I love France #13: Review 1 (2012): Le Grand Meaulnes

I LOVE FRANCE!

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Le Grand Meaulnes

by

ALAIN-FOURNIER

218 pages [read as ebook, downloaded for free online]

Published in 1913

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

If I remember correctly, I read this book in 7th grade; I wrote an extensive essay on it: I was totally crazy back then with this book. It came back to mind some months ago, and I’m thrilled it is my first book read in 2012. I have to say I found the same enjoyment, about35 years later!
I probably even more appreciated the style, especially on the countryside descriptions. The author, one of too many great artists who disappeared during WWI, does a fantastic job at recreating the ambiance of little villages, with their local school, with simple peasant life, and the world of friendship.

It is really a very romantic book, with the theme of love, lost love, the pursue of memories, of a beautiful face you saw one day and try to find  again, and of mysterious magic places, where life seems to be coming from another world, a world free of sorrow, a world free of the looming shadows of pre-WWWI.

His 2 main heroes are great characters.

Two movies have been on the book, in 1967 and 2001. I have not seen them, and will probably not, too afraid to break the charm!

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Le Grand Meaulnes is the only novel by French author Alain-Fournier. Fifteen-year-old François Seurel narrates the story of his relationship with seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaulnes as Meaulnes searches for his lost love. Impulsive, reckless and heroic, Meaulnes embodies the romantic ideal, the search for the unobtainable, and the mysterious world between childhood and adulthood. It is considered one of the great works of French literature.

François the narrator of the book is the son of M. Seurel who is the director of the school in a small village in the Sologne, a countryside of lakes and sandy forests. After arriving in class, Augustin Meaulnes, who has led a distressed life, soon disappears. He returns from an escapade he had which was an incredible and magical costume party where he met the girl of his dreams, Yvonne de Galais.

Various English translations are available. While there have been different translations of the title, such as The Lost Domain and The Wanderer, modern translations usually do not translate the title. [wikipedia]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Alain-Fournier was the pseudonym of Henri Alban-Fournier (October 3, 1886 – September 22, 1914[1]), a French author and soldier. He was the author of a single novel, Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), which has been twice filmed and is considered a classic of French literature.

Alain-Fournier was born in La Chapelle-d’Angillon, in the Cher département, in central France, the son of a school teacher. He studied at the Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, near Paris, where he prepared for the entrance examination to the École Normale Supérieure, but without success. He then studied at the merchant marine school in Brest. At the Lycée Lakanal he met Jacques Rivière, and the two became close friends. In 1909, Rivière married Alain-Fournier’s younger sister Isabelle.

He interrupted his studies in 1907 and from 1908 to 1909 he performed his military service. At this time he published some essays, poems and stories which were later collected and re-published under the name Miracles.

Throughout this period he was mulling over what would become his celebrated novel, Le Grand Meaulnes. On the first of June 1905, Ascension day, while he was talking a stroll along banks of the Seine he had met Yvonne de Quiévrecourt, with whom he became deeply enamoured. The two spoke, but he did not manage to win her favours. The following year on the same day he waited for her at the same place, but she did not appear. That night he told Rivière, “She did not come. And even if she had, she would not have been the same”.[2] They did not meet again until eight years later, when she was married with two children. Yvonne de Quiévrecourt would become Yvonne de Galais in his novel.

He returned to Paris in 1910 and became a literary critic, writing for the Paris-Journal. There he met André Gide and Paul Claudel. In 1912, he quit his job to become the personal assistant of the politician Casimir Perrier. Le Grand Meaulnes was finished in early 1913, and was first published in the Nouvelle Revue Française (from July to October 1913), and then as a book. Le Grand Meaulnes was nominated for, but did not win, the Prix Goncourt. It is available in English in a widely-admired 1959 translation by Frank Davison for Oxford University Press.

In 1914, Alain-Fournier started work on a second novel, Colombe Blanchet, but this remained unfinished when he joined the army as a Lieutenant in August. He died fighting near Vaux-lès-Palameix[1] (Meuse) one month later, on the 22nd of September 1914. His body remained unidentified until 1991, at which time he was interred in the cemetery of Saint-Remy-la-Calonne.

Most of the writing of Alain-Fournier was published posthumously: Miracles (a volume of poems and essays) in 1924, his correspondence with Jacques Rivière in 1926 and his letters to his family in 1930. His notes and sketches for Colombe Blanchet have also been published. [goodreads]

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AS THIS IS MY FIRST REVIEW OF THE YEAR, I WANTED TO INFORM YOU THAT YOU CAN NOW FOLLOW MY READING PROGRESS IN 2012 ON A CHART IN GOOGLE

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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken:

A World War II Story of

Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

by

Laura HILLENBRAND

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

When my husband finished this book in 2 days, I knew this had to be amazing. I opened it. It was. It is. It is the most powerful book I’ve read this year, by far.

If I measure by the time my husband and I spent talking about this book, I know I could go on and on in here about it. And I keep recommending it to friends. So, what’s terrific about it?

The story of that wild kid and teen, who channeled his about limitless energy in running, and ends up in the war, and and… I’ll tell you later.

The writing. It is so good, that you are not even aware you are reading.
You are with the guy, right there in the raft in the middle of the ocean, you are with the pilots at the heart of crazy sky battles. You are running with him. You receive the blows with him. And you hope with him. You also get an amazing picture of the conditions of the war, and all that was at stake, things you don’t get in text books.

Because yes it’s all about hope. One potential survivor did not make it, because he was convinced they were going to die, and he did not even try to survive, apart from swallowing all the chocolate ration for 3 guys…

Were it not for the stupidity of some of his superiors, who did not know how to judge if a plane was good enough to fly or not – and Louis DID know! – we would not have this story. His plane crashes in the ocean, not even in combat. The inadequacy of the military shows also in the ‘survival kit’ provided, almost a joke!

