When another of D'Aulnay-Pradelle's soldiers, Albert Maillard, reaches the bodies and discovers how they died, the lieutenant shoves him into a shell hole to silence him. Read more...
When another of D'Aulnay-Pradelle's soldiers, Albert Maillard, reaches the bodies and discovers how they died, the lieutenant shoves him into a shell hole to silence him. Albert is rescued by fellow soldier, the artist Edouard Pericourt, who takes a bullet in the face. The war ends and both men recover, but Edouard is permanently disfigured, and fakes his death to prevent his family from seeing him as a cripple. In gratitude for Edouard's rescue, Albert becomes the injured man's companion and caregiver.
Finding that the postwar gratitude for the soldiers' service is nothing more than lip-service to an empty idea, the two men scramble to survive, ultimately devising a scam to take money for never-to-be-built war memorials from small towns. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pradelle has married Edouard's sister Madeline and is running a scam of his own that involves the exhumation of war victims.
In this sorrowful, heart-searching novel, the interwoven lives of these three men create a tapestry of the human condition as seen through the lens of war, revealing brutality and compassion, heroism and cowardice, in equal measure.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-07-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Winner of the Prix Goncourt, Lemaitre’s assured, somber exploration of post-WWI French society opens shortly before the 1918 armistice. Lt. Henri d’Aulnay-Pradelle murders two of his soldiers to provoke a French attack on German territory, then unsuccessfully tries to eliminate the two witnesses, Albert Maillard and Édouard Péricourt. After the armistice , Albert works menial jobs to pay for morphine for Édouard, whose jaw was blown off when he saved Albert from Pradelle. Pradelle, meanwhile, makes his fortune reburying French soldiers in proper cemeteries. Édouard decides to exploit his country’s desire to honor fallen soldiers by contracting to build memorials and then absconding with the down payments. Lemaitre (Alex) captures the venal capitalism of the postwar period, in which Pradelle’s company buries German bodies as French soldiers and saws off corpses’ feet to fit into cheap coffins; meanwhile, politicians speak of honoring the dead, but soldiers like Édouard and Albert live in poverty. Despite his unscrupulous scheme, Édouard proves impossible to dislike. His determination to play a great trick on the society that betrayed him is infectious, and readers cannot help rooting for his plans as they reach their dark, bizarrely joyous fruition. (Sept.)