THE AMERICAN by Franz-Olivier Giesbert


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A journalist’s searing, painfully intimate memoir of a dysfunctional Franco-American family inescapably bound to the father’s World War II experiences.

The author, one-time editor-in-chief of France’s Le Figaro, recounts in stark detail an adolescence shaped by the abuse of his American father. A GI who landed on the Normandy beachhead, he regularly beat his French wife, Giesbert’s mother, for years. Yet the motivation for this unsparing memoir is the guilt that remains in the author’s own mind as the result of his ultimately turning away from his father. In this reconstruction of his youth, the author portrays a heritage of affluent privilege on the American side, cultural affinities on the French; yet his father, Giesbert asserts, was a Francophile and openly dismissive of America’s consumerist culture. An artist at heart, he eventually saw himself mired in a bourgeois marriage where children kept coming almost as an act of revenge. After several years in the States, where the author was born, the family moved to Normandy, where the agrarian countryside and doting French grandparents provided respite for the young Giesbert, whose mother was “beaten to a pulp” several times a week. Eventually, the author comes to fix on the Normandy landing as the point where his father somehow snapped. Seeing so many comrades slaughtered and helpless to do anything about it, the author’s father recollected in unguarded moments not the heroism or triumph over the Nazis but the fact that so many, including himself, lost control of their bowel and bladder functions during the horrors of the landing. “In the last years of his life,” Giesbert sums up, “each time he hung around me waiting to start a conversation, I changed rooms. I had an excuse … [he] robbed me of my childhood.”

A gripping self-analysis of a boy’s attempt to deal with inescapable abuse.

Pub Date: Dec. 13th, 2005
ISBN: 0-375-42367-2
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2005