It was one of those magical days, where the sun shines through the luxurious paneled rooms of Cercle Interallié, and the large garden was revealing its first daffodils and primroses. In Salon duc de Luynes, a small group of chic ladies (and a few gentlemen) were meeting for the Prize giving ceremony of Prix Edméee de la Rochefoucauld, dedicated to best first novel. The winner, Emmanuelle Pirotte, a Belgian screen writer, whose father Jean Claude Pirotte was a famous poet and novelist, is not only very « sympathique ». She is a briliant narrator and her book « Today we live » (an English title for a book in French) is lively, captivating and mostly a fantastic psychological frescoe.
Set in the Ardennes, a Belgian rough, cold, woodland area near the French border, the book describes sometimes in wall on language) the confused atmosphere of December 1944, when American troops arrive and confront the last nazi soldiers, who have not left yet. In the middle of this awkward situation, is a farm with starving refugees living in the cellar, who feed on animal’s cereals, and a little Jewish girl, Renée, whose parents have been deported to Auschwitz.
The novel concentrates on the relationship between Renée, the amazingly clever and mature child, who survived thanks to catholic schools and Mathias, a Canadian fur trader, enrolled in the German army, but disguised as an American. All characters are both good and bad, and Emmanuelle Pirotte plays with great agility on the evil/charming personalities.
I was fascinated to find details and an atmosphere that were common to Harry Bleiberg’s autobiographical novel, « Maman je ne veux plus être juif » published on Amazon at the beginning of the year. Both books show how clever little children can be when in danger. Both are very sensuous and real page turners.
Emmanuelle Pirotte had first written a script with her Namur born companion Sylvestre Sbille, based on her grandparents’ stories of the war. They had hidden a little boy in the Ardennes. So this script turned novel, will soon be a film.
The young author paid a tribute to her publisher at Cherche Midi, Pierre Drachline, who died last December. He had trusted her and enabled her to be nominated for the Lire magazine prize and win this one. The book is a fantastic read and a topic which I had never encountered before.
Edmée de La Rochefoucauld, who had a literary salon in Paris, painted and wrote, would have been proud of the jury’s choice. Year after year, they discover young novelists who pursue a strong career. This luxurious and elegant prize is also setting literary trends.
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