Which of us is guilty? Or innocent? A cruel story that will haunt readers for a long time.
A German soldier in the jaws of defeat stumbles through a forest. Dressed in rags, he is cold and hungry. When he sees a light in a warehouse and feels its warmth, he thinks he has found refuge, but instead meets his fate.
Several years later a Jewish teenager who lost his family in World War II wanders into the woods while playing and finds the ashes of the soldier’s burnt body in the factory…
Elsewhere, a gruff young woman mistreats a resident in a hospice, but which of the two is more cruel, given that the apparently peaceful old man likes to sing Nazi marching songs?
By connecting these stories, the author of Les Âmes grises constructs a fable about the human condition. Which of us is the victim, which the torturer? The reader is invited to fill in the blanks in this intriguing text and to build his or her own version of the truth.
Philippe Claudel is a writer and film director. His most acclaimed books are Les Âmes grises (winner of the 2003 prix Renaudot and translated into more than 30 languages), La Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh (2005), Le Rapport de Brodeck (winner of the 2007 prix Goncourt des lycéens) and L’Archipel du chien (2018). He lives in Lorraine in eastern France and has strong links with Germany: “If twentieth-century Germany serves as a frame for these stories, it’s partly because the themes I’m talking about haven’t so fully reached their tragic incarnation anywhere else. It’s also because, having been a neighbour to German since my childhood, I feel both drawn to and afraid of its geography, culture, language and history, in a way that I don’t with any other country in the world. For me, Germany has always been like a mirror in which I see myself not as I am, but as I could have been. As such, it has taught me a great deal about myself.”