Monsieur Linh and his child by Philippe Claudel

Source – review copy

Translator – Euan Cameron

The french writer Philippe Claudel won the Independent foreign fiction prize in 2010 for his book the brodeck’s report ,he is  a writer and also a film director ,this book was written before the brodeck’s report .

Monsieur Linh of the title is an elderly gent from well we don’t know where from just a war-torn country ,he is on a boat with his young granddaughter heading to a new land to start a new life ,he arrives ends up in a centre with the other refugees ,this is the point we meet the other main character  of this book Monsieur Bark ,they meet as every day Linh escapes to the park to sit on the bench and just be ,the two men don’t speak the same language but meet and make a connection maybe its the fact that they both have things to say but maybe don’t want the answers that draws them close ,eventually traveling to the seaside ,having drinks in the cafe .But then Linh is found a place a long distance away from his friend ,Linh health drops and well he dies (sorry that might be a bit of spoiler but it is obvious from early in book Linh is old )at this point Bark finds his friend and you get a huge OMG moment ,it has been a long time since a book made me go damm I didn’t see that, but this did.

He places a cigarette between his lips ,in a simple and smooth motion .He lights it ,inhales the first puff deeply ,and closes his eyes .

“It’s good all the same …” he murmurs eventually.

The old man doesn’t understand anything the ,man who has just sat down is saying .Nevertheless ,he senses that the words are not unfriendly .

Lind and Barks first meeting on the bench .

At heart of this book is what is it to be a refugee and friendship ? Linh and Bark’s friendship remind me of the Jim Jarmusch’s film ghost dog there is  a friendship between Forest Whitaker character and an Haitian ice cream man were they speak in different languages but know each other really well some how .Claudel did a great job blurring the lines here Linh could be a name from anywhere and as recent  history shows being a refugee isn’t just african problem ,I worked in Germany in early nineties with Bosnian and Croat refugees we had similar chats to bark and Linh my broken German and there broken German and English ,but in some ways the struggle made us closer than talking to someone in your own language for same period of time ,anyway back to the book ,although the fact are thin on the ground this is about people, Linh his granddaughter and monsieur Bark are the three people a triangle brought together by war .Another thing the book remind me of was Dahl’s tales of the unexpected ,this one has such a twist in the tale it would have made a great episode of that series .

Do you like surprises ?

have you read Claudel ?

April 2011


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