"We didn’t see it coming". A comment stunned people say in the unexpected aftermath of their actions. Also, the title of a novel for children and early teens (Alice Jeunesse, 2012) which deals with the consequences of the governance of a totalitarian party to people's lives. The novel comprises of seven chapters, each of which was written by a different author and it is about the life of a different family right after the election of a super-conservative party. All seven families, however, suffer the same from this party's extremism and their lives interweave as the plot unfolds in France, in the near future which, under the circumstances, is much nearer and more relevant to the present than anyone could have ever imagined.
The novel begins on the night of the elections. In the first story, the
French writer Anne-Gaëlle Balpe monitors the Darsines who are anxious about
the voting results. At the same time, their son Hector wonders why his
parents do not like Walid, his immigrant friend, and why Walid's family
stay indoors while everyone else has gone out in the streets to celebrate the
victory of the Liberation Party.
In "Water and Salt", Clémentine Beauvais describes how the Miquelon family experience theimplementation of The Rules – a set of unfair, rigid instructions about everything for everyone to follow. That's why they decide to
leave their home - they take grandma's old sailing boatand sail around the world hoping to find some less horrible place to live in than the one they left.
Unlike the Miquelons, Walid's family stay behind and live in fear. In "All shades" by Sandrine Beau, Walid's mother is constantly in a state of panic – not only is she afraid she might forget some rule of all those required by the Party (i.e. specific time for breakfast, specific foodto eat, specific colour for your clothes, specificroutine to exercise right after you wake up, etc), butshe is also afraid of the colour bar – a chart of skin tones ranging
from white to black. Of the eight shades included, only three are
permitted – white, off-white and beige. Citizens who are classified in
all the other skin-tone categories (caramel, light brown, medium brown, dark brown
and black) are registered and displaced. No wonder, therefore, why
Maroussia is so scared - she herself, Walid, Samia (Walid's sister)
and their father have a caramelcomplexion.
in the making" by Agnès Laroche is the story of young Simon Nozen who
has lost his leg and every mood for life. His parents try to light up his
spirits but in vain. Until he receives a letter from the Ministry of Physical and Mental Health which dictates Simon present himself in the "Esar", a special care institute where "he will be subjected to appropriate treatment and he will live according to his abilities." Only then, Simonwill force himself to wear the prosthesis and suffer the pain silently so that the entire family canpass unnoticed through the checkingguards at the border and take refuge in their relatives' home in another country.
Summer passes by and in the "A smile on the edge of the lips" by Séverine Vidal, Marcus returns to school where all children wear uniforms
in different shades of green which depends on... Nobody really knows exactly
why they are separated like this. Along with Armand, his friend, they
make fun of the situation and they get arrested for it. Headmaster
Darsine, Hector's father, grants them a day of detention in the Room (a
dark room where you are not allowed to speak) because both children,
within 30 minutes, infringed eleven rules of the Great Bible
Things are much more serious than a mere detention for Kedan, the
protagonist of the sixth story. In the "Hard face of the earth" by Fanny
Robin, his two dads –Bertrand and Fred– are beaten and, shortly after,
arrested. That night, to save himself, Kedan runs away from home. While on the run, he witnesses his music teacher, Mr. Eten snitching"a whole long list" of peopleto a man in a black raincoat. Simon's name is in it. He starts running –again– and heads to alert his
friend. The baker's wife will stop him and hide him in her car so the
guards walking nearby won't spot him.
The novel spans four months during which period fear and control raids transform citizens – they now feel
powerless and miserable and far from being free. Some of them, however,
begin to react: Jose Sanchez, Walid's father who used to work as a clown
before the elections, uses his make-up suitcase and changes Maroussia's complexion to a lighter tone so she gets the approval of the National
Ministry of Origins. Walid and his sister, Samia, turn all the colorimeters in the area upside down in one night, and Padre, Mark's father, covers his drums with blankets and goes on to rehearse his alternative rock songs with his band – Old-Roger, the singer, and Ben, the guitarist. These three, in the basement of Padre's house, form the first –small, soundless and quite sad– resistance core to the Party.
second one, however, would be sonorous and melodious. In the last
story, "The Last Song" by Annelise Heurtier, Sasha tries to convince people to
rebuild their choir. Old Mme Popontiss and Mr. Alain are the first
participants while Ms. Sanchez is not very willing because of the
colour bar. Young Alice, however,invites them all to the underground shelter of her house
so that they can sing freely without the sonars tracing them. Obviously, History repeats itself in the positive fields, too: "... only this can save us: a little courage from everyone."
The adventures of the seven families were, I suppose, a writing adventure, too. However, the result is cohesive as the seven authors achieved one coherent writing style. The narration is always from each child's perspective and the escalation of the plot follows a fast, teenage-like pace. The transition from one situation to the next is
smooth and it creates a certain element of intimacy that permeates the text and engages the young readers with a fictitious yet familiar setting – the
seven families live close to each other, the parents talk and
exchange visits, the children go at
the same school, play together and fall in love without being
ostracized by their religion, skin color, age, parents' job orfinancial status. After the elections and the victory of the
Liberation Party, however, the fictional frame of the novel is shifted to the edges
of non-fiction. A genre that we, as adults, know that is not the work of an author's imagination –
such illiberal acts as the ones described in the book (the dispersion
of fear and the imposing of uniformity in appearance; the censorship and
the strictly disciplined behavior; the superiority of the white race and the
"de-worming" of society from immigrants; the persecution and inclusion
of people with disabilities, the collaboration), have all been very very
real some decades ago.
book is a fascinating and touching read, aimed for 11 year-old
children. Older readers will equally enjoy it as the ideas and concepts
of the book are given through witty dialogues. All seven authors follow
the rule of modern pedagogy that stands for a simple and timely
language, open narratives and active thinking to external stimuli. In
this sense, I found the title of the Greek translation of the book more
suitable - it reads "How did we get here?" and it makes young readers be
inquisitive, observant and critical about the causes of each family
incident while trying to find the answer to the title question.
since politics is not an easy matter to comprehend, at any age, I would
recommend the presence of a parent or teacher (grandparents would be
ideal) who can share their experiences of the past and discuss
reactions/opinions with each young reader so as to illustrate policies
and arbitrariness and make clear connections with real world
situations – the direct affinities from the rise of the extreme right
everywhere cannot be left to mere imagination or hypotheses.
