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  • Brodeck
  • Written by Philippe Claudel
    Translated by John Cullen
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307390752
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  • Brodeck
  • Written by Philippe Claudel
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780385530095
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Brodeck

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Written by Philippe ClaudelAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Philippe Claudel
Translated by John CullenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by John Cullen

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: June 23, 2009
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-385-53009-5
Published by : Anchor Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A powerful and moving novel about the ravages war and the need to tell the truth, even in the face of adversity.
 
After the close of a great war, a mysterious stranger arrives in a small European village. He is an artist and he begins sketching the villagers, showing the painful reality of the crimes and betrayals the war left in its wake. Consumed by distrust, the villagers conspire and murder him. The authorities commission Brodeck, a timid, low-level bureaucrat, to write a report that essentially whitewashes the incident. Brodeck agrees to write the official account, but he simultaneously sets down his version of the incident in a parallel narrative, which interweaves his own horrific experiences as a prisoner of war, the truth about the stranger’s disappearance, and the dark secrets the villagers have fought fiercely to keep hidden.
 

Excerpt

I

I'm Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.
I insist on that. I want everyone to know.
I had no part in it, and once I learned what had happened, I would have preferred never to mention it again, I would have liked to bind my memory fast and keep it that way, as subdued and still as a weasel in an iron trap.
But the others forced me. "You know how to write," they said. "You've been to the University." I replied that my studies hadn't amounted to much--I hadn't even finished my courses and didn't remember much about them. They didn't want to hear it. "You know how to write, you know about words and how to use them, you know how they can say things. That's what we need. We can't do it ourselves. We'd get into a muddle, but you, you'll say it right, and people will believe you. Besides, you've got the typewriter."
It's very old, the typewriter. Several of its keys are broken, and I have nothing to repair it with. It's capricious. It's worn out. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, it jams, as though suddenly balking. But I said nothing about any of that, because I had no desire to end up like the Anderer.
Don't ask me his name--no one ever knew it. Very quickly, people coined some expressions in dialect and started applying them to him: Vollauga, literally "Full Eyes" (because his bulged a bit); De Murmelner, "the Whisperer" (because he spoke very little, and always in a small voice that sounded like a breath); Mondlich, "Moony" (because he seemed to be among us but not of us); Gekamdorhin, "Came from over There."
To me, however, he was always De Anderer, "the Other." Maybe I thought of him that way because not only had he arrived out of nowhere but he was also different, and being different was a condition I was quite familiar with; sometimes, I must admit, I had the feeling that--in a way--he was me.
As for his real name, none of us ever asked him what it was, except the mayor, perhaps, and then only once, and in any case I don't believe he received an answer. Now we'll never know. It's too late, and no doubt better that way. The truth can gash you so deeply that you can't live with the wounds any longer, and for most of us, what we want to do is live. As painlessly as possible. It's only human. I'm certain you'd be like us if you'd known the war and what it did here, and above all what followed the war, what those weeks and months were like, particularly the last of them, the period when that fellow arrived in our village and settled here, just like that, from one day to the next. Why our village? There are dozens and dozens of villages in the foothills of the mountains, lying amid forests like eggs in nests, and many of those villages are a lot like this one. Why did he choose precisely our village, so far from everything, so utterly remote?
When they informed me that they wanted me to write the Report, we were all at Schloss's inn. It was about three months ago, right after... right after... I don't know what to call it. The event? The drama? The incident? Or maybe the Ereignies. Ereignies is a curious word, full of mists and ghosts; it means, more or less, "the thing that happened." Maybe the best way to say that is with a word taken from the local dialect, which is a language without being one, and which is perfectly wedded to the skin, the breath, and the souls of those who live here. Ereignies, a word to describe the indescribable. Yes, I shall call it the Ereigni‘s.
So the Ereignies had just taken place. With the exception of two or three ancient villagers who had stayed home, close to their stoves, as well as Father Peiper, who was no doubt sleeping off his liquor somewhere in his little church, all the men were at the inn, which is like a great cave, rather dark, and suffused with tobacco fumes and smoke from the hearth; and the men, all of them, were dazed and stunned by what had just happened, yet at the same time--how shall I say it? --relieved, because clearly, one way or the other, it had been necessary to resolve the situation. You see, they could bear it no longer.
Each was folded into his own silence, so to speak, even though there were nearly forty of them, pressed together like withies in a bundle, choking, inhaling the others' odors: their breath, their feet, the acrid reek of their sweat and their damp clothes, old wool and broadcloth impregnated with dust, with the forest, with manure, with straw, with wine and beer, especially wine. Not that everybody was sloshed; no, it would be too easy to use drunkenness as an excuse. Saying that would just be a way of diluting the horror. Too simple. Much too simple. I'm going to try not to simplify what's very difficult and complex. I'm going to try. I don't promise that I'll succeed.
Please understand me. I repeat: I could have remained silent, but they asked me to tell the story, and when they made the request, most of them had their fists clenched or their hands in their pockets, where I imagined them grasping the handles of their knives, the very knives which had just...
