The French Father by Alain Elkmann
Original title – Il padre francese
Translator – Alastair McEwen
Source – personnel copy
Well I chose this to be the first book of the second Pushkin Press fortnight .A s I felt its writer maybe in his own life a captures Part of what Pushkin Press are about international literature and this writer has a truly international flavour . Alain Elkmann is an American born son of a french industrialist and an Italian mother , who has spent most of his life in Italy and was married to the daughter of the boss of Fiat. This was his second book to be translated into English. He has written twenty books and writes a regular piece for a number of Italian Newspaper. I must note it is also Pushkin Press 20th anniversary so lets hope they have many more. May I also note I have had or made no contact with them about this fortnight. This year also sees ten years of Maclehose press more about that at a later date !!
After a step or two, I saw a new grave, on which a white stone bore the name “Roland Topor” in Black letters .I knew that Topor had been an artist, a writer. I had met him with my ex-wife and recalled having seen reports of his death in the newspapers. I remembered him with a glass of red wine in his hands, laughing in a coarse way and smoking a cigar .It had been one night in Paris, at the house of a painter friend
He had once meet his fathers new neighbour
The story starts when a son pays a visit to his father’s grave in the famous Parisian cemetery Montparnasse , like him his father was Jewish it is a while since he has been to his father’s grave but in line with tradition he has to visit on the eleven month with his sisters . When he sees that there is a new grave next to that of his fathers that of Roland Topor the well-known French Polish surrealist. Alain the son then sets about finding out as much as possible to discover as much as possible about the man sat in the ground next to his father as he seems so different to his stiff upper class father a man of the old french world of power and honour . As the story unfolds we see the son discovering more about Roland and his family . the two men below the ground are all so talking about themselves and naturally with two men at such different ends of the spectrum they argue about their lives and how they lived it .
“No I don’t feel like talking about my father . It’s not something I can do yet ”
“I should like to go to the cemetery with you , Your father’s grave is very spartan . My father is buried beside his parents .How is it that your grandparents aren’t buried beside your father”
“Just a minute who are you ? I don’t even know you. I’ve told you that I don’t want to talk about this matter, you ask me and you expect an answer ?
Alain asks Roland’s son about him , but later thinks he may have gone about it the wrong way
This is a quirky book and if I had said in less than a year after reading The dirty dust I would be reading another book about people talking in their lives in their graves I would have laughed but no here is another book where the dead talk about their lives. It’s a class of french Upper class lives and the Bohemian world of france sharing two graves next to each other . Then there is the son drive to discover more about his fathers new neighbour which drives him into his own investigation of Roland Topor , he knows he wrote a book that Roland Polanski made into a film and he was quite a character in his time but not much else as he untangled his past and discovers more than he thought . This is all packed into 120 pages , this is one of those quirky novellas that have you thinking for ages after you have put it down and finished it. So this is ,my first Puskin Prees fortnight review , what from them have you been reading ?