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Books to read in December - Solange's Choice

By Solange de La Page

Tropique de la violence, Natacha Appanah, collection Blanche, Gallimard

Mayotte, French overseas department, is it seems all the issues of the world concentrate: migration crisis, endemic unemployment, ecological disaster, identity crisis… « There too, kids die on beaches », but it happens so far away from Europe.

More than 3000 « isolated minors » are said to be living on the island. This administrative vocabulary hides different realities: kids whose parents were illegal immigrants and who have been sent back to their country have often left their kids behind hoping that they might get a chance to a better life. Maori kids are left to fend for themselves. What happens to these lost kids, when they become teenagers? Out of school, at a loose end, enrolled one way or another by gang leaders, easy prey for the dealers, they survive in the deprived district of Kaweni, called « Gaza » by the inhabitants, the biggest French shanty town. It is the story of these kids that Natacha Appanah tells us about in this deeply moving novel.

A polyphony blending the voices of the leaving and of the dead, built like an ancient tragedy,  Tropique de la violence gives the floor to 5 characters. Marie, a foster mother to Moses ; Moses, the child « saved from water », is 15 ; Olivier, a policeman ; Bruce, 17, «a war lord », the undisputed master of Gaza ; Olivier, an NGO volunteer. Around the central character of Moses, each of them tells, in their own language, the merciless sequence that led to the tragedy.  The author, a journalist before being a writer, explains that she has preferred the format of a novel, since it provides more sincerity and truth than the format of a press article or an essay.

The choice made of a fiction with 5 voices gives her freedom to give to all her characters a past, dreams, and doubts without being judged.

The reader gets close to each of them, with empathy. To cope with the unbearable, the realm of imagination provides a place where to shelter, on this island where people still believe in ghosts and in djinns, this paradoxal and magnificent island where the beauty of the tropical fauna and that of the « emerald and opal water » of the lagoon goes alongside the most extreme violence.

The reading of this short novel leaves out of breath, eyes wide open, and we can no longer say « we did not know ».

Les cosmonautes ne font que passer, Elitza Gueorguevia, Verticales.


Les Cosmonautes ne font que passer
Les Cosmonautes ne font que passer

People’s Republic of Bulgaria in 1988 : a 7-year old girl (whose name we will never know) starts her first day at the Youri Gagarine school. She immediately becomes passionate about the history of spatial conquest and decides she will be a cosmonaut, even though, all her school friends want to become nurses, dancers or « the same thing as mum ». This first back-to-school time is also the opportunity to meet Constanza, a « sparkling girl », « a pest », a competitor and a best friend forever by default.

Not easy to lead this project when only her grandfather gives her some support. Even tougher when the Berlin Wall falls and « the whole communist world » collapses.

The « President Comrade » sees his 35-year mandate ending brutally, the school gets renamed, the headmaster is not to be called « comrade » anymore but just « Madam ».

Then comes the time of the democratic transition: freedom of expression, shortage of goods in the stores, free market economy, mafia-style networks, the arrival of MTV … The country is transforming dramatically and, at the same time, the child gets confronted to the physical and psychical transformations of a teenager: in her Pantheon, Kurt Cobain now replaces Youri Gagarine: done deal, she gives up becoming a cosmonaut and now wants to become a punk-grunge-rocker.

Elitza Gueorguieva, like her heroin, was born in Bulgaria in 1982. She looks back at the world through the eyes of the child she was at the time.

The gap between the complex reality and what she understands from it as a 7-year child is very funny. The tone is always spot on and it never sounds artificially childish.

But her humor also has a hint of profound nostalgia. The young novelist certainly does not miss the communist regime –this would be absurd– but she is nostalgic of the world of her childhood, a world whose tracks, visual or tangible, have been erased forever. A first original and promising novel.


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