Book reviews Critiques littéraires Books recently published in english and french.

mardi 26 janvier 2010


This long book reminds us of 'Empire Falls" , the 2001 Pulitzer Prize which portrayed so well small town America with its 3 generations of blue collar workers families, their conflicts, failures and times of happiness amongst their town's decline and destruction. As one remembers, the damage caused by industrial pollution was a cause of the town's economic ruin and here the same thing occurs: the Tannery's industrial pollution of the river causes un employment and cancer in many workers lives including the hero's father. A largely melancholy book, about the loss of hope and dreams of prosperity with a narrator,Lou. C Lynch a General Store shop keeper who is a weak and hapless man himself, a boen victim. Hehappens to tell his life's story as well as his wife's and his best friend's, a rough neighborhood kid later transformed into a famous painter living in Venice.
Now we see immediately the monotony and boredom of these small predictable lives , which could be unbearable to recount if it were not for two wondeful and unusual types : the wife Sarah who is mainly a failed artist but visited by uncommon intuiton or visions, and their teen age friend , Robert Noonan, an international painter leading a grand cosmopolitan life ( a sort of Francis Bacon ) totally removed from poor old Tomaston. Without the space and breath provided by these unexpected lives, the novel would collapse basically because its hero is so un- inspiring ; it is hard to keep up with a man who constantly brags about his average and totally uneventful life , his obscure and dreadfully provincial youth and how much he loves it and does not want it to ever change.. .Lou is slow witted, cowardly , the prey of other kids who laugh at him and his parents over protect him because of his spells ( a cerebral crisis never properly diagnosed) ; one wonders at Russo's choice of such an unlikely hero but it appears a amazingly good choice to evoke an economically dying small town through the lyricism and undying love of its moving hero, Lou . It is true that the disapearance of a whole way of life in rural America strikes a powerful note in many important writers such as John Updike , Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, or even Cormac Mc Carthy to cite a few , and that it is equally appealing to many readers who know and love small towns. It is indeed a part of the American heritage without a doubt, and this nostalgiais the sure sign of the remembrance of our fathers and ancestors in the collective unconscious.This theme is thus what the book ultimately reveals.
It is a potent novel , a curiously re- assuring book to read because Russo has the great talent to make his characters alive and significant in a sort of psychological intimacy, provided by an abundance of small rather idiotic details, quirky reactions, amusing dialogues and everyday horrors or gossip that include easily the fascinated reader. You cannot put the book down and that is a sign of a novel's power and achievement as a work of art.
Everyone of our lives bears its own " Bridge of Sighs" inside our soul even if we do not live in Venice or have never visited there : because the un- revealed secrets of human life weighs on us and we find its evokation irresistible. It is very difficult to allude to buried dreams and to describe actual works of art ( like the paintings of Noonan in the book ) and not be ridiculous or sink into emotional drama , but Richard Russo does it beautifully and his book is remarkable.

dimanche 17 janvier 2010

Rachel Seiffert , The Dark Room a first book and an amazing one

Three harrowing short stories on the unbearable memories of the Nazi past and crimes, and here we think right off " Oh, no.. not again, these awful nazi tales and terrible guilt "... Buno, it is worth while reading and a truly remarkable work as this german- australian writer tackles young and innocent germans who deal with WWII horrors with simple straight sentences,an incredibly laconic style,.and no moral sentencing visible .The reader makes his own moral judgement inevitably .
The first story "Helmut ", tells of a young handicapped , a simpleton really ,who sees his parents disappear in the bombs of Berlin and survives amongst the ruins by photographing all he can observe, including the Soviet invasion. He loves Berlin and his neighborhood and understands nothing, therefore feels no guilt : hearbreaking, non sensical , terrible as it is, we understand that many people do not and will never understand what this war meant and only tried to survive .Thus a Passive witness stands there, mute..
The second story is more tragic : two known Nazi parents are arrested at the end of the war : the Father in the Russian front is sent to Prison for 15 years, the mother is put in prison by the American occupation forces and the 5 small kids left alone , are told to go back to their grand' ma (Oma) in Hamburg. This is across occupied Germany . The oldest girl Lore is 12 and has the mother's savings in a purse, a general notion of grand ma's house and garden , a small baby and toddlers .. and off they go , walking ,trying ot get on trains,without any papers, begging often for food or starving, trusting no one etc, an unbelievable trekking really a calvary, kidsnot daring to mention their parents wherabouts for fear of rejection nd shame. . Here we touch the bottom of these stories : the unbearable weight of shame poured over the succeeding generations of Germans who now know about the holocaust , the camps, and are horrified by their parents and grand parents crimes. The Nazi past goes back to three genrations now. Yes,the Biblical admomition sounds clear :" the crimes of the fathers visited upon their sons", an unretrievable prophecy and an unjust one .I know of no other nation personally, who has felt and portrayed so keenly the shame of its past and the inability to talk about it. The writers are the ones who uncover the truth and the suffering ,
The third story tells of the third generation's guilt and fury: Micha, a young german married to a turkish woman, comes to realize that his beloved Opa, now dead, who was a Waffen SS( the worst Nazi unit) on the Eastern front, must have killed lots of people: he needs to know for sure,his family is mute, and so he travels resolutely to a village in Bielarus to find out..This pilgrimage of the horrible family past is a calvary : he has to go visit several time before he can admit the goal of his trip to anyone he encounters in Minsk. The murders committed by Opa's unit are still remembered ,he is personally recognized by a survivor, who himself was a collaborator .. it could not be worse . Micha loved dearly an old grand' pa who was murderer and a convict, who dealt with his own guilt upon his return, by getting drunk occasionally, and resting in his family's complete silence and unconscious complicity .
In the last two stories , Seiffert shows clearly how the grand mothers ( the Omas ), war widows, covered up for their guilty husbands, claiming that "he was a good man" in front of the troubled grand children, and what else could they say , poor women? What a horrible past to bear and what courage it demands to unravel it ; this is what this writer does , and naturally she suffered a long depression after having written this extraordinarily tough book. Indeed our family and country's past and crimes follow us everywhere ; we must atone for their deeds whether we like it or not, the past is never silent, the dead rise again...Few want to know this, but again we must admire this german endeavor .

