Luc Lang ‘La Tentation’

I mean, has he got a job? besides toting a gun?
It’s not like that! He’s a business man. He works hard.
That’s convenient. Business. It spares you the details. Aquisitions, sales, mergers, take-overs, sucking dry, bankrupting, opening, closing, dividing up, selling off. What a tough job…..
My poor dad, you just haven’t got a clue.***

Luc Lang’s Temptation, winner of the “Prix Medicis”, tells a story of the birds coming home to roost, what is it about Francois’ family? As the story opens, Francois, a surgeon and highly experienced hunter is out in the mountains close to the french italian border hunting a buck he has been following for several years and at the moment of pulling the trigger, a lack of concentration and his high tech rifle puts a bullet in the animals thigh, missing its heart. He then makes an unnatural decision, he tracks the animal, takes if back to his mountain lodge, removes the bullet and lets the animal go. Is he secretly sick of killing these animals?

His wife who is in love with him is unable to spend time with him, she goes from religious establishment to religious establishment from silent retreat to silent retreat. His son Mathew has become rich, the alpha male in the money markets and has hitched his sister Mathilde up with one of his shady clients as illustrated in the opening quote of a discussion between François and his daughter Mathilde. Mathilde who turns up unannounced at the hunting lodge with her partner, Loïc, after a shooting and he in the near dark mistakes the very buck François had saved for a gunman. Why is is daughter mixed up with this man? Blind to the danger? Now hunted.

And he kills the deer to close the cycle…..
Are you back with your deer again! Whereas François had shot his share, of deer, throughout his time as a hunter, and that it disgusted Mathilde, as a child, the assassination of all of those nice animals, the blood, the empty eyes, the deer and the boar, she wanted to be princess Mononoke.***

In the midst of the turmoil he receives an urgent call from his son at his hotel to come and get his wife as they, Mathew and his top mmodel wife, need to leave, then arrived at the hotel, amidst more family revelations he draws Mathew aside:

Well, Mathew, are you going to come out with it?
What? What are you….?
Who is he for god’s sake your Loïc? Your client. Mathilda’s bloke?
What the hell, it’s some sort of obsession you’ve got! you’re stuck in the same groove since yesterday….I should never have…..
He’s at the lodge with your sister.
Oh! She brought him to meet you then. She must have really wanted you to meet him because she hates the lodge in winter.
The problem Mathew, is that he’s got a large calibre bullet in his thigh, that he’s going around with a gun, that Mathilda is scared out of her mind and that your guy doesn’want me to take him to hospital. Do you understand now?***

François’ world of hard work and skill to get on is being replaced here by the temptation of easy money and no concience. He doesn’t seem to realise that his own life as a hunter, the instant gratification of the kill, deciding on life and death, may have been one of the reasons for his families demise, leading to this climax as the cheated come looking for Loïc.

Wonderful descriptions of nature and of this family in free fall.

First Published in French as “Tentation” in 2019 by Stock
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Et il abat le cerf pour achever le cycle de….
Tu remets ça avec ton cerf! Alors que François en avait tiré, des cerfs, durant toute son existence de chasseur, que ça dégoûtait Mathilde, enfant, i’assassinat de toutes ces bêtes gentilles, le sang, le regard fixe, les yeux éteints,des chevreuils, des biches, des sangliers, elle voulait devenir une princesse Mononoké

Je veux dire, il a un métier? A part manier le flingue?
C’est faut! C’est un homme d’affaires. il travail beaucoup.
c’est commode. Faire des affaires.K Ca évite d’entrer dans les détails. Acheter, vendre, fusionner, absorber, assécher, ruiner, ouvrir, fermer, démembrer, revendre. c’est dur comme métier…
T’es dépasser mon pauvre papa.

Dis donc, Mathieu, tu va cracher le morceau?
quoi? De quoi tu….?
C’est qui, nom de dieu, ton Loic? Ton client, le mec de Mathilde?
Putain, mais c’est une obsession! T’es toujours en boucle depuis hier…. J’aurais jamais dû t’en…..
Il est au relais avec ta soeur.
Ah! Elle te l’a présenté alors. Elle y tenait, tu vois, parce que le relais, l’hiver,elle déteste.
Le problème Mathieu, c’est qu’il a une balle de gros calibre dans la cuisse, qu’il se balade avec un gun, que Mathilde est terrorisée et que ton gus ne veut pas que je l’emmène à l’hôpital.Est-ce que tu saisis?

