One hundred twenty one day by Michele Audin

One Hundred twenty one days by Michele Audin

French fiction

Original title – Cent vingt et un jours

Translator – Christina Hills

Source – personal copy

Another book for Woman in translation month. This is a real gem as well as being the second book from a female member of the Oulipo group to be translated into English. Michele Audin is a French Mathematician and professor her special area was Symplectic Geometry. She joined the Oulipo group in 2009. Her father was a famous Mathematician as well that was killed in Algeria an event that led to her turning down the Legion of Honour. After the president refused to reply to a letter about her father her mother had written.

The murderer had his sense knocked out of him

(le petit Parisen, july 2 1917)

We have been informed that Robert Gorenstein(and not Roger Goldstien, as we printed in error), the polytechnician and officer on leave who arrested last week for the murder of his uncle, his aunt and his brother( three and not four crimes as was written in haste in the previous article) was a victim of an artilery shell last January. Almost all the men in his battery were killed, and he himself hit his head.

In a horrible development, according to informantion gathered from neighbors, the three Gorenstein children were orphans and had been raised by their aunt and her husband.

As th time, miltary doctors considere him recovered, and he was sent back to the front. He is presently undergoing psychiatric exams

One of the news paper reports about Robert G .

Now when you know a book has come from an Oulipo writer you know it is going be an unusual book. This one also doesn’t disappoint. it is a mixture of styles of writing about a group of various mathematicians from France and follows both wars. From an opening piece on a childhood, we follow with a diary set in the middle of world war one following the worst parts like Verdun from a French woman’s point of view. Then a collection of newspaper cuttings about various figures from world war one then on afterward about the case of Robert G a man that killed members of his family in a sort of what would now be called a PTSD attack. Then we see the announcement of Magurite the writer of the diary and a professor. Then a chapter involving Andre Silberberg as the led character. Later we see how his life led to the title of one hundred and twenty days as that was the happiness in his life he worked out in a later chapter in the book. The rest follows with people trying to find out more about various mathematician a chapter of just numbers and their meaning in relation to the book. The book also shows what part peoples notebooks can play in history as people in the present search for the notebooks of various mathematicians. Including Christian M one of those Mathimaticians he grew up in Senegal we follow his wart years.

The numbers, in order, starting with the negatives:

-25  the tempratur (in dgrees celsius) in Upper Silesia in January 1945 during the evacuattion of Auschwitz

0.577215…., Eulers constant

0.625  or 5/8 Jewish would have been each of Mireille’s and Andre’s children

1   single bullet managed to remove one of M’s eyes, his nose, and half his Jaw

1.414213…, the square root of 2, the length of the diagonal of a square with a side of 1

A selection of numbers from the chapter of numbers.


This is a clever book that use the various styles of writing to build layers of lives that we dip in and out of and those mathematicians. The thread that runs through the book is maths and the wars the knock-on effect of these seen in various documents. The families involved in the texts have the lives followed through the 20th century. I like this book it is one of those books that can be reread and reread like most of the Oulipo books it is complex and like the type of maths she studies about complex linear groups and patterns, this is a complex  piece of writing building on lives through the years and it shows  how the war affects them. From a brief fling of 120 days, that means more than anything to one man. To seeing others that collaborate during the war years.  This is a challenging read from a great small publisher Deep Vellum this is why we have a publisher like them those books that are edgy clever and relive history in a different way to others. Also to keep up with the number theme this is the 100th French book on the blog


August 2018
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