Book review: Hear our Defeats

Hear our DefeatsHear our Defeats
by Laurent Gaudé
Translated from the French
by Alison Anderson
Europa Editions
First published as
Écoutez nos défaites
in 2016
Genre: Fiction
224 pages


Laurent Gaudé’s novels are deep and complex. I was totally mesmerized by Hell’s Gate. Hear our Defeats is a reflection on our world and how words can help us live it.

There are three contemporary heroes:

  1. Assem, or rather a fake name given to this “killer of the (French) Republic”. For over ten years, he’s been sent by the French secret service to do targeted assassinations. His way to perceive obedience to orders has been shifting. He’s getting weary, weary of never being able to experience real victory – an experience characteristic of our modern world, with its permanent conflicts, and blurry lines between defeat and victory.
  2. Assem is now sent to find Sullivan, a former American Seal team member who went off the rails.
  3. Mariam, an Iraqi archaeologist, who tries to preserve and protect the stones and monuments that the Taliban are determined to destroy.

Their destinies are connected, though they don’t know it. Believing they will win, they actually experience defeat.

The novel is ultimately a reflection on how defeat is an intrinsic part of life. The word defeat is essential here. For the author, defeat does not mean failure. Defeat is the time in our life when we start to experience loss, grief, sickness. The important is to discover how to fully live these defeats, how to give them meaning.

To shed light on these three destinies and help us access the deep meaning of defeat, we encounter three giant heroes of History:

  1. Hannibal and his elephants
  2. General Grant
  3. The Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie

For these three persons, if you consider their accomplishments, the end of their lives, and how History remembers them, the concept of defeat/victory is definitely unclear. I thought this was grandiosely shown with the regal character of Haile Selassie.

The book keeps switching between places and between the three contemporary and the three historical heroes. Sometimes, when you start a paragraph, you need a few lines before you can clearly identify who the author is referring to, or which narrator is speaking. I believe I was confused and annoyed at first by that, but then I realized how much strength this literary device was giving to the book, thus highlighting universal traits.

There are some difficult combat scenes, that are alas part of History pages. Through Laurent Gaudé’s haunting prose, the reader feels led to wonder what’s the real purpose of any war. One only is essential: the battle against obscurantism. For this one, “there can be no defeat” (chapter 15)

Has he ever been anything other than the plaything of nations?…
When has he ever been the master of his fate, or his country’s?
Chapter 8

Laurent Gaudé managed the tour de force to offer us a metaphysical reflection on life, on time, on the body, on contemporary society, while captivating our attention by his constant changes of narrative and powerful prose. The book also contains elements of suspense and a plot pertaining to spy stories.
I definitely plan to read more books by Laurent Gaudé!

VERDICT:  Powerful mix of metaphysical reflection and spy story.

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Have you read any other good new French novel recently?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


11 thoughts on “Book review: Hear our Defeats

  1. Hi! Sounds like this was worth the challenge. I’ve been just thinking about the strength we all need to face defeat and disappointment. Resiliency is such an important skill to develop so that we can understand that setbacks are not failures. Great review!


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