ‘La Tannerie’


Paula summoned Jeanne, it was important. Jeanne was shaken. she was afraid her contract would’t be renewed.img_0247“I’ve done something wrong?” Jeanne asked, Paula smiled. “No, quite the opposite, you’re going to get more work, don’t worry.***


This book, my ninth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, tells the story of The Tannerie, a local arts centre and its microcosm, representative of much of the Paris area. The story centres around Jeanne, a girl from a farm in brittany, who after her university studies in Rennes decides to move to Paris to try her chance in the big city but finds herself in a precarious situation with consecutive short term contracts, unable to plan ahead or to feel stable, as illustrated by her being called by her boss and thinking only of her contract in the opening quote.

After a difficult start in Paris, Jeanne slowly settles into a routine with the other workers at the Tannerie, gradually making a place for herself:


She worked nearly every day. Fridays she had a few drinks with Marianne, the girls from the ticket office, Xavier and his colleagues, the technicians, Saïd joined them, only talking to the technicians. She felt appreciated, she only occasionally took part in the conversation, she was a good audience, listened and that was enough for her.***


When everyone is away at holiday time, her acting boss, Paula’s colleague, Julien, invites her out for walks or drinks, and she interprets this for maybe more than it is. Julien, who has himself been in Paris for several years comes over to Jeanne as sophisticated, and has relatively reactionary views for someone in junior management in a cultural centre as opposed to some of Jeanne’s friends, themselves in precarious situations and involved in demonstrations in Paris.


Julien hadn’t said anything up till then, he looked serious as he said: No, things aren’t done that way these days. what’s more the unions no longer have control, people aren’t fooled by this show of strength going nowhere. Its become folklore. You’ll see you’ll have forgotten in a few weeks. I know Julien continued, turning towards Jeanne , it’s exhilarating, we think everything’s going to change, there’s shouting in the streets, we count how many we were, we end the day with a smell of smoke, the sound of whistles in our ears, institutional songs, the International, Bella Ciao, Flags with images of Ché, I had my period during my time at Lycée, during the CPE; finishing with a big show. It’s out of date, archaic, you can feel the shadow of ’68 in the background, but in truth it’s the end of the road.***


What happens at the Tannerie when hommeless migrants move in next door? How are Julien’s ideas assimilated by Jeanne? Or What happens when Jeanne’s “extra responsibilities”, young people on work insertion projects, are handed full time contracts at the end of their time training with Jeanne whilst she is kept on temporary contracts? Well if you read to the end you’ll find out. I was only very mildly interested myself.

First Published in french as “La tannerie” in 2021, by Tristram
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Paula convoqua Jeanne, c’était important. Jeanne s’en trouva tout effrayée. Elle avait peur qu’on ne renouvelle pas son contrat.
“J’ai fait quelque chose de mal?” hasarda Jeanne. Paula sourit. “Non, au contraire, tu vas avoir plus de travail, ne t’inquiète pas.”

Elle travaillait presque tous les jours. Le vendredi soir, elle buvait des coups avec Marianne, les filles de la billetterie, Xavier et ses collègues de la technique, Saïd les rejoignait, n’adressait la parole qu’aux techniciens. Elle se sentait appréciée, elle n’intervenait que peu dans les discussions, était bon public, écoutait et cela lui suffisait.

Julien n’avait rien dit jusque-là, il prit un air sérieux: “Non, aujourd’hui ces façons de faire sont dépassées. D’ailleurs les syndicats n’ont plus le pouvoir, les gens ne sont pas dupes de ce bras de fer qui mène nulle part. C’est devenu un folklore. Vous verrez que vous aurez oublié dans quelques semaines. Je sais continua Julien en s’adressant à Marianne, c’est exaltant, on croit que tout va changer, on crie dans la rue, on compte combien on a été. on finit la journée avec une odeur de fumigène, les oreilles pleines de coups de siftlets, de chants institutionalisés, L’Internationale, Bella ciao, les drapeaux du Che, J’ai eu ma période au lycée, pendant le CPE; ça finit par une grande messe. C’est très obsolète, archaïque, c’est le modèle de 68 qui est là en arrière-fond, mais qui en réalité agonise.

