If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the news. Every month, I organize a Book Club (or book club in French) at Café du Nord, in La Rochelle. For this first edition, we read with the participants La Vie Devant Soi by Romain Gary.
Warning: this article may contain spoilers in the text or in the comments.
La Vie Devant Soi by Romain Gary (or Emile Ajar)
Goncourt Prize in 1975, La Vie Devant Soi is a novel by Romain Gary published on September 14, 1975 under the name Emile Ajar.
The pitch: Love story of a little Arab boy for a very old Jewish woman: Momo struggles against the six floors that Mrs. Rosa no longer wants to climb and against life because “it does not forgive” and because “it is not necessary to have reasons to be afraid”. The little boy will help her to hide in her “Jewish hole”, she will not die in the hospital and will be able to benefit from the sacred right “of the people to dispose of themselves” which is not respected by the Order of the doctors. He will keep her company until she dies and even beyond death.
In less than 300 pages, we follow this story told by Momo, in the cosmopolitan Paris of the 70s.
What did the participants think?
During the first edition of the Book Club, we chose this book after a vote on Instagram. La Vie Devant Soi is one of those novels that we hear about, that we have sometimes already read or that is wisely waiting for us in our PAL.
A Goncourt prize whose sentence construction, whether in terms of syntax or grammar, has confused some participants. It must be said that throughout the story, it is Momo who speaks and relates the facts. With his children’s words. With his expressions. And this can indeed be confusing, because sometimes the text is not always easy to understand.
If it is rather complicated to enter the story, it is also a very endearing book. We quickly become attached to Momo, Madame Rosa and the other inhabitants of this popular building in the heart of Paris. So much so that some of them kept thinking about it several days after the end of the reading! And it’s understandable: by seeing the whole story through the eyes of a 10 year old, we quickly become attached.
The book deals with difficult themes: abandonment, prostitution, poverty, the search for one’s origins, religion… And yet, with the words of a child, this story very often brings a smile to our faces! The themes are also very current, and we can quickly relate them to our time. What some have also seen as, in the end, a kind of regression or as a lack of evolution of mentalities in our society.
If it is sometimes difficult to get into this reading, all agreed on one thing: it is from page 184 that there is really a tipping point in the story. The last 100 pages of the book are a much easier read. Even if the absence of a real ending is quite disturbing… This does not mean that the first 184 pages of the story are not interesting. But sometimes it lacks elements or a hook that makes you want to devour the novel.
For many, this book
took them out of their comfort zone. Even though it is a classic of French literature, they might not have read it without the Book Club. And in the end, they still felt satisfied to have read this original, funny and moving story.
My opinion on La Vie Devant Soi
Like most of the participants, I would never have read La Vie devant Soi
without the Book Club. I know that it is really a monument of French literature, but I am not used to read this kind of story.
I also had a hard time getting into the reading. The construction of the sentences, sometimes very disjointed, got the better of me. I sometimes needed to reread some sentences several times to understand. But I’m glad I didn’t give up!
Like many of the participants, I actually enjoyed my reading much more from page 184 on. The moment when Momo’s father appears again is really a tipping point in the story. And I must admit that when I finished the book, I was a little frustrated that there wasn’t another chapter or two to add to my reading
La Vie Devant Soi
is not necessarily one of the books that I will reread on a regular basis, but I’m glad I was able to discover this author. And this story. I smiled a lot, was sometimes surprised by the language that would be much less obvious today… But like many, I came out of it with an attachment to the characters, especially to Momo and Madame Rosa.
During our exchange during the Book Club, I also saw the book and the story in a new light. This made me realize that in the end, I didn’t know if I liked it or not, but I realized that I actually liked it.
The Book Club of the Café du Nord
The Book Club of the Café du Nord is a monthly meeting with several women readers living in La Rochelle and its surroundings. It takes place with registration at the Café. All communication is done via Instagram: I invite you to join us there!
For those who are not in La Rochelle, it is also possible to participate remotely. All you have to do is read the selected book each month and then share about it either here or on a dedicated post on Instagram.
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