A book that no one would ever want to write proves powerfully, painfully difficult to read.
One of the many casualties of the November 2015 terrorist attack on concertgoers at the Bataclan Theater in Paris was Leiris’ young wife, the mother of their 17-month-old son. His grief transcends any attempt at literary criticism, but his craft as a journalist allows him to focus on detail and avoid the bathos of sentimentality, thus allowing his shellshocked horror to stand on its own. The narrative is written like diary entries, fresh with emotional immediacy, beginning with reports of the attack while he was at home, waiting for his wife’s return. Then come his responses, and his responses to other responses, as he comes to terms with his belief that dwelling on hating the perpetrators is not the way to keep his wife alive for him and his son. “People ask me if I’ve forgotten or forgiven,” he writes. “I forgive nothing, I forget nothing. I am not getting over anything, and certainly not so quickly. When everyone else has gone back to his or her life, we will still be living with this. This is our story. To refuse it would be to betray it.” The fulcrum of the narrative (which spans just under two weeks) is an open letter to the terrorists, posted on Facebook, where he writes, “I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you….You have failed. I will not change.” It’s a complex response to a tragic loss, and while it would be minimizing his loss and grief to call the book cathartic, it is certainly part of a response that allows him to conclude, “today, the funeral procession is over. It is toward our new life that we walk.”
Courageous and inspirational, without a wasted word.