Irène Kaufer ‘Dibbouks’


My parents left Poland to ensure me a future, or the hope of a future, saving me from the discrimination and the stones thrown at me of which they themselves were occasionally victims or had witnessed when they were young.
I note that to choose the country of Intifadas in order to avoid stones being thrown is in itself a jewish joke.***


This was the last of the eleven books read this year for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, a short, quick and interesting read, a story of the Shoah and the next generation, the silence of the deported told as a mystery with enough dry humour in contrast to the original events and their sequels to explain the rationalistion of the next generation as illustrated in the opening quote of the narrators parents deciding to leave Poland for Israel.

So when she can no longer ignore the presence of the spirit of her dead sister, a dibbouk, she is persuaded to consult a woman who tells her of this phenomenon and who eventually traces a person living in Montreal that could be her supposed dead half sister whom her father had last seen in 1942 as he and his wife with their child were seperated, he to be taken from camp to camp working, “I could write a Michlin guide to the camps” he used to joke, and eventually surviving, they to be taken to Belzec, a death camp.


My dibbouk particularly liked to show up when we were alone, or rather face to face, her and I, in the evening or early in the morning when I couldn’t sleep…..I’d grown into the habit of talking to her, sometimes with a mock careing attitude: So, did you sleep well? Or other times with a resigned anger: Will you never leave me alone?***


She didn’t understand exactly why in the photos from this person found on social media, there was a recent picture of her own father in the background but decides to go to Montreal to spend time with this woman.


I know that it’s impossible. I’m a rational person, I have no fascination for paranormal phenomenon, I treat myself with real chemicals having guaranteed side effects, I believe neither in paradise nor in resurection. Parallel lives, no, completely out of the question.***


This story of discovery of the wartime experience, of its aftermath and the multiple strands and people, of what had/might have happened is particularly well told, a good choice for our long shortlist.

First Published in french as “Dibbouks” in 2021, by l’Antilope.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Mes parents ont quitté la Pologne pour m’assurer un avenir ou un espoir d’avenir, me sauvant des discriminations et des jets de pierre dont eux-mêmes avaient parfois été victimes ou témoins dans leur jeunesse. Je note que choisir le pays des Intifadas pour échapper aux jets de pierre est en soi une blague juive.

Je sais que c’est impossible. Je suis une personne rationnelle, je n’ai aucune fascination pour les phénomènes paranormaux, je me soigne qu’avec de bons produits chimiques aux effets secondaires garantis, je ne crois ni au paradis ni à la résurrection. Des vies parallèles, non, c’est tout à fait exclu.

Ma dibbouk aimait particulièrement se manifester dans la solitude, ou plutôt en tête-à tête, elle et moi, le soir ou le matin, très tôt, quand je n’arrivais plus à dormir….J’avais pris l’habitude de lui parler, parfois avec une sollicitude moqueuse: alors, tu as bien dormi? Ou d’autresfois avec colère résignée: tu ne me lâcheras donc jamais?

David Diop ‘ At Night All Blood is Black’

Booker International Prize 2021: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“All Night All Blood is Black”: In order of reading book number 1.


Captain Armand says that you need to rest. The captain says that you are truely very brave but also very very tired. The captain says that he applauds your bravery, your very great bravery. The captain says that you will be awarded the Military Cross like me, oh, you have it already. The captain says that you’ll maybe get another. So yes I know I’ve understood that Captain Armand no longer wants me on the battlefield. Behind these words relayed by the elder, military cross, chocolate, Ibrahima Seck I knew, I understood that they’d had enough of my seven severed hands brought back fromm the battle, yes I understood, God’s truth, that on the battlefield they only want temporary madness, mad from anger, mad from suffering, raging mad, but temporary, not continuously mad.


