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A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT by Sebastien Japrisot

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

By Sebastien Japrisot

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-28335-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Dissatisfied with the official account of her fiancÇ Jean Etchevery's death in WW I, wheelchair-bound painter Mathilde Donnay resolves to find out the truth--with unexpectedly moving results at the end of a twisted trail. Etchevery, called ``Cornflower'' because of his youth, was one of five soldiers condemned to death for self-mutilation (shooting themselves in the hands), marched to the no-man's-land between the French and German lines, and left to die. But as Mathilde talks to the dying sergeant who was in charge of the detail and pores over the documents confirming the circumstances of the execution, telltale discrepancies (was one of the five corpses buried really wearing German boots? how explain a surviving corporal's suspicion that one or possibly two of the dead men weren't the ones he expected to see?) give her hope that Cornflower is still alive. As her researches gather more urgency, however, the years pass, survivors of the war die, memories fade, and documents disappear--leaving a trail utterly cold except for the puzzlingly contradictory stories related by the soldiers' families. Mathilde's father's lawyer urges her to give up her obsessive quest, and she finds that Germain Pire, an enterprising private detective who's urged her to hire him, has been concealing some of information he's turned up. The latest evidence suggests that a self-sacrificing corporal took the place of one of the dead--but was that one Cornflower, and if it was, why hasn't Mathilde been able to find him as late as 1924? As tricky as Japrisot's earlier bestsellers in his native France (The Passion of Women, 1990, etc.)--but also precisely, surprisingly evocative of the lingering pain of mourning and the burdens of survival.