I have recently read two powerful books thanks to my new job – nearly a month has passed since I’ve become a member of the bookshop staff and I’m at my fifth reading, great! (And I just got extra-work from a customer – she is an adorable old lady – who lent me one of her favourite books, L’épervier de Maheux by Jean Carrière, the winner of the 1972 Goncourt Prize!) Among my readings then, two books have deeply imprinted my memory. I’d love to say that they are wonderful, but I can’t. They are, they truly are, but ‘wonderful’ is too positively connoted to be used here. These works are poignant, poetic, brutal, enchanting, violent, tender… So many paradoxical adjectives can serve the purpose. And they rely on one another to fully describe the atmosphere the reader discovers when penetrating into the narratives; they are interdependent.
The books I was so moved by are Shan Sa’s The Girl Who Played Go and Gaël Faye’s Petit Pays. While the first was published years ago (2001), the latter is recently published (2016), and they both won the ‘Prix Goncourt des Lycéens’. What those two fine works have in common is the accurate knowledge of their home countries – China (Manchuria) for one and Burundi for the other – and their insight into the horrendous incessant fight between neighbouring countries and races – Japanese vs. Chinese in Manchuria in the 1930’s and Hutus vs. Tutsis in Burundi and Rwanda in the 1990’s. The aforementioned conflicts lead to deplorable consequences – the killing of so many Chinese civilians by the Japanese army before the Second World War was triggered and the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
They are and they are not easy readings altogether. The allegorical writing of the authors allows the eyes to behold the words and explore the metaphores with a certain ease. When we look at the texts, there is no apparent difficulty. But the content hits you with full force. The reader is powerlessly witnessing hatred and violence taking over love and reason. Passions are no longer conceivable, slaughter turns into a harsh daily reality. Is there hope left for any of the protagonists? For their contries, their races? Is there anything to believe in that won’t be destroyed in the end? Is pluralism a bad thing and shall we all conform to a unique way of seeing, imagining, being? We don’t know. Even after closing the book, we are still unsure. Wondering is our only option – both for us readers and for the paper beings we commiserate with.
After all that’s happened and carrying a forever haunting past, is there anything rightful? Shall we listen – but to whom? Shall we act – to do what? Shall we dare think – to what end? Maybe simply (that’s definitely not the right adverb) read for now. Who knows which truth will unfold for you?