Britta Böhler “The Decision”

Yes, Heinrich was often right. His “subject” still exists today. The eternal petty bourgeois mindset, kneeling to those above you, tramping on those beneath you. “Everyone should have someone above himself he is afraid of and someone below that is afraid of him.”***

This book by Britta Böhler, read for German lit month in French, concerns three days in 1936 between when the nobel prize winning author of The Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann had handed in a letter to be published stating clealy his opinions as a critical opponent of Nazi Germany and his agreement for it to be published. It examines what may have been going through his mind, the greatest German writer of his time , who abhorred the Nazi regime but who would have to sacrifice his German readership, the only ones he really wrote for.

At the end of February 1933. Thomas Mann, his wife Katia and his daughter Medi leave Germany for a three week holiday in the Swiss mountains, he couldn’t know that this trip was one way and that he was leaving Germany:

During this time in his fatherland the world collapsed. You leave in all innocence on holiday and, before you know it, you no longer have a fatherland. And that at dizzying speed.
The fire in the Reichstag, the dissolution of Parliament, Hindenburg speech. The first proclamation of the state of emergency, a decree to protect the people and the state, what could that mean, I ask you?….And the there were the March elections, and he regained hope. Hitler had got it wrong, the majority of Germans hadn’t voted for him. But soon, it appeared that it changed nothing. New emergency decrees followed, the Reichstag had been completely neutralised. In November there would be new elections, and Hitler celebrated his defeat as a victory.***

Thomas Mann is described as a patriarch who lives for writing and is unfit for anything else in real life, from the outset the Nazis attack him in the press and as he stays longer than he is supposed to in Switzerland, they confiscate is house in Munich. He examines his relationship with his brother, the writer Heinrich Mann, he describes as a lover of wine and women, thinking back to a recent visit he had payed him in the south of France. Heinrich was impulsive and decisive, when in the first world war Thomas had taken two years to write on the nobility of war, missing the change in heart of the people and being published late in the war, Heinrich had written aboutreplacing the regime by a republic. Thomas was also frustrated by his son, Klaus who he compares to Heinrich, Klaus who for his first issue of “Die Sammlung”, an antifascist review, in 1933 had published A scathing article by his uncle Heinrich.

As Thomas dithers during these three days, he is under pressure from his daughter Erika who cannot understand his not clearly coming out against Germany. As he tells Katia at the end of the three days:

“The letter will be published tomorrow”, he says.
“it’s really what you want?”
He folds his napkin, empties his glass. How can he explain to her that he has made the decision to lose his fatherland? Or more precisely that he is losing nothing, that they can’t take Germany from him?
He rises and kisses Katia on the cheek.
“Germany is to be found where I am”, he says, and heads for the phone.***

A rich journey into the past where, against his inner convictions, Thomas Mann decides that literature cannot live in isolation from politics.

First Published in German as “Der Brief des Zauberers” in 2014 by Aufbau.
Translated into French by Corinna Gepner and published as “La décision” in 2014 by Sock
Translated into English by Jeannette K. Ringold and published as “The Decision” in 2015 by Haus
*** My translation

Jeroen Olyslaegers ‘Murky’

I know what everyone thinks: he’s going to fall down and break his hip. He’ll find himself in a bed in Saint-Vincent’s. And that’ll be the end of him, struck down by one of those bacteria they have the secret of growing in hospitals. It’s strange how old people allow themselves to be contaminated by other people’s fear. Because of that fear they let themselves be locked up in old people’s homes, let themselves be ovecome with tasteless muck and twaddle, with a stupid bingo night and a Maroccain woman stuck behind their bums with a strip of toilet paper.***

So begins Olyslaeger’s excellent novel of the Second World War in Anderlecht, a story being told by a cynical old man to his unborn great grandson in this Dutch language Belgian book read for the “Roman De Rochefort” prize. As the title suggests the narrator, a young man at the outbreak of the Second World War walks a questionable line in this occupied city. As the story begins Wilfried Wils obtains a job as a Belgian policeman in order to avoid forced labour service in Germany, but pretty soon he was employed in rounding up those that tried to avoid this same service, with an insight into the ambiguous views of the public in general, welcoming the Nazis, and the police force in general to the German occupation. As he comments after being ordered by German military to follow them:

In principal, we should present ourselves to get our orders, but when a Feldfritz shouts, you obey. We head down the Pelikaanstraat towards the south. Lode and I marching behind the two uniformed Übermenschen in complete silence, like two punished children. The Germans have only been here seven months and it’s as if they’ve been here several years. The town lead on its back, legs wide open, for these supermen.***

