30 days to find a husband
By Fouad Laroui.
Mialet-Barrault Publishers, 192 p., €19.
The rating of L’Express: 4/5
Prepare your smiles. Farewell to rape, harassment, deadly family secrets and other joys: the Moroccan-Dutch Fouad Laroui, author of A year with the French (2010) and Goncourt from the short story 2013, invites us to the Café de l’univers, where each of the narrator’s companions must tell an astonishing story. That is 12 sketches with biting irony. Alternately, Najib the apothecary, Machin the engineer, Ahmed the mathematician, Hamid the chronicler, Salim the computer scientist, etc., take the floor, not without being interrupted by their mocking friends, always quick to point out an incongruity, make a good word or attempt a digression – in a tone reminiscent of the famous Counter briefs by Jean-Marie Gourio.
It is Najib who begins the game with an episode which gives its title to the book, 30 days to find a husband. 1980s, Khaoula, a librarian in Rabat, accepts an internship at the library of the Ecole des mines in Paris, not to familiarize herself with modern techniques but to… find a rich and naive American husband. Further on, Hicham, after a long exile, meets in a street of Casa a cousin wrapped in a niqab (“packaged in her shroud”) with a much lighter previous life; we thus come across a schizophrenic puppeteer, a middle-class woman who becomes infatuated with the two children of a widowed brigadier, a woman who discovers that she is the daughter of a Frenchman, a child of the people with a fine university career in the midst of an existential crisis . Religion, free will, prejudices, archaisms… behind the laughter point the concerns of our disoriented societies. PM
The Archives of Feelings
By Peter Stamm, trans. from German (Switzerland) by Pierre Deshusses.
Christian Bourgois, 200 pages, €20.
The rating of L’Express: 3/5
Contemporary Swiss literature cannot be reduced to Joël Dicker. Peter Stamm has been publishing poetic and sensitive novels for about twenty years, among which we can cite Agnes, Random landscapes Or The Sweet Indifference of the World. His new book does not change its atmosphere and tone: it will appeal to readers of Letter from a stranger by Stefan Zweig and Tonio Kröger by Thomas Mann.
The narrator is not on his plate: an unemployed librarian, he has taken over his parents’ old house, where nothing has changed since their death. Arriving in his mid-fifties, the old boy tends to sort his memories as he once filed articles. One subject obsesses her more than the others: Franziska, a former classmate who became a singer under the stage name of Fabienne. He kissed her once at the end of high school, had an ambiguous relationship with her. He hasn’t seen her for thirty years but has never stopped loving her. One day, he took courage to write to her to suggest that they reconnect. It will be understood: this Peter Stamm is not an heir of Casanova. Its solitary and withdrawn hero, Kafkaesque in more than one way, is one of those who dream of love more than they live it. This time, he plans to sell the parental home and move on. Will he be able to open up to a real relationship? All this is delicately told. Failing to reveal the end of Feelings Archivelet’s tell the truth about the Peter Stamm case: he deserves attention. Louis-Henri de La Rochefoucauld
Franz Kafka does not want to die
By Laurent Seksik.
Gallimard, 352 pages, €21.50.
The rating of L’Express: 3/5
In 1920, at the Matliary sanatorium in the Slovak mountains, tuberculosis patients were cured by swallowing fresh cream and sticking a tiny mirror in their throats. The medical student, Robert Klopstock, himself ill, thus met Franz Kafka, doctor of law, employee of an insurance office in Prague. Upstairs, he said to himself that this funny thirty-year-old, thin and sweet, would also write. Later, on his dying bed, it was Klopstock, who had become his friend and his first reader, that the writer demanded morphine: “Kill me, otherwise you are an assassin”. The young man administers to the forties a final injection.
This is when the playwright Laurent Seksik’s book really begins. Between Prague, Berlin and Vienna, where the Jewish community observes the Nazi wave breaking, they are three to mourn Kafka. His sister, Ottla, who was gassed to death after having organized, within the Theresienstadt camp, a birthday party for the 60th birthday of her missing brother. His desperate lover, the teacher Dora Diamant, a communist militant in Berlin, narrowly escaping death in a cell in the Lubyanka in Moscow, finally taking refuge in London, where she keeps the hairbrush of the deceased in her pocket. And then Robert Klopstock, who emigrated to the United States, translated Kafka’s work into Hungarian and became an eminent tuberculosis specialist. Through these three lives is drawn the portrait, skilfully woven, of a major writer and especially that of the man, fragile, feverish, depressive and obsessive, who made his relatives swear to destroy all his manuscripts. Emilie Lanez