Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel

Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel
Publication date: 2005
Publisher: Le Livre de Poche
Originally published by Éditions Stock
Pages: 183
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

In a previous book review, I shared with you my thoughts on Ru by Canadian author Kim Thúy (click here to read the review). I sincerely wanted to fall in love with her debut novel but ended up being disappointed due to the lack of…heart. The story was told in a perspective that I wasn’t able to connect with; the story felt like sunshine and butterflies when in reality, Vietnamese refugees did not experience an easy and poetic journey as the author made her character’s to be. This week, I thought I’d revisit another novel that shares a similar topic. It was never stated throughout the novel that the story was based on the Vietnam War but you can speculate by the name used for the main character and the circumstances.

Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel was recommended to me by a colleague about 6 or 7 years ago. Because of my Vietnamese heritage, she somehow knew that I would find this piece of French literature as heartfelt as she did. She was spot on! I remember reading this book cover to cover in a day and having my heart completely broken when the story came to an end. No spoilers! You will need to read this one to find out.

Synopsis: It is the story of Monsieur Linh, an old man who travels to a foreign land following the death of his son and his daughter-in-law after a bombing in a rice field where they were working. Traumatized by the memories of his war-ravaged country and the death of his loved ones, Monsieur Linh leaves on a boat carrying with him a small suitcase and his newborn granddaughter Sang Diû that was spared from the attack that claimed the lives of her parents. After his arrival at the detention center, he shares his living space with a group of younger refugees who regarded him as old and senile who spends his days taking care of a little baby. He later befriends a man named Monsieur Bark who also suffered the loss of a loved one. They somehow develop a sincere friendship regardless of the fact that they didn’t understand each other for they spoke a different language from one another.

I read this book in French (La petite fille de Monsieur Linh) as it was originally published in 2005. Sometimes, stories can lose their essence when they are translated into another language. I won’t be able to tell you whether the English translation will affect the readers in the same manner as if they would have read it in French but the author was able to capture everything I had hoped for while reading the previously reviewed book. Monsieur Linh and His Child is a heartfelt story. I was able to imagine how Monsieur Linh must have felt when he discovered the bodies of his son and daughter-in-law in the rice fields. I was able to feel his broken heart, and the slight bit of hope and joy when he found his granddaughter. I understood the loneliness and detachment that he felt caused by the other refugees at the detention center who look at him with mocking stares whenever he would take care of Sang Diû. But most of all, I connected with the character, with his pain and loneliness. When I turned the last page of this book, I remember hugging it against my chest. Claudel was able to deliver an emotional story effortlessly and humbly.

For this blog post, I wanted to find out more about the author’s inspiration for this touching story. Instead, I stumbled upon an interview for Le Figaro, an online version of a French newspaper of the same name. The journalist informed Claudel that a reader affirmed that the story of Monsieur Linh made her cry. Was this his objective when writing stories, to evoke such emotions from the readers? This is his response:

Every time I write a text, I do it with great sincerity. I think that is what affects people. They realize that they are not fabricated books, objects destined to invade displays at bookstores or the book market. Whenever I write a book, it’s always something urgent and that affects me personally. Readers – and I’m first and foremost a reader – are not fooled. I think you know when a book is or is not sincere…” – Philippe Claudel, interview with Le Figaro March 10, 2006 

The complete interview in French can be read here.

Monsieur Linh and His Child is one of a few books that I strongly recommend and I hope you will give yourself a chance to discover this beautiful piece of literature.

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