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Brodeck by Philippe Claudel
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Jul 19, 09

bookshelves: fiction-mainstream
Read in July, 2009

Claudel, Philippe. BRODECK. (2007; Eng. trans. 2009). *****. Brodeck is forced into a concentration camp during a great war. He manages to survive and return to his native village. The villagers speak a kind of German, and are overjoyed to see him upon his return. He lived through his ordeal by totally abasing himself in front of his captors, but the sights he saw and the treatment he received made him a changed man. In spite of it all, he managed to make it back to his wife and child, and the old woman who lived with them – who in fact had rescued him as a young child from his original village after it, along with his family, had been destroyed in an earlier great war. He now makes his living writing reports about various things in and around the village, mundane reports about everyday things that he sends in to a bureau at the capitol. He doesn’t know if they are read or not, but he and his family live off the small amounts of money that the bureau sends him. Soon after his return to the village, a stranger appears in the village, along with his horse and donkey. The stranger doesn’t talk much and dresses strangely. His odd manner and habits arouse a sense of fear and suspicions among the villagers. His speech is formal – when he bothers to talk – and his activities consist of taking long walks around the village and the neighboring mountains, constantly making notes in a little black book that he carries with him. Noone in the village ever learns his name. He is simply called Anderer, the Other. One day he announces a showing of portraits and landscapes in the inn where he is staying, and invites all the principal men of the village to attend. When the Anderer produces drawings of the village and its inhabitants that are both unflattering and insightful, the villagers murder him. The authorities who witnessed the killing tell Brodeck to write a report that is essentially a whitewash of the incident, but Brodeck also writes a parallel report that lays down the truth of the event – at least the truth as he sees it. This is a remarkable story, or fable, or myth that will resonate strongly with the reader. The writing is beautifully done, and reminds me of the style of Knut Hamsun or Kafka. This is the first novel I have read by this author, but I’ll seek out others of his in translation. Claudel is also the writer and director of “I’ve Loved You So Long,” a remarkable film that is one of the best that I have seen in a long time. Highly recommended.
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