For this, author and activist Stéphane Hessel,
in the preface of the book, outlines how the seven short stories
interact with the real world and what can actually happen if you are not
alert – we are, you see, prone to recurrence so, we need to
constantly work on our democracy. "From today on you have the power to say no to what does not seem right, to be indignant about what outrages you, to encounter critically what you read and what is shown on television. Have an opinion. You can share it with friends, parents, your teachers. (...) It is never too early to stand up for it."
This versatile book (in terms of the number of authors and profiles of the protagonists)awakens the political consciousness in
young readers and sensitizes them to both the political extremities and
the sense of personal responsibility – voting is not other people's
business and its impact affects us all. Esp. young people;
as the ones who were sitting next to a friend of mine in a Washington
restaurant – few days after the presidential elections,
they were complaining (in fact, my friend used the word "winning")
about Trump, Gingrich, Jeff Sessions and the rest of the happy American
few. My friend heard them -their discussions were in quite a vivid tone-
saying they were supporting Bernie Sanders but they had not actually voted in the second round...
I wish these people had read this book, or any other similar one but apparently, they hadn't. I am afraid you can't either as the book is not translated in English. You can only find it in French and Greek.If you speakeither of these languages, the reading of this book is more than rewarding. It's a staple.
Notes: The first picture is a detail from theGreek edition of the book and the last from the French one. The two paintings in between form one artwork – "The Audience: A Cast of 24" by Peter Greenaway.
Note: The above installation is called Untitled (1935) is representative of Calder’s floor- and pedestal-based mobiles made in the early 1930s. Here, Calder uses wood, a material that had been absent from his work since the previous decade, in combination with wire and string. Five painted wood orbs, varying in size, are organized in a spatial arrangement of counterbalance and organic movement. Calder later referred to these works as “Universes.” (via1, 2)
Oliver Jeffers is a bright artist, illustrator and writer who usually makes his stories for children come alive with his drawings. He is also a citizen of our world so, when he read the Thomas L. Friedman New York Times article"Two Ex-Spies and Donald Trump" he made the picture above and uploaded it on his facebook page, where I drew it from.
Quite an accuratemessage. So now, don't just stare or wonder. "Do the right thing America. The outcome of this election effects not just you, but the rest of the planet."
like an indispensable need – reading a classic in the summer seems to counterbalance the indolence of it.Joseph Conrad's"A Personal Record" could not have been a better choice.
There's a light,
but not in any way frivolous, temper in Conrad's revealing his thoughts
when he narrates certain instances about his family, his adolescence and
education in Russian Poland. When he recalls his first barque in
Marseille, his travels in Africa and the great influence uncle Tadeusz
had on him. When he confesses the reasons that led him to
pivotal decisions in his life, including his choosing the English
language as his main one - how completely understandable! His
comments on the writing process, literary criticism and the human nature
are quite insightful and appealing.
This diary is the only formal account of the author's life. Itrevives a long period of
time extending from the Napoleon era until 1895 (the year he wrote
"The madness of Almagier") and the extensive commentary
section at the last pages of the book give a lot of explanatory details that clarify precisely this period of
History and how it correlates with the author's family. In that sense, the "Record" can be considered as a historical and political manifesto as well.
The Greek edition (translated by N. Dinopoulou, A.Koutsou - Printa, 2000) includes two editorials – the ones Joseph Conrad wrote himself initially to accompany
the two different versions of the "Record" in English and that is something that adds
interest to the book. However, I cannot say the same for the
appendix by Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz where he thoroughly analyzes the
life and poetry of Conrad's father – unless it is included for encyclopedic purposes only, itdoes not contribute to the understanding of Conrad's authorship.
A true representative of dirty realism, Pedro Juan Gutiérrezuses his common sweat-blood-and-sperm references in an unexpected, highly elliptical
way, as a pattern for this collection of 55 short (to very short to flash)
stories that give off the poetic atmosphere we encounter in a black-and-white film. Oxymoron
if you think that the heroes in Melancholy of Lionsare the well-known confounded sort of people we encounter in the
rest of the Cuban author's prose – a man who
systematically poisons his wife, an
elderly doctor who specializes in abortions and imenoplasticas, transvestites,
suicidals, prisoners, and other forfeited human beings struggling to sharpen their sense of
life within. There are, also, the circus
lions of the title, which plunge into depression when not fed on time. You can find some chocolate mice among
them, too; and Gutiérrez himself who, like an angel by Wim
Wenders, wanders in this grotesque universe and
records the adventures of bodies and souls with exemplary condensation,
critical choice of words and a strong and wide sense of scepticism. Magical decadent realism, indeed.
Note: The image of the post is a detail from the cover of the Greek edition (Metaixmio, 2012) of the novel. It is very well translated byCleopatra Elaiotriviari who also wrote the addendum.