lundi 11 janvier 2010

A.M. Homes, Le Sens de la Famille, Actes Sud, 2009

Notez en premier, que la traduction du titre dénature le titre original , qui est " The Mistress's Daughter ", beaucoup plus traumatisant puisque le sujet est l'adoption d'une jeune fille (Amy Homes elle- même)assortie de la recherche de ses parents biologiques, qui ont produit malheureusement une fille illégitime. Cette héroïne est donc en quête d'identité et de légitimation personnelle.Ce livre autobiographique est sorti aux USA en 2007, très attendu, car l'auteur très en vue dans les média et revues littéraires, très provocatrice en sus, avait prévenu de son imminence. Elle s'est rendue célèbre surtout par un précèdent roman" The end of Alice", qui analysait la condamnation d'un violeur et tueur d'enfant de manière terrifiante et archi-réaliste ; ses articles et autres écrits sont tout aussi controverses et admires sont nombreux.
Ce livre est curieux a cause du phénomène encore nouveau de superposition d'identité quand un adulte soudainement apprend qu'il a des parents biologiques, qui s'imposent derechef comme les "vrais parents" dont la généalogie inonde la conscience de l'enfant. On voit avec stupéfaction les parents adoptifs immanquablement reculer et perdre de leur poids, et condamnes a ne rien dire. Homes se prend de passion pour 2 malheureux fantoches qui l'ont abandonnée, qui sont d'une banalité et d'une vulgarité consternante, ne se rendant pas compte du séisme produit dans l'âme de leur' fille retrouvée' par leur apparence physique ou par leurs ancêtres respectifs. Personne ne s'aime ou ne se comprend évidemment, surtout que la fille adoptée se met fébrilement a faire des recherches généalogiques sur internet pour remonter au 17e siècle et aux origines européennes des ses deux parents. Elle veut des ancêtres remarquables, bien nés et reconnus, la pauvre ... Elle en devient folle quasiment et se crée des contacts de généalogie dans le monde entier, trouve aussi des gens fascinants auxquels elle téléphone comme cousine. C'est une nouvelle mode et addiction aux USA, parait-il, mais ici cette recherche d'une "sans famille" est bouleversante car elle parait effrayante compare a la vie d'un enfant normal qui a entendu l'histoire de sa famille toute son enfance.
La fierté d'appartenir a une lignée la ravit, d'autant plus que les retrouvailles réelles sont décevantes et que l'héroïne se sent abandonnée une seconde fois par ses malheureux parents biologiques. Quelle destinée tragique, si la recherche est un désastre ou tout simplement un ratage. C'est ce que A.M. Homes montre très bien et décrit avec pathos, urgence et une dose d'hystérie assez mal contrôlée, puisqu'elle poursuit en justice finalement son père biologique qui refuse de lui transmettre un test ADN de paternité. Le pauvre homme devant cette tempête humaine, surgie du passe , voulait qu'on lui fiche la paix et avait ferme sa porte. Mais une fille doublement flouée, car illégitime et adoptée, sans vraie lignée biologique, et qui veut légitimité et existence
légale a tout prix, obtiendra gain de cause avec ses avocats. Rien ne l'arrête . On en tremble. On pense aussi aux parents adoptifs qui lui ont donne et sont pratiquement mis au placard, les pauvres, pendant cette odyssée.
Donc, un livre remarquable et l'apparition d'une redoutable Walkyrie des lettres Américaines dans nos terres, qui traite d'un problème dont la presse européenne de gargarise depuis des mois: les droits des enfants adoptes.
Bonne chance aux parents adoptants.

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Brussels, Belgium
Née à Bruxelles, mère résistante et sculpteur, père homme d’affaires, études à l ’Université libre de Bruxelles ( Philosophie et Lettres ; arts primitifs), puis à Harvard ( anthropologie), Rutgers New Brunswick, Duke University .N.C. USA ( littérature comparée, Masters et Doctorat.) Thèse publiée (Ph.D) sur Valéry et Mallarmé. Enseignement universitaire aux USA, en France (Aix en Provence) et au Liban (comme coopérant) ,littérature et philosophie , en français ou anglais. Mariée en premières noces à un avocat américain G.Robert Wills et puis à un peintre et publiciste Français, Jean- Pierre Rhein (décédé). La plupart des publications sous le nom de Wills.Vit à Bruxelles.