David Diop’s story of African soldiers in the first world war, bringing “savagery”to a “civilised” war as Alfa Ndiaye, the narrator theorises, the enemy over there is particularly afraid of the African’s savagery as his french commanders tell him proudly until he becomes really savage. You can go too far, he learns, in this “civilised” war, as illustrated in the opening quote.

David Diop tells us of Alfa Ndiaye, a Senagaleese soldier fighting in the trenches for France and of his more-than-brother, Mademba Diop who dies in no man’s land next to Alfa with his insides on the outside, begging Alfa to finish him but Alfa can’t. So begins this story of Africans in the trenches, with the author telling the story through Alfa who is haunted and influenced by Mademba, David Diop’s namesake. Mademba is killed in noman’s land by an enemy from across the lines who pretending to be dead suddenly pounces and kills him. Alfa takes this up as a modus operandi, lying in wait after the battle, slowly killing stragglers, severing a hand from each victim and bringing them back as trophies. We slowly learn of Alfa’s life in Africa and his relationship to Mademba and by the end of the book we no longer know which of the two of them remains in Alfa’s body, as Alfa says:


I loved Mademba, my more-than-brother. God’s truth I loved him so much, I was sonafraid he would die, I so wanted us to return together safe and sound to Gandiol that I would do anything to keep him alive.


This winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens has got to be one of my favourites, a fresh view on the madness of war.

First Published in French as “Frère d’âme” in 2018 by Le Seuil.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

le Capitaine Armand a dit que tu devais te reposer. Le capitaine dit que tu etais vraiment très brave mais très très fatigué aussi. Le capitaine a dit qu’il salue ton courage ton très très grand courage. Le capitaine a dit que tu allais avoir la croix de guerre comme moi, ah tu l’as deja. Le capitaine a dit que tu allais en avoir peut-être une autre. Alors oui je sais, j’ai compis que le capitaine Armand ne voulait plus de moi sur le champ de bataille. Derriere les mots rapportés par l’ainé, croix de guerre, chocolat, Ibrahima Seck j’ai su, j’ai compris qu’on en avait assez de mes sept mains tranchées rapportées chez nous, oui j’ai compris par la verité de dieux que sur le champ de battaille qu’on ne veut que de la follie passagère, des fous de rage, des fous de douleur, des fous furieux, mais temporaire, pas de fou en continue.

J’aimais Mademba mon plus-que frère. Par la verite de Dieux je l’aimais tellement, j’avais tellement peur qu’il meurt, je souhaitais tellement que nous rentrions sain et sauf tous les deux à Gandiol, j’étais prêt a tout pour qu’il reste en vie.

Hervé Le Tellier ‘Toutes les familles heureuses’


It was at roughly the same age that, during a digression in an adult conversation that my mother had had an abortion a few years before in Switzerland..my mother…explained to me several times: she had done it “for me” . Guy would of course have grown attached to “his child” and neglected me, or even grown to dislike me. I found out, thanks to her, that I was responsible for the death of a little brother or sister and that I couldn’t trust dad.***


Hervé Le Tellier, The 2020 Prix Goncourt, tells us in this his 2017 book of his background, of his un-loving un-caring family that he knew he needed to flee, even from a young age to survive, unlike Sarah Chiche this is no psychoanalysis although his mother lies at the centre of the story and her relationship with firstly his always absent father who didn’t give him his name and his stepfather, who had never wanted him. An example of his mother’s lack of consequence is given in the opening quote.

Now that all of the protagonists of the book are dead, except for his mother, suffering from Altzheimer’s, He delivers this compact story on the unhappiness of his family, rendered possible by not facing the facts:


I understood quite quickly that you couldn’t believe anything my mother said. It’s not that she particularly liked lying, it’s just that admitting the truth was too much for her.***


A short, personal well written book which I enjoyed.

