A memoir implicates French politicians in the suffering of its citizens.
When he was growing up, Louis (History of Violence, 2018, etc.) didn’t get along with his father. The patriarch lived by a simple creed: “be a man, don’t act like a girl, don’t be a faggot.” Surprising words for young Louis, who is gay, to hear, even more so given that a man who would “sneer at any sign of femininity in a man” once dressed as a cheerleader and cried while watching opera. A détente began when the author’s father was injured at the factory where he worked. Something heavy fell on him and “mangled” his back, and he was so weak that he got winded walking to the bathroom. Most of the book focuses on Louis’ relationship with his father, but then, in an abrupt shift, the author spends the last 15 pages enumerating policies that he argues have emasculated his father and worsened life for France’s poorest citizens. Sometimes, the author’s attempts to connect his family’s tragedy to world events go too far, such as when he invokes concentration camps. More relevant are his critiques of French politicians: former President Jacques Chirac’s announcement “that dozens of medications would no longer be covered by the state”; former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s change to basic unemployment benefits that forced Louis’ father to take jobs such as street sweeper; and the current president, Emmanuel Macron, who cut 5 euros per month from the subsidy that allows France’s poor to pay their rent while he cut taxes for the wealthy. Whatever one’s politics, readers of this impassioned work are likely to be moved by the Louis family’s plight and the love, however strained, between the author and his father.
In 2004, fascinated by the Berlin Wall, 12-year-old Louis peppered his father with questions about it. As this poignant book shows, there are still walls—within families, between leaders and citizens—that need to be torn down.