A tiny slip of a tale—hardly more than a longish short story (the first 80 pages are in English, the remainder in French)—about an incident during the French Resistance in WWII. It’s said to be based on an experience of the author’s father.
Except for a contemporary framing device, the story is told by a young boy sometime in “the fifties or early sixties.” The son of a schoolteacher, the boy lives in a state of almost perpetual chagrin because of something in his father’s behavior. It’s not the teaching that troubles him, but his father’s other work—as a clown. Well known for being readily available, his father puts on a clown costume and goes to work whenever he’s asked—charging nothing—for holiday celebrations, charity affairs, and the like. This results in deep embarrassment for his unhappy son, who dislikes clowns, finding only sorrow in them—until he finds out why his father does what he does. A dear friend of his parents named Gaston, married to Nicole, is given the job one night—after the families have gone to a movie together, about Germans and WWII—of telling him the whole story. As young and unmarried Resistance members, it seems, Gaston and André (the father) were set the task of blowing up an electricity plant, which they succeeded in doing. But, with two others, they were also arrested soon after—picked at random—thrown into a clay pit under guard, and told they would be shot if the real perpetrators didn’t come forth within a day. Little more can be said without spoiling the story, with its rather delicate O. Henry twist, and then its second twist. Clowns will be involved, indeed, perhaps and perhaps not as symbols of the absurd.
A very, very light story with a certain true but also very, very light charm.