Fallen Leaves

by | 22 Sep 2017 | Art – Literature

In the northern hemisphere, today is the last day of summer.

Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful, so can memories and regrets. And the north wind takes them into the cold night of oblivion …” : Jacques Prevert’s words were popularized by Yves Montand, singing it with an amazing elegance on a music by Joseph Kosma.

Fallen leaves, unrequited love, separation, aging … At some stage, you have to accept that what didn’t happen will not happen. You just have then to hide your grief and to step down, with as much elegance as you can.

And on the verge of despair, if you think as I do that painful losses cannot be grieved, to avoid to draw too definitive conclusions, you can eventually find a refuge in books.

By chance, in France, the end of summer is also the publishing season. Since the beginnings of the Goncourt Prize in 1903 or the Femina Prize in 1904, publishers have followed the calendar of the autumn to publish, making this ritual a real French exception.

Let me introduce you two pieces of jewelry of this publishing season, with two young women, one French with strong Iranian links, the other one being Algerian.

Delphine Minoui is a French journalist specializing in the Iranian world. After graduating in France, she moved to Iran in 1998 and became there a correspondent of France Inter and France Info, collaborating later with Le Figaro. She has also directed and collaborated on several documentaries.

In 2006, Delphine Minoui was awarded the prix Albert Londres for a series of articles on Iraq and Iran.

She recently wrote about Nujood Ali, the first little girl to get divorced in Yemen.

She just published Les Passeurs de livres de Daraya (« Daraya passeurs of books »). It should arrive in the good bookstores this week-end. If not, try to find it in a couple of days ? And not online please ! We need to keep booksellers …

The Siege of the Damascus suburbs of Darayya and Muadamiyat al-Sham was launched by the Syrian Armed Forces in late 2012, and lasted until August 2016 for the first town, a bit later for the second one. During this long nightmare, the power grid in the area was cut off, and the government attempted to storm the two towns multiple times, continuously hitting it by airstrikes, using chemical weapons too.

Some young Syrian rebels decided to resist by exhuming books under the ruins and creating a clandestine library. It’s the story that this tremendous book tells, an ode to life and the power of books …

But back to Algiers with my preferred one, Kaouther Adimi and her third novel, Nos richesses (“our wealth”).

Well, if you google “wealth” and “Algeria”, there is little chance you find anything about this story.

Again, a place dedicated to books, and the story of his founder : during the twenties, a teenager at the Lycée Bugeaud, Edmond Charlot, became Albert Camus’s close friend. They were both attracted by the teaching of a professor of philosophy, Jean Grenier, who was already a well-known writer.

At the age of twenty, Charlot founded in Algiers “Les Vraies Richesses” (a reference to Jean Giono). Primarily a bookshop, it was also a lending library for students who could not afford to buy books, a publishing house, an art gallery and a browser’s salon. This small building in the rue Charras soon became the principal Algerian-French cultural centre.

Among the first painters successfully exhibited there was Pierre Bonnard. Camus was its first published author, with Révolte dans les Asturies (“Revolt in Asturias”, 1936) followed by other early works. Among the best-sellers were Rainer Maria Rilke’s Lettres à un jeune poète, whose unexpected success drew the attention of Parisian editors and reviewers, leading Charlot to publish Max-Pol Fouchet, Jean Grenier, Jules Roy and several titles by Federico García Lorca.

During the Nazi invasion of France, he published Gertrude Stein’s Paris France (1941), and even more significantly a 5,000-copy edition of Vercors’ Le Silence de la mer (“The Silence of the Sea” 1942), a work that became an underground best-seller in occupied France and abroad, sold out within two days of publication.

Edmond Charlot was a man whose life was devoted to international understanding between Arabs and Europeans; an impassioned bibliophile and literary enthusiast who started the careers of many famous authors. He also defended the idea of “Mediterranean civilization” as a force for peace and artistic excellence in a world rent asunder by politics and war.

Summer is over. It will not come again. And what didn’t happen will not happen …

But you can read the next Goncourt prize …

Iconography : Nos richesses, Kaouther Adimi’s third novel. September, 2017 (personal collection).