Writer translated all over the world, Philippe Claudel takes his readers on a grand dance between great History and intimate stories, great wars and internal wars with his new novel, German fantasy. His characters intersect and return, like a dream, or like a form of haunting, until they find their destiny.
In an interview, Philippe Claudel explains that he had started to write texts related to Germany without planning a novel, until he found that there was material to explore further. So he had the idea to put them together and rewrite them so that they could compose something. “Of course, the common point of all these texts was the Germany of the 20the century.”
He specifies. “I was born and live in Lorraine, a region in eastern France which is right next to Germany. Our story is that for a few decades part of Lorraine was German too. We have specific relationships: it’s our neighbors, it’s the neighbor we admire, the neighbor who scares people. He’s the neighbor we have good relations with – my great-grandfather was French and the other great-grandfather was German. It is this relationship that I have, since I was very young, with Germany. ”
In his novel, he goes to the heart of the conflicts caused by this situation, evokes certain elements of the Second World War, recounts what permeated and torn collective memories and family trees.
“History has produced families – I speak metaphorically – completely schizophrenic. Almost all of our families have an ancestor, at the beginning of the 20e century, which was German or French. There were people, from the same family, who were on both sides of the same trench. ”
Philippe Claudel recalls that the Germany of the 20e century has also been a kind of laboratory of horror, of the human extremity. “How far can man go in his abomination, in his desire to destroy the other, in his political mechanism to exterminate? It is this laboratory – very close to where I live – that never ceases to haunt me. ”
The writer adds to be transposed in all his characters and to let himself be carried by what they live and feel. “I am this soldier, I sleep with him under a tree, I wake up in the morning, I am cold, I have not eaten. I walk without knowing where I am going. And I try to transcribe these sensations. So there’s this personal experience of writing and performing, like an actor would. ”
“I heard so much, in my childhood, grandparents, my parents talk about war … all generations talked about war around me. Every Sunday, at all family meals. Obviously, something is deposited in me. ”
Do not forget
He still lives in Lorraine, he adds. “I walk in nature, in forests that keep traces of war. Yesterday, I was walking with my dog, 50 km from my home, in a forest where the trenches and the soldiers’ shelters were. We went through shell holes, bombs. The trees have grown back, but the landscape tells us about the war. ”
The landscapes told him of the soldiers, of a little girl saved from horror, of so many tragic stories. The trauma is still palpable. “If we want to see it, the trauma, of course, we see it, it is present. The problem is, the man had forgotten. ”
- Philippe Claudel is a writer translated all over the world.
- He is also a filmmaker and playwright.
- He notably published Gray Souls, The Toraja Country Tree and The Dog Archipelago.
Stock editions, 212 pages
“It was not the cold that had woken him up but a confused sensation which remained so for a long time to come, as his sleep gradually frayed. The coat had grown heavier and weighed on the clothes underneath, and also on his chest, like a lead straitjacket. It took him a long time to understand that this heaviness came from the coarse woolen fabric which had gradually saturated with water, and that the coat had now doubled in weight, that he felt trapped there and as if drowned. “