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  ->  Novels & Short stories  
 

Phantoms in No-Man’s Land
Sébastien Japrisot   A Very Long Engagement
Farrar Straus & Giroux 2004 /  / 377 pages
ISBN : 0312424582

Original title : Un long dimanche de fiançailles.
Translator : Linda Coverdale.

List Price: $14.00

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In the tradition Henri Barbusse’s Le Feu or Roland Dorgelès’ Croix de bois, Sébastien Japrisot, by far the youngest of the three, brought us A Very Long Engagement (Farrar Straus & Giroux, USA, 2004) in 1991 (Denoël, France). An epic novel in every sense of the term, its main character Mathilde, a young crippled girl, sets out to do the impossible: find Manech, her lover who left for the front like so many others, and who was executed for mutiny near the trenches of Bingo Crépuscule… Find him if he’s alive, discover the circumstances surrounding his death if he’s not… Duly honored with the French Award prix Interallié, this intense novel is brought to life on-screen in Jean-Pierre Genet’s cinematographic interpretation. Japrisot himself destined his tale to be adapted for cinema within his lifetime, as with his earlier works.

“Once upon a time, there were five French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that’s the way of the world”. The story begins on this, an utterly absurd note, which in reality might as well summarize our society’s history. The quest is a brutal one, desperate even, save for Mathilde’s ardent devotion to her Manech. Since war can only be made to appear beautiful in the reflection of a woman’s tears, Japrisot set out not to produce a war story but rather one of love caught in the grips of the first global conflict. These themes echo in the hearts and minds of today’s reader, which likely explains the novel’s success as well as more recently, that of the film.

Sébastien Japrisot has composed his story on the edge of a momentary episode, be it an affair of the heart as the saying may go, or one of death as the story might seem to tell, in the end he serves up a storybook ending, replete with kaleidoscopic temporalities. To lose one’s self in this marvelous story would be a shame, stay the course! The story of loss felt by the young mourning lover is certainly discernible from within this narrative imbroglio as is the empathy suggested if not superimposed by this storyteller par-excellence. Satisfied will be the reader who endures to the end.


Bruno Portesi / Translated from the French by Edward C Hollo
( Mis en ligne le 28/04/2005 )
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