Wilfried Wils sails through pretty muddy water, not necessarily understanding everything that’s going on around himself, mostly putting up with the Germans but with an ambivalent reaction to their occupation, pushed by his friend Lode who despite personal risk seems to have a clearer view of the “übermenschen” and despises the local lookalikes:

A Waffen-SS uniform suddenly pulls up at our table.
May I invite the young lady to accompany me to the dance floor?
We look up. He’s not a German. He’s one of our’s, but with his hair shaved on the sides and the heels he clacks together, you could take him for the real thing, as if this town was only good for shitting in and that his heart and soul had been cast in Prussia.***

Olyslaegers, in interviews,tells of his personal relationship to this story as, at a university reading, he comes across a story of a Jewish family who, during the first roundup of Jews in Anderlecht commit suicide with the father cutting his own throat spouting blood on the Belgian policeman that had come to get him. The street name in the story rang a bell to him and when he later asked his mother she told him he had an aunt who worked for a Jewish family, who had committed suicide, in that street and that afterwards she had lived on in the house with her SS boyfriend.

He tells us of Wilfried Wils living this story and of the policemen wanting to file reports saying that the Jews had not been told why they were being arrested but that they caved in under pressure from above. Wils had found his job with the police through an old school teacher, an active Nazi sympathiser with whom he keeps up a relationship throughout the war, despite his abhorrence, a friend of his aunt’s Nazi boyfriend, this quote towards the end of the book, gives an idea of the views of this group of people:

For you, its a fucking game. But it’s people like me that pay for it. We succeeded in wiping out the Jews in this town, those parasites who have infested our town for so many years are nearly all gone. It was a promise we kept. the credit is mine in part, in spite of the hypocrisy of people like you…..All that I want, is ….a tobacconist’s with Jenny….comfortable…without a Jew boy in view, in a town fully thankfull to people like me for all the sacrifices we’ve made.***

Even those that seem to be less murky than others, such as Lode and his father who hide a Jew at great risk to themselves are shown to be doing it for money, Anderlecht was the diamond capital of Europe. As the war comes to an end and Wilfried Wils gets involved in a bloody act of vengeance against one of the worst Jew hunters, disgusting Lode with his violence. All of which comes back to haunt him in a personal tragedy some fifty years later.

This is a book that, far from the binary simplification of good and bad, goes some way to explaining how life might have been under occupation in a town showing no real sympathy to what they considered a migrant population. As Wils says early in the story, no one knew where the Jews were being sent but at the same time they didn’t suppose that it was to a place where they could be integrated into society.

First Published in Dutch as “Wil” in 2016 by Bezige Bij b.v.
Translated into French by Françoise Antoine and published as “Trouble” in 2019 by Stock
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je sais ce que tout le monde pense: il va tomber et se fracturer la hanche. Il va se trouver dans un lit à saint-Vincent. Et puis s’en sera fini de lui, terrassé qu’il sera par l’une de ces bactéries qu’ils ont le don de cultiver dans les hôpitaux. C’est curieux comme les vieilles personnes se laissent contaminer par la peur des autres. À cause de cette peur, elles se laissent enfermer dans les maisons de repos, se laissent abreuver de fadaises et de bouillies froides, avec une soirée bingo à la con et une Marocaine pendue à leur derrière avec un morceau de papier cul.

En principe, nous devions nous présenter pour recevoir nos ordres, mais quand un Feldfritz gueule, tu t’exécutes. Nous prenons la Pelikaanstraat en direction du sud. Lode et moi marchons derrière les deux Übermenschen en uniforme dans un silence parfait, comme deux enfants punis. Les Allemands ne sont ici que depuis sept mois et c’est comme si la place était à eux depuis des années. La ville s’est couchée, cuisses grandes ouvertes, devant ces surhommes.

Un uniforme de la Waffen-SS se dresse tout à coup à côté de notre table.
Puis-je inviter la demoiselle à m’accompagner sur la piste de danse?
On lève les yeux. Ce n’est pas un Allemand. C’est un gars de chez nous, mais avec des cheveux rasés sur les côtés et les talons qu’il fait claquer l’un contre l’autre, on dirait un presque vrai, comme si cette ville n’était plus bonne que pour y déféquer, et que son corps et son esprit avaient été coulés en Prusse.

