Magazine article World Literature Today

Au Revoir Là-Haut

Magazine article World Literature Today

Au Revoir Là-Haut

Article excerpt

Pierre Lemaître. Au revoir là-haut. Paris. Albin Michel. 2013. isbn 978- 2226249678

The title of Au revoir là-haut (Good- bye until we meet in heaven) comes from a letter written by a soldier just before his execution for treason in 1914. It is a sign of the emotions that permeate the book. Awarded the 2013 Prix Goncourt, Au revoir là-haut portrays a society that wants to honor the dead but also forgets the living veterans. In its use of slang and its fast-paced style, it is closer to Lemaître's earlier work (a number of best-selling detective novels) than to most prizewinning novels.

There are two linked stories, both beginning November 2, 1918, just before the armistice. Henri d'Aubray-Pradelle, an unscrupulous lieutenant, hopes to promote his own career by ordering his men to attack the Germans. He chooses the young- est and the oldest soldiers in his bat- talion to start the attack, then delib- erately shoots them in the back to make the rest of his soldiers advance. Two of the soldiers-Albert Maillard and Edouard Péricourt-are aware of Henri's action, but they are both badly injured. Buried in the ground, Maillard is saved from death when Péricourt jumps on the body to keep the heart working. At this moment, Péricourt is hit by a shell that almost destroys his face.

An artist and the son of a wealthy businessman who he feels dislikes him, Péricourt refuses to be identified officially by the army. Maillard helps him start a new life under an assumed name. The pair live very poorly; Péricourt's injury prevents him from going into pub- lic; Maillard works as a sandwich man on the streets. …

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