First Published in French as “Toutes le familles heureuses” by JC Lattès in 2017
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

C’est à peu près au même âge que j’appris, au détour d’un conversation d’adultes, que ma mère avait avorté quelques années plus tôt en Suisse….ma mère…me l’expliqua bien plusieurs fois: elle l’avait fait “pour moi”. Guy se serait évidemment attaché à “son enfant” et il m’aurait délaissé, voir pris en grippe. Je sus ainsi grâce à elle que j’étais responsable de la mort d’un petit frère ou d’une petite sœur et qu’il fallait aussi me méfier de papa.

Je compris pourtant vite qu’il était difficile d’accorder le moindre crédit à ce que ma mère racontait. Ce n’était pas qu’elle aimait particulièrement mentir, mais accepter la vérité exigeait trop d’elle.

Sarah Chiche ‘Saturne’




Paris, 19th June 1975

Madame, Miss,…

What can be expected,img_0167-1 you’re beyond redemption. You’ve a dark heart, vicious like a snake disguised as a deer. In despite of whatever my old father may think, that you’ve tricked with your charm as you’ve tricked so many others, me, I can find no excuse for you. No. You’re no more than a mistress in the hands of a boy who’ll never be a man. I’m Harry’s brother. And in the name of my family, of the state in which you’ve left my brother, I swear to you: you will never be a part of our family. We will never welcome you again: not tomorrow, nor thereafter.

AC***


Sarah Chiche’s “The Obscure” was a book that spoke of her maternal family and the strains linked to the Shoah, Sarah is a Psychoanalyst and this book treats the point of encounter between her father’s family, partially imagined as she was not born for most of it and her own life, which she analyses here.

Sarah Chiche’s father’s family had built up a prosperous clinic in Algeria before the war of independence and were forced to flee with nothing, nothing is of course relative and her grandfather was able to build up a very lucrative clinic business in France. During these early years, the two sons, Harry, Sarah’s father and his older brother, Armand her uncle, were sent away to boarding school together. Already at this young age their characters are there to be seen. Armand full of drive, a success in company and Harry a dreamer.

The family was turned in on itself following their uprooting, the sons would inherit the father’s clinics and all would be well, but then Harry met Eve, herself trying to survive a complicated family situation, with little or no money and making men pay for her situation. Harry is totally in love with her but when his brother finds out Eve is not particularly faithful to his brother he takes things into his own hands and sends her the letter of the opening quote.

Soon after, Eve and Harry marry in private and when Eve is just 15 months old, in 1974, the year of the launch of Voyager, her father dies of leukemia. And so begins the second part of the book, how, are these events re-woken twenty six years later causing her breakdown. Sarah has cut of her ties with her paternal family (soured by her mother’s stories of them) and with her mother when her grandmother dies, causing her to question events:


Later, I was told that he went without suffering. I was told that he wanted to go. I was told that he was happy. When I found the strength to press for details, I was finally told that it happened like this: he fought to breathe. He was choking. He choked. It was an awful noise. ***


Sarah, fragile, is discovered living alone in a frightening state, unable to come to terms with the grief of her father’s death from all that time ago. And to be saved by the very people she no longer wanted to see:


The whiteness of the clinics where the mother, terrorised by what had happened to her own mother, begged them not to lock up her child. The negotiations for home care. The torture of guilt looking around at the habitual horror of the furniture. The shame of becoming dependent on this mother, this step-father from which she had tried to escape and who now are the only ones she can count on. ***


An introspective book, which has had a certain success, I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it.

First Published in French as “Saturne” by Sarah Chiche and published by Le Seuil in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Paris, le 19 juin 1975

Madame, Mademoiselle,…!!!
Que voulez-vous, vous êtes irrécupérable. Vous avez l’âme noire, vicieuse, d’un serpent peinturluré en biche. Quoi que puisse en penser mon vieux père, que vous avez berner par vos charmes, comme vous en berner tanr d’autres, moi, je ne vous trouve aucune excuse. non. Vous n’êtes qu’une concubine entre les mains d’un garçon qui ne sera jamais un homme. Je suis le frère de Harry. Et au nom des miens, au nom de l’état dans lequel vous avez mis mon frère, fe vous le jure: vous ne ferez jamais partie de notre famille. Nous ne vous recevrons plus: ni demain, ni les autres jours.

