Believe. On the powers of literature
by Justine Augier
Actes Sud, 144 p., €18
It’s a short story and yet it’s a world that Justine Augier’s new novel reveals. Originally, this desire born from the depths of confinement to write a text on “the power of literature in the face of what locks up, crushes time, identities, language, possibilities, struggles and hopes”. The momentum – this belief, this “vision of the essential” – which was slowed down when life resumed its course, quickly caught up with the author. His mother, battling cancer, soon ordered him to let himself be carried away by his project: “You have to write this book on literature and its powers. »
She will draw from these words the strength and the conviction to compose this singular, and very beautiful text, filled at the same time with the authors who nourish her – Annie Ernaux, Hannah Arendt, Svetlana Alexievitch, Joan Didion, Tanguy Viel -, commitments that make her vibrate and the memories she keeps of her mother, Marielle de Sarnez, vice-president of the MoDem and former member of the European Parliament, who disappeared just two years ago. She evokes with strength and modesty the mourning that overwhelms and the literature that saves, that connects and “summons the ghosts, those before and those who come, and this conversation to which it always brings us back remains full of hope”.
Marielle de Sarnez is the golden thread of which her text is sewn, she is the beloved whom she did not know how to love, she thinks (wrongly, we say to ourselves when reading her). Mother and daughter, with apparently contradictory political commitments, brought together in the same probity, the same European convictions. The first traveling, still, the kilometers that separated her from her daughter, a humanitarian who had gone to the four corners of the globe; the second long refusing the outstretched hand of her mother, for fear of being locked into filial conformity; consistently disdaining his reading advice; both allowing silence to settle between them.
But it is another woman who punctuates the novel, with very political overtones, by Justine Augier. And each evocation of the lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, a figure of the Syrian resistance whose absolute commitment she traced in De l’ardeur (1), carries everything in its path. Through her, through her friend Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, to whom she devoted another magnificent essay (2), the author celebrates the complexity in all things, in all beings. She affirms her resistance, her “refusal of the confinement of the narratives that dominate”. And to quote the immense Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who taught him “that commitment to a cause could be total while leaving room in oneself for the other and for the complex”.
Reflections on literature are followed by scenes of great sweetness between her mother and her. Like this episode where Marielle de Sarnez tears off one by one the pages of a book she is reading so that her child, seated next to her, reads them after her. And the story, thus balanced, progresses modestly. Because, in the act of writing, it is not only a question of “bringing the absent to life, but of creating the possibility of being at the same time as them, of entering into conversation with them”. It will take this time, and this writing work, to be able to keep the maternal heritage in its rightful place. “The texts my mother introduced me to now emerge side by side, drawing a map that I have long been unable to decipher, and from here I see how decisive they were, and how beautiful together. Literature is a reconciliation.
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