A Hundred Million Years and a Day,
by Jean-Baptiste Andrea
Cent millions d’années et un jour
was first published in 2019.
Translated from the French by
US release date 6/16/2020
I recently reviewed Wild Dog, translated from the French, a novel focusing on nature and how it can reveal our true human nature and transform it. Today, I could write exactly the same line about A Hundred Million Years and a Day, and yet the book is very different. However, it’s just as brilliant and beautifully written.
Wild Dog was about real, very alive animals. Here, we are dealing with fossils.
The book opens with an awesome page. Stan, 6, gets sent home because he told his teacher Pépin was not the name of a king of France, but of his dog! To release his frustration and anger, Stan hits a rock with a hammer. The shock splits the rock and reveals a treasure:
From its mineral depths, my trilobite looked me in the eye, every bit as surprised as I was. It was three hundred millions years old and I was six.
This was the start of Stan’s love for fossils. His passion led him to become a paleontology professor.
Forty six years after his first encounter with a fossil, so now in the 1950s, Stan finally decides to follow his dreams and launch into a major adventure, looking for the remains of an exceptional animal he heard could be found in the cave of a glacier between France and Italy. He has very few clues about the precise location of the cave, and a few companions only, to help him reach his goal in two months: his former assistant teacher Umberto, who brought his own assistant Peter, Gio an old Italian guide, and a puppet!
Most of the book, told in the first person and in the present tense, is like Stan’s journal of his trip. It consists of fifty short unnumbered sections. The narrator often addresses the reader, making the book quite engaging.
The challenges brought by the extremely dangerous conditions (including heights and cold of course, but also thunderstorms – see the great scene on page 66) of the expedition invite the main character to reflect and reminisce on his younger years, on the painful ambiance at home, on his profession. The treacherous mountain inevitably pushes the characters, exhausted and on edge, to abandon their façades. But what can stop you when you are obsessed by something?
Up there, the only monsters are the ones you take with you.
I really enjoyed the description of the mountain with all its challenges, and of how the characters dealt with it and with their own issues, physically and mentally.
The translator did an amazing job. In fact, I read the page given here below to my book club, and they were in awe!
The silence is absolute; it fills our mouths, sticks to our teeth.
Autumn slit summer’s throat during the night.
In a single night, the white lava flow has submerged our camp in feline silence.
I also learned a few things about paleontology, for instance about Marsh’s theories.
The use of some local Italian dialects was neat!
This is a harsh book, but you know by now that most of the French novels I read are far from rosy. One again, Gallic introduces its English speaking readers with unique French literature of excellent quality.
VERDICT: Beautifully written and remarkable narrative about following one’s dreams, and human behavior in harsh conditions. I promise you, you won’t forget this expedition!
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Any other great novel with treacherous conditions?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.