In contention for both the Goncourt prize and the Femina prize, Heritage, Miguel Bonnefoy’s new novel, tells in a lyrical way, tinged with magical realism and reminiscences, the story of his family. Originally from Jura, immigrated to Chile after the devastation caused by phylloxera, her family returned to France during the Pinochet dictatorship. An unexpected round trip, spanning several generations, and exceptional writing.
The novel opens with a small house on Santo Domingo Street in Santiago de Chile. This house has welcomed several generations of the Lonsonier family. The patriarch, who arrived from Jura at the end of the 19th century with a vine, settled there.
His son, Lazare, when he returns from the trenches of the First World War, will live there with his wife, Thérèse. Then will be born their daughter, Margot, pioneer of aviation who will unite with a strange soldier.
With his elegant, colorful, evocative pen tinged with magical realism, Miguel Bonnefoy paints an out of the ordinary family portrait in Heritage. The wounds of history and the dilemmas before which the Lonsoniers are placed are all the more touching as the novel is partly inspired by the history of his own family.
The phylloxera crisis
“I wanted to turn the case around, that is to say to show that in the past, the French had been migrants too. That precisely, at the end of the 19th century, during the phylloxera disease, a small aphid brought from the United States which will ravage the vine, there was an enormous exile. A very important human displacement of French people who left to replant healthy vines on the slopes of the Cordillera, on the Chilean side and on the Argentine side, and in California. “
He thought it nice to underline this part of the story and to try to give relief to this historical moment when it was the French who moved and where it was other countries who opened their borders to them —.
“From there, I started to develop a story with French characters living in Chile, who get married between French people, who have French children. Which preserve traditions, customs, French mores. It’s crazy to realize how they recreate a small France, 12,000 km away when Chile has absolutely nothing to do with 19th century France. And yet, they end up remaking it into a small utopian community, far away. “
This patriotic feeling is so strong, he adds, that when the news of the First World War reaches Chile, they feel compelled to leave to go and fight in the trenches.
Escape from dictatorship
He found it interesting to finish the book with another generation – that of the great-grandsons of French people who had to flee the Pinochet dictatorship and return to France.
Miguel Bonnefoy has documented a lot, but also drew on his family history. “The Bonnefoys come from Jura, and it seems that they left at the end of the 19th century and arrived in Chile. My great-great-great-grandfather, a man called Claude Georges Bonnefoy, was a tavern keeper. No doubt he must have felt the crisis in viticulture and decided to try the adventure in Chile, in Santiago. He married a French woman and they had the whole lineage, up to my father, Michel Bonnefoy. “
His father was tortured under the Pinochet dictatorship, sent to prison, then sent into exile, in France. “When this story was told to me, I realized that it was really exactly 100 years, almost to the day, since the moment this great-great-great-grandfather left the Jura and the moment my father returned to France, a political exile. ”
“ At that time, there was a famous machi in Santiago, a Mapuche healer, called Aukan, who fascinated crowds as much as he repelled scientists. This strange man, promised to play an essential role in family history, said he was born in Tierra del Fuego, descended from an interminable line of wizards and sorcerers. He had crossed Araucanía on foot, fleeing the missionaries and the Jesuit brothers who founded the communities, where he had made a living by indulging in supernatural medicine prescriptions, where natural medicine had failed. “
- Miguel Bonnefoy is the author of two highly regarded novels, Octavio’s Journey (Rivages pocket, 2016) and Black sugar (Shores pocket, 2019).
- They have both received numerous awards and been translated into several languages.
- Heritage is in the running for the Goncourt Prize and the Femina Prize.