AC

plus tard, on m’a dit qu’il était parti sans souffrir. On m’a dit qu’il le voulait. on m’a dit qu’il était heureux. Quand j’ai trouvé la force de demander des précisions, on a fini par me dire que cela s’était passé à peu près ainsi: il luttait pour respirer. Il s’étouffa. Il étouffait. c’était un bruit abominable.

La blancheur des cliniques où la mère, terrorisée par ce qui est arrivé à sa propre mère, supplie qu’on n’enferme pas son enfant. La negotiation pour les soins à domicile. La torture de la culpabilité quand on contemple autour de soi l’horreur familière des meubles. La honte d’être redevenue dépendante de cette mère et de ce beau-père qu’on avait voulu fuir et qui sont désormais les seuls sur qui compter.

Alice Zeniter ‘Comme un empire dans un empire’


Traders now buy zero-days on the market and companies sell them on, all in total secrecy. As Antoine didn’t understand the word, L explained that a zero-day was an error in a program that nobody had yet found and for which as a consequence, there was no patch…..to sum up, said L, capitalism has taken over coding.***


Alice Zeniter’s latest novel covers the world of today through two protagonists whose lives meet and their meeting then transform them. The first is Antoine, a backroom boy and speech writer for a socialist member of parliament in these post-socialist days where the Socialist Party no longer represents even a moderate portion of the electorate and Antoine, all too aware of this, just doesn’t know what to do:


The party is a dead animal in whose stomach you can still shelter but it is now beginning to smell and to become cold. It makes no sense to spend your whole life within it today. That way of shaping politics is dead and I know no other. I don’t know what to do.***


And L, who lived through the early period of the internet hackers, was part of Anonymous and saw the system fight back, break some and then jail the leaders. L lives in two worlds, the Within and the Flesh-world; she prefers the Within, the virtual. The experience with the Anons and the constant fear has kept her from attacking large corporate entities but she has her enemies, the people she defends others against, the abusers of women. When her live in boyfriend/hacker is arrested early one morning, for attacking a large corporate entity her world starts to fall apart.

L begins to see people following her. Are these people linked to her Elias her boyfriend or to the women haters she has been fighting for her female customers, or is it all in her head? She no longer knows. Antoine, whom she has met at a party she did not mean to attend, decides to save her and arranges for her to leave Paris and live with a friend of his in a sort of commune in a caravan with other missfits behind the friend’s farmhouse in Brittany. So opens a phase of renewal, an appreciation of the world around her, the Flesh-world she despises up to this point.

Who do these two people become, does L leave her previous life, or at least put it in perspective, become less paranoid? Does Antoine continue to work for an ideal, a party, an elected representative of the people he no longer believes in? Or does their meeting make them both better, stronger? Do you believe in fairy tails? Well read this book. As usual Zeniter doesn’t dissapoint.

First Published in French as “Comme un empire dans un empire” in 2020 by Flammarion.*** My translation

Des courtiers achetaient désormais à la bourse des zero-days et des firmes les revendaient, le tout dans le plus grand secret. Comme Antoine ne comprenait pas le mot, L expliqua qu’un zero-day était un défaut dans un logiciel que personne n’avait encore décelé et pour lequel, par conséquent, il n’existait aucun correctif……Pour résumer, dit L, le capitalisme s’était emparé du codage.

Le parti est un animal crevé dans le ventre duquel on s’abrite encore mais ça commence à puer et à refroidir. Ça n’a plus aucun sens de passer une vie entière à l’intérieur aujourd’hui. Cette façon de faire de la politique est morte et je n’en connais pas d’autre. Je ne sais pas quoi faire.