The book have you go from bad to worse. And when you think, give him a break, there’s more to come, and worse. So after surviving 47 days on the ocean with about nothing, except tons of hope, positive mindset, and incredible ingenuity to catch birds and fish, and miracles – how come the Japanese plane sent more than 40 shots on their inflatable raft, and missed the guys in there by an 8th of an inch?-, they end up on a Japanese island of course and are taken as POWs.

That will add over 2 years of crazy internment conditions, with evil and mentally deranged guards, especially one, who practiced his torture skills on Louie.

And all along, it’s about survival, and resilience, with incredible hope. Even hope in the hearts of Louie’s relatives, especially his mother, who kind of “knew” all along, that he was still alive somewhere, even though the military declared him dead and had returned her his possessions.

And then finally comes the liberation. You think you can breathe at last. Well, not quite yet. Louie is ALMOST broken, and has to fight inner devils that lash at his hope through thoughts of hatred and revenge, and try to have him sink once more, this time in alcoholism.

But there’s another hero in the book: his own wife, who manages to support him and hang in there. It is tough, very tough.

One day, a special speaker comes to talk in their city, and….

I have to stop here, I don’t want to spoil it all. The rest is as amazing as all I have told you.

Yes, there is resilience in humanity, an incredible amount. Yes it is a story of survival and resilience. Unfortunately, most reviews forget to talk about the last element: a story of redemption. That’s the last part of the book partly, and it is so inspiring, like the hope that keeps him going all along.
2021 update: don’t bother watching the movie, they basically skipped that last part, which for me gives the whole deep meaning to the book.

Louie is alive and active, he’s an inspirational speaker. You can read also about him here
2021 update: Louis Zamperini died on July 2, 2014

And Laura is the most amazing inspirational writer. Could it be the most spiritual book I read this year? yes, though the name of God is not mentioned that often.

FIRST LINE:

“All he could see, in every direction, was water.”

LAST LINE:

“There was no trace of them [the cages that had once held him and where a black-eyed man had crawled inside him] here among the voices, the falling snow, and the old and joyful man, running.”

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2010: From Laura Hillenbrand, the bestselling author of Seabiscuit, comes Unbroken, the inspiring true story of a man who lived through a series of catastrophes almost too incredible to be believed. In evocative, immediate descriptions, Hillenbrand unfurls the story of Louie Zamperini–a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero. During a routine search mission over the Pacific, Louie’s plane crashed into the ocean, and what happened to him over the next three years of his life is a story that will keep you glued to the pages, eagerly awaiting the next turn in the story and fearing it at the same time. You’ll cheer for the man who somehow maintained his selfhood and humanity despite the monumental degradations he suffered, and you’ll want to share this book with everyone you know. –Juliet Disparte

BOOK TRAILER. click to watch

The Story of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand herself:

Eight years ago, an old man told me a story that took my breath away. His name was Louie Zamperini, and from the day I first spoke to him, his almost incomprehensibly dramatic life was my obsession.

It was a horse–the subject of my first book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend–who led me to Louie. As I researched the Depression-era racehorse, I kept coming across stories about Louie, a 1930s track star who endured an amazing odyssey in World War II. I knew only a little about him then, but I couldn’t shake him from my mind. After I finished Seabiscuit, I tracked Louie down, called him and asked about his life. For the next hour, he had me transfixed.

Growing up in California in the 1920s, Louie was a hellraiser, stealing everything edible that he could carry, staging elaborate pranks, getting in fistfights, and bedeviling the local police. But as a teenager, he emerged as one of the greatest runners America had ever seen, competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he put on a sensational performance, crossed paths with Hitler, and stole a German flag right off the Reich Chancellery. He was preparing for the 1940 Olympics, and closing in on the fabled four-minute mile, when World War II began. Louie joined the Army Air Corps, becoming a bombardier. Stationed on Oahu, he survived harrowing combat, including an epic air battle that ended when his plane crash-landed, some six hundred holes in its fuselage and half the crew seriously wounded.

On a May afternoon in 1943, Louie took off on a search mission for a lost plane. Somewhere over the Pacific, the engines on his bomber failed. The plane plummeted into the sea, leaving Louie and two other men stranded on a tiny raft. Drifting for weeks and thousands of miles, they endured starvation and desperate thirst, sharks that leapt aboard the raft, trying to drag them off, a machine-gun attack from a Japanese bomber, and a typhoon with waves some forty feet high. At last, they spotted an island. As they rowed toward it, unbeknownst to them, a Japanese military boat was lurking nearby. Louie’s journey had only just begun.

That first conversation with Louie was a pivot point in my life. Fascinated by his experiences, and the mystery of how a man could overcome so much, I began a seven-year journey through his story. I found it in diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs; in the memories of his family and friends, fellow Olympians, former American airmen and Japanese veterans; in forgotten papers in archives as far-flung as Oslo and Canberra. Along the way, there were staggering surprises, and Louie’s unlikely, inspiring story came alive for me. It is a tale of daring, defiance, persistence, ingenuity, and the ferocious will of a man who refused to be broken.

The culmination of my journey is my new book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I hope you are as spellbound by Louie’s life as I am.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Book Sense Book of the Year Award and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, landed on more than fifteen best-of-the-year lists, and inspired the film Seabiscuit, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Hillenbrand’s New Yorker article, “A Sudden Illness,” won the 2004 National Magazine Award, and she is a two-time winner of the Eclipse Award, the highest journalistic honor in Thoroughbred racing. She and actor Gary Sinise are the co-founders of Operation International Children, a charity that provides school supplies to children through American troops. She lives in Washington, D.C.  She suffers from the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but managed to write these amazing books! She is on Facebook.

 

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