Read an Excerpt
1994. I’m in the bathroom, at my parents’ house in Olivet. It’s ... me ...
It takes a moment for me to recognize the guy who just walked in. It’s my brother.
It’s the first time I’ve seen him like this, without his public face on.
I didn’t know you’d lost your front teeth.
I got these fake teeth...
get in y’r way...
There are scars all over his body. His eyebrows are criss-crossed by scabs.
He’s enormously bloated from medication and lack of exercise.
The back of his head is bald, from all the times he’s fallen.
Brush teeth ...
Go ahead, I’m done.
Brush... brush teeth...
All right, then... good night.
1964. I’m living in Orléans with my parents, my brother, and my sister. The Algerian War ended two years ago, but I’m not even aware of its occurrence yet. I do know that De Gaulle is the President of the Republic.
Florence age 4.
Pierre-François age 5. . Jean-Christophe age 7.
Every Sunday my dad takes us to mass. I’m bored stiff. I know every detail of the stained-glass windows.
When my parents aren’t around I play Joan of Arc with my sister and my brother.
Fifty-centime coins have a hole in the middle, at school my pen has a nib, at home I read "Vaillant" and "Le Journal de Pif" and my name is Pierre-François.
Fafou ! You coming!?
He loses a few baby teeth in the process.
So I play with my brother instead.
Of course, they don’t really under-stand our historical preoccupations.
I’m Joan of Arc !
At lunch, my father tells us stories from the Bible.
Those I do enjoy, especially when they involve fighting.
My mother, for her part, tells us about the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés.
That’s even better because it’s nothing but fighting.
At night, before we go to sleep, she reads us a passage from "Michel Strogoff" by Jules Verne.
The best thing about "Michel Strogoff" is the Tartars. They’re always on horseback, they’re bristling with weapons, and they kill everybody.
At night, the typhoons come for me. I fall asleep and in the mid-dle of the night, I’m carried off by whirlwinds.
And I find myself lost somewhere in my room, which has expanded during my sleep.
I walk for kilometers, feeling my way along a wall, without ever coming across anything familiar.
I’m assaulted by those nightly typhoons a number of times. And then it just stops.
Last night I was carried away by a typhoon.
I call out to Florence, who sleeps in the next room. She opens the door, I have a point of reference, and I find my way back to bed.
Me too !
Behind the house is the alleyway.
Several hundred yards worth of blacktop. Virtually never any cars. And the gang : our neighbor Pascal, and a pair of brothers, Richard and Vincent.
Hey ! There’s a robot in the warehouse !
We enter. I don’t like this one bit.
I know that’s a lie. I’ve been to the warehouse.
The owner’s son told me it was okay.
C’mon, let’s go play in the warehouse.
We aren’t supposed to!
Actually, it’s no fun at all. We’re on edge, uncomfortable. My brother seems to be look-ing out for something.
We start playing in a pile of sand in front of the warehouse.
The warehouse manager comes along.
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO DOING HERE?
Come with me, you !
HERE ! You clean that up !
I cower in a corner, wondering how I’ll ever manage to get out without being seen.
Where’d he go ?
I fling myself into Chantal’s arms, crying.
I see the manager coming back with Chantal, my parents’ maid.
We go back to my parents’. Blood is pouring from my left hand.
The following day, I’m playing in our courtyard.
Fafou, don’t go anywhere; someone’s here to see you.
What happened to you ?
I b-broke... the... window...
I’m here to apologize to you for what happened yesterday.
He leaves immediately. My brother lured me into a trap and my parents let the monster into the house.
Suddenly he appears ! Looming over me ! It’s him !
That’s the worst part !
A little later, workers come and tear down the warehouse. Jean-Christophe is disconsolate. I don’t give a shit.
Work progresses. We play on the motorcycle that belongs to Chantal’s boyfriend.
Vrmmm vrmmm vrmmmm mm...
I wanna ride it too !
Florence, go get Dad ! Hurry up !
Hey Tito, you playing dead ?
He’s heavy. It feels like I’ve been holding him up forever.
What’s wrong with Tito ?
He had a spell...
Actually, I know what has happened.
But that’s bizarre ! I didn’t think typhoons came around in the daytime !
He got carried away by a typhoon I’m sure of it !
From now on I’ve gotta be really careful.
And thus begins the endless round of doctors, for my brother and my parents.
They go see our family doctor. He sends them to his teacher, who no longer practices.
His diagnosis reflects his hourly billing.
He sees them anyway. His diagnosis : epileptic seizures. He refers them to a Parisian neuropsychiatrist.
Ma’am, your son is a bad boy.
They come to the house and complain.
But we aren’t bad boys. With the gang, we throw rocks at the bums at the end of the street.
They busted one of our wine bottles.
That isn’t even true !
We also harass the lovebirds who make out in their cars.
With my brother, I put together my first book. It’s called "The Martyrdom of Florence ."My sister is tortured on every page.
We draw a lot. Both of our parents teach art and we’ve got as much paper and as many crayons as we want.
In the alleyway, everything changes very fast. An apartment building and a parking lot are erected on the ruins of the warehouse. Part of the old structure is left standing.
My brother is the first and only one of us to speak to him.
Every day, one worker eats his lunch by himself, perched on a little wall in the parking lot.
Can I have a piece of your bread?
I ain’t eating his bread. I don’t wanna die.
That’s RAGHEAD ! "Raggedy" is like all torn up.
Are you nuts, Jean-Christophe? That bread is poisoned!
What’s your name ?
He’s a raggedy!
Is that beer ?
You want a piece of bread, Pierre-François ?
Don’t eat it !
No, apple juice. I don’t drink alcohol. Would you like some?
Watch it, Jean-Christophe.
"Raghead" there’s a word I never heard at home. My dad hadn’t served in the Algerian War, but I’d heard about it.
My dad was there, he told me.
They kill people with their knives.
Algeria is a desert full of fortresses with legionnaires inside.
One day the Beduins got fed up and, mounted on horses and camels, they came and attacked the fortresses.
Little by little, they took over all the fortresses. The legionnaires fell back in Algiers.
The Beduins attacked Algiers and the legionnaires got on the boat and came back to France. The Algerian war was over...
At night we sneak into the now-vacated building that was left standing.
Check it out. A splash of blood !
He slit someone’s throat here !
You sure ?
Hey, Richard’s got a flashlight !
Of course ! The guy goes in, he thinks it’s a dead end, he turns around...
Look at that. There’s two doors, one behind the other !
...and Mohamed is hidden behind the second door and he stabs the guy in the back!