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.

Literary Quotes (1) Tournier

To be found in the smallest room in the house

1. Michel Tournier

Café amer au point de n’être plus buvable. Un grand brame. Deux grands brames. Aucun soulagement. La seule consolation de la matinée est d’ordre fécale. Je fais inopinément et sans la moindre bavure un étron superbe, si long qu’il faut qu’il s’incurve à ses extrémités pour tenir dans la cuvette. Je regarde attendri ce beau poupon dodu de limon vivant que je viens d’enfanter et je reprends goût à la vie.
La constipation est une source majeure de morosité. Comme je comprends le Grand Siècle avec sa manie de clystères et de purges! Ce dont l’homme prend le plus mal son parti, c’est d’être un sac d’excréments à deux pattes. À cela seule une défécation heureuse, abondante et régulière pourrait remédier, mais combien chichement cette faveur nous est concédée
 
 
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Hervé Le Tellier ‘The Anomaly’


Mayday received Air France 006. Can you confirm the transponder code 7700?
The voice, in which a clear incomprehension can be heard, repeats:
Air France from Kennedy Approach, confirm the transponder is on 7700.
You did say Air France 006?
Affirmitive, Air France 006 mayday. I confirm the transponder is on 7700, we’ve come through a huge hail cloud, the windshield is cracked, the radome is probably damaged….
Air France 006 mayday, from Kennedy Approach. This is Air Traffic Control, what is your captain’s name please?
Markle sits there mouth wide open. No controler in his whole career has ever asked him a pilot’s name.***


This Goncourt winning book asks the question, if I was faced with myself how would I react? Would I welcome my other self ? Would I try to dominate my other self? Or would I try to annihilate my other self?

Air France 006, piloted by captain Markle on one of his last flights before retirement, comes through a momentous storm and carries out an emergency landing on the 10th March 2021. As the book slowly develops we zoom in on a number of people whose only link was to have been on this flight. There is Blake, a meticulous and successful french contract killer. There is Lucie Bogaert a successful film editor who has been slowly courted by the older architect, André, but who after her trip to New York becomes disillusioned with André, at the end of this chapter the police come to fetch her.

There are a number of other characters, notably Victor Miesel an unknown writer who on his return from New York writes a hugely successful book called ‘The Anomaly’ and Fehmi Ahmed Kaduna, alias Slimboy a little known rapper from Lagos who writes a world wide hit, ‘Yaba Girls’ on his return from New York.

And then in June, as illustrated in the opening quote, Air france 006 piloted by captain Markle appears out of nowhere in a clear sky, the same pilot, the same plane and the same passengers, Markle is passed from Air Traffic Control to Special operations FAA then to NORAD and is guided to a secret airforce base for landing.

The strength of the book is not to deal with how or why but to follow the people as they are prepared for and then brought to meet their other selves, and so yes, how will they react? What will they do? For instance Slimboy June hasn’t known the success of Slimboy March. Victor Miesel hasn’t written a successful book and Lucie June is still in love with André. And what about Blake?

This highly enjoyable book explores the worlds of a dozen or so passengers on this flight. And how was the US able to react so quickly when Air France 006 June appeared and what is the protocol 42?

First Published in French as “L’Anomalie” by Gallimard in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Mayday reçu Air France 006. Pouvez-vous confirmer le code transpondeur 7700?
La voix, où l’on décèle une profonde incompréhension, répète:
Air France de Kennedy Approach, confirmez le transpondeur sur 7700. Vous dites bien Air France 006?
Affirme, Air France 006 mayday. Je confirme transpondeur sur 7700, nous avons traversé un gros nuage de grêle, le pare-brise est fissuré, le radôme est sûrement défoncé….
Air France 006 mayday, de Kennedy Approach. Ici Air Traffic Control, quel est le nom du commandant du bord, s’il vous plaît?
Markle reste bouche bée. Jamais de toute sa carrière aucun contrôleur ne lui a demandé le nom d’un pilote.

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

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.

Alexis Ragougneau ‘Opus 77’


Shostakovitch and his violin Concerto. The themes are universal, timeless: the individual against the steam roller of a totalitarian state, man versus the system, the community.***


Alexis Ragougneau delivers us a nuanced study of Opus 77 and the unrelenting world of the professional musician through the story of the Claessens family, of the father Claessens, one time pianist and then conductor of the Swiss-Romande Orchestra and his two children David and Ariane. As the book opens Claessens is dead, David doesn’t show up and Ariane, a now accomplished Pianist, rather than playing a Requiem, launches into a piano version of Shostakovitch’s Opus 77 described in a few words in the opening quote.

The book, narrated by Ariane then investigates these two enigmas, of the terrible pressure brought on David by his exacting father whose only words to his son seem to have been “again”. how much pressure can a child take? Eventually David leaves home near broken to then be slowly coached back to high level by an old Russian Violinist who seems not to be well known but who has lived through some of the times of Soviet Russia that Shostakovitch himself had lived through, Stalin playing with Shostakovitch’s life as a cat would play with a mouse.

David is then ready, if still fragile to face the competitions that will decide who will have an international career and who will be also-rans. We soon understand that his violin teacher may not be well known today in Belgium or Switzerland but is highly respected by the Russian musicians. As David reaches the finals, there is a draw to match the competitors with the conductors and of course David and Claessens are drawn together, with David performing the Opus 77:


The atmosphere is dusk. That’s exactly what Shostakovitch wanted in his first movement, Nocturne; and how they succeed, father and son, how they manage to render the darkness of night, the movement of shadows, the truths never uttered. A life of rivalry and misunderstanding spread out on the stage, before the television cameras and the two thousand spectators at the “palais des Beaux-Arts”.***


How does the competition end? Well you’ll need to read the book!

In parallel Ariane lives the life of a world famous artist with manager, pressure to perform at the highest level giving her insights into this world.

This really is a very good book.

First Published in French as “Opus 77″ by Viviane Hamy in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Chostakovitch et son concerto pour violon. Les thèmes sont universels et intemporels: l’individu face au rouleau-compresseur totalitaire, l’homme face au système et à la collectivité.

Ambiance crépusculaire. C’est bien Chostakovitch qui l’a voulu ainsi dans son premier mouvement, Nocturne; et comme ils y réussissent, le père et le fils, comme ils parviennent à restituer la noirceur de la nuit, les jeux d’ombres, les non dits. Toute une vie de rivalité et d’incompréhension étalée là sur scène, devant les caméras de télévision et des deux mille spectateurs du palais des Beaux-Arts.