Pour toi, c’est un jeu salaud. Mais ce sont des gens comme moi qui paient l’addition. On a réussi à exterminer les juifs de cette ville, ces parasites qui ont infesté notre ville pendant tant d’années sont presque tous partis. C’était une promesse et nous l’avons réalisée.Le mérite m’en revenait en partie, malgré l’hypocrisie de gens comme toi….Tout ce que je veux, c’est.. un tabac avec Jenny…à notre aise…sans un youpin à l’horizon, dans une ville pleine de gratitude à l’égard de gens comme moi pour tous les sacrifices consentis.

Feridun Zaimoglu ‘Scum’

“All of a sudden another Albanian slashed my shoulder with a shank. I didn’t even notice. I was numbed from anger, from coke and from vodka. img_1206And then my boys waded in, and the fucking cops turned up with their lights flashing, running all over the shop now that there was nothing left to do. Even an ambulance rolled up, but I’m too proud to be carried off on a stretcher by the fucking vultures. Fuck me I’d just fought off four serious assholes, to have managed that and not to walk out on my own two legs, well what sort of a shitty end would that have been I ask you? Then the fucking girls arrived yakking on ‘oh Ertan, no kidding, you held your own!”***

In Feridun Zaimoglu’s ‘Scum’, not yet translated into English and read in French as ‘Racaille’ we hear the true story of Ertan Ongun, and I use the word hear with purpose as the book is based on interviews recorded on tape for Zaimoglu. Ertan Ongun in his own words is a ‘dago, a junky and a gangster’, born in Germany and living back and forth between Germany and Turkey. The story is told in Ertan’s language, the language of the streets, remarkably translated into French and good luck to a future English translator!

Ertan takes us through his life in Kiel, as he slides inevitably from delinquency through drug abuse to prison and then finally, here, hopelessness. For the most part as the opening quote illustrates in his circles you can’t survive without pride and the young Ertan has ‘cojones’ to spare, he and his friends hang out in a bar known as the “Flohmarkt” where most of the actions begin or the ideas are hatched, told in short, mostly 3 to 5 page chapters. We learn of the different groups around them, the Kurds, the Albanians and the Yougoslaves which he paints in a couple of sentences as for example here with the Yougoslaves:

“The bloke that ran the club ‘Eros’, was a Yougoslave. He was called Zlatko. He had a large Mercedes 500, a massive gold chain with a huge cross studded with big diamonds and all the rest.”***

I can almost see Zlatko. As the book advances, everyone around Ertan just sort of naturally winds up in prison or dead and Ertan slowly slides into drugs, doing everything but slowly being destroyed by ‘H’ at first he manages to get off of it on his trips to Turkey but he then quickly finds a source there too.

The book is full of bravado and humour, he tells us who he is with the gloves off, this isn’t an attempt to get us to like him and as Zaimoglu concludes:

“He delivers his message: we’re the dagos that you, the Germans, have systematically put forward as representing. Well now, here we are, in every way identical to the image you have created of us, to your fears.”***

Since this book, Zaimoglu has gone on to be a well known literary figure in Germany, a playwright and author amongst other things but as yet not translated into English.

First published in German as ‘Abschaum Die wahre Geschichte Von Ertan Ongun’ by Rotbuch/Sabine Groenewold Verlage in 1997
Translated into French by Florence Tenenbaum as “Racaille La véritable histoire d’Ertan Ongun” and published by Stock in 2004
*** My translation

Luc Lang ‘Au Commencement du septième jour’

Ringing, deafening his ears…What time is it? What? 4h in the morning? It’s a private call. Hello?….Yes?95509ADC-1BA7-4A8D-8A86-43E06D04F0D6 A deep voice, commanding, presents himself, the gendarmerie, Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt, what? Saint-Eustache-la-Forêt in Normandy, I’m terribly sorry to wake you at this time of night, Camille Texier is your wife?….at the A&E in Bolbec….a car accident, we wanted to notify you as soon as possible.***

Thomas is married with two children and a loving wife, Camille, he works as a programmer in a company which he and his friend Dom helped their joint friend Drincourt to start up and begin to make profitable. The two parents live full professional lives and have little time for their children whom Dana their African “auntie” helps to look after. Time did I say, Thomas’s main project is to work on a software solution linked to a bar code reader enabling companies to know what their off site employees are doing at every moment throughout the day, a wonderful device allowing companies to optimise the use of their employees and helping the employees prove their worth to their companies.

Firstly in the video you see the name of the product: NUXITEMPO, as if it were the title of a film. Then the name of the manufacturer: NUXILOG. accompanied by an epic musical score of the sort with which you can imagine a child being rescued in the wild Pacific Ocean….Then à voice which announces: In five years time 50% of you employees will be nomad. Wherever you are, improve your traceability!***

In the first part of this three part book, Thomas’s life explodes, as we learn of his wife’s car accident in the opening quote, and we examine the circles of deeply engrained lies Thomas doesn’t even realise he is living. What was Camille doing on this lonely country road in the early hours of the morning? How did she have such a dramatic accident on a straight stretch of road where you could see for miles in every direction? Whilst Camille lies in a coma,  Thomas investigates the accident and he discovers that there were things he didn’t know about his wife, at the same time his job becomes more precarious as his once friend Drincourt shows no empathy or understanding towards the effects of his private life on his professional performance. On a personal side Thomas tries to protect his children from the dramatic events concerning their mother, but where does protection end and confiscation begin, a question he will be forced to face by his son.

The book then jumps ahead a few months to the summer when Thomas and the children are on holiday at his brothers house high in the Pyrénées, where his much elder brother, Jean is a goatherd living a pastoral life in the family farm. We learn that Camille, although coming out of her coma, died soon after without ever recovering.
The children fit in well and are enjoying the chores on the farm but we sense a closeness that cannot be and a difference in visions of the world between the two brothers as illustrated by the following conversation:

Hang on brother, stop there. Why do you think I don’t have more than 180 goats?
I guess that over that number it’s a change of scale, you can no longer control the population, whereas with my solution, no need for extra staff….
You don’t get it do you? I don’t go above that number, because I wouldn’t know them: Their names, there characters, their habits….180 is already the upper limit. Doesn’t interest me to have more, but go on Thomas what would I do with your system? What would…
You’d manage! I’d install the apps for you, I’d ensure the computer maintenance, the updates, the….
You really expect me to spend my time in front of a screen, “managing” my goats temperature curves, their blood analyses and population curves? I’d call them up by Skype?***

In the summer, Thomas pushes his brother much against his will to take him up into the mountains to see the place his father was found dead after a fall, and then at Christmas Jean suddenly throws their mother out of his house, off of the farm, Thomas doesn’t understand, there is a deeper family story he is unaware of, knows nothing of.
The answers lies later, in the third part of the book, no spoilers here, when Thomas visits his estranged sister, Pauline who lives in The Cameroun following the death of his brother Jean found after a fall at the same place as his father. All becomes clear, the dark family secrets are revealed to Thomas pushing him to act quickly.

Throughout the book, Luc Lang brings to life the different lives and locations, from the hospital in Rouen to the prison cell in the Cameroun, from the café in Paris and the overindulgence in alcohol under pressure of work to the kinship necessary to live in the remote farms of the Pyrénées, slowly revaluing to Thomas the false strings holding his life together.

First published in French as ‘Au commencement du septième jour’ by Stock in 2016
***My translation

Simonetta Greggio ‘Black Messiah’

 –You’re hilarious you are. You’ll make me laugh to death. You watch too much television, but Italy isn’t the USA: IMG_1120we’re at the back of the class, last in the kingdom of heaven. No DNA database here!***

Simonetta Greggio Italian, writing in French takes us to Tuscany –This kind of thing doesn’t happen, not in Tuscany, on the gentle hills where happy breakfast commercials are shot.*** In this her first crime novel, a number of murders resembling those of thirty years earlier, a true story concerning the monster of Florence, a serial killer who killed seven young couples in their cars whilst they were making love and who was never captured:

–In their torch beams, dozens of insects undulated like the northern lights. The clearing  pulsated with fireflies, but the carabiniers made no move to brush them aside. They stood there still, astounded….The young girl seemed to watch them with her staring eyes. Naked, crucified on a cross in the form of an X,  upright in the middle of the gap, her tortured face looked down on them, arms and legs stretched apart.***

As the book advances and once again young people and couples are targeted, young girls as always are particularly vulnerable. We follow two main characters, Miles, American whose Italian wife died in mysterious circumstances and who has moved to his wife’s country with his daughter Indiana for a new start and Jacopo, an Italian brigadier who was already in the police and on the unresolved case of the monster thirty years earlier, who too has lost his wife and has daughters the age of the victims.

These two characters are on a slow collision course up to the final confrontations in the story. And yes, as the opening quote from the killer leads us to understand, Italy approved its first DNA database in 2016, after the events in this story.

First Published in French as “Black Messie” in 2016 by Stock
*** My Translation