I mustn't go too fast, but it's hard not to because now I keep sensing things behind my back--movements, and noises, and staring eyes. For some days, I've been wondering if I'm not changing, bit by bit, into quarry, into a tracked animal with the whole hunt, led by a pack of snuffling dogs, at its heels. I feel watched, tailed, surveilled, as if from now on there will always be someone just over my shoulder, alert to my smallest gestures and reading my thoughts.
I will come back to what was done with the knives. I will perforce come back to that. But what I wanted to say was that to refuse a request made under such conditions, in that special mood when everyone's head is still full of savagery and bloody images, is impossible and even quite dangerous. And so, however reluctantly, I agreed. I simply found myself in the inn at the wrong time, that is, some few minutes after the Ereignies, in one of those moments of bewilderment characterized by vacillation and indecision, when people will seize upon the first person who comes through the door, either to make a savior of him or to cut him to pieces.
Schloss's inn is the biggest of the six taverns in our village, which also boasts a post office, a notions shop, a hardware store, a butcher shop, a grocery store, a tripe-and-offal shop, a school, and a branch of a legal office based in S. Over this last place, which is as filthy as a stable, preside the senile lorgnettes of Siegfried Knopf, who's called an attorney even though he's only a clerk. In addition, there's Jenkins's little office; he served as our policeman, but he died in the war. I remember when Jenkins left. He was the first to go. Ordinarily he never smiled, but that day he shook everyone's hand, laughing as though he were on his way to his own wedding. Nobody recognized him. When he turned the corner at Moberschein's sawmill, he waved broadly and threw his helmet into the air in a joyful farewell. He was never seen again. He has never been replaced. The shutters in his office are closed, its threshold now covered by a small growth of moss. The door is locked. I don't know who has the key, and I've never tried to find out. I've learned not to ask too many questions. I've also learned to take on the color of the walls and the color of the dust in the street. It's not very difficult. I look like nothing at all.
Widow Bernhart pulls down the metal shutter of her grocery store at sunset; after that, the only place where you can buy a few provisions is Schloss's inn. It's also the most popular of the taverns. It has two public rooms. The one at the front is the larger of the two; its walls are blackened wood, its floor is covered with sawdust, and you practically fall into it when you enter because you have to go down two steep steps carved into the very sandstone and hollowed out in the middle by the soles of the thousands of drinkers who have trod there. And then there's the smaller room in the back, which I've never seen. It's separated from the first room by an elegant larch-wood door with an engraved date: 1812. The little room is reserved for a small group of men who meet there once a week, every Tuesday evening; they drink and smoke either tobacco from their fields in porcelain pipes with carved stems or bad cigars from who knows where. They've even given themselves a name: De Erweckens'Bruderschaf, which means something like "the Brotherhood of the Awakening." A peculiar name for a peculiar association. No one knows exactly when it was created or what its purpose is or how you get into it or who its members are--the big farmers, no doubt, maybe Lawyer Knopf, Schloss himself, and definitely the mayor, Hans Orschwir, who owns the most property in these parts. Likewise unknown is what they get up to or what they say to one ?another when they meet. Some say that room is where essential decisions are taken, strange pacts sealed, and promises made. Others suspect that the brothers dedicate themselves to nothing more complex than the consumption of brandy and the playing of checkers and cards, accompanied by much smoking and jocularity. A few people claim to have heard music coming from under the door. Maybe Diodemus the teacher knew the truth; he rummaged everywhere, in people's papers and in their heads, and he had a great thirst to know things inside and out. But the poor man, alas, is no longer here to speak of what he knew.
I almost never go to Schloss's inn because, I must confess, Dieter Schloss makes me uneasy, with his darting mole's eyes, his bald pink cranium, his eternally sweaty forehead, his brown teeth that smell like dirty bandages. And then there's another reason, namely that ever since I came back from the war, I don't seek out human company. I've grown accustomed to my solitude.
The evening when the Ereignies took place, old Fedorine had sent me to the inn to get a bit of butter because we'd run out and she wanted to make some little shortbreads. Ordinarily, she's the one who fetches provisions, but on that baleful evening my Poupchette was lying in bed with a bad fever, and Fedorine was at her side, telling her the story of "Bilissi and the Poor Tailor," while Amelia, my wife, hovered nearby, ever so softly humming the melody of her song.
I've thought a great deal about that butter since then, about the few ounces of butter we didn't have in the pantry. You can never be too aware of how much the course of your life may depend on insignificant things--a little butter, a path you leave to take another path, a shadow you follow or flee, a blackbird you choose to kill with a bit of lead or decide to spare.
Poupchette's beautiful eyes shone too brightly as she listened to the old woman's voice, the same voice I'd listened to in days gone by, coming from the same mouth--a younger version of the same mouth, but already missing a few teeth. Poupchette looked at me with her eyes like little black marbles, burning with fever. Her cheeks were the color of cranberries. She smiled, stretched out her hands to me, and clapped them together, quacking like a duckling. "Daddy, come back Daddy, come back!"
I left the house with the music of my child's voice in my ears, mingled with Fedorine's murmuring: "Bilissi saw three knights, their armor bleached by time, standing before the doorstep of his thatched cottage. Each of them carried a red spear and a silver shield. Neither their faces nor even their eyes could be seen. Things are often thus, when it's far too late."


II


Night had dropped its cape over the village as a carter flings his cloak over the remains of his campfire. The houses, their roofs covered with long pinewood tiles, exhaled puffs of slow blue smoke and made me think of the rough backs of fossilized animals. The cold was beginning to settle in, a meager cold as yet, but we'd lost the habit of it because the last days of September had been as hot as so many baking ovens. I remember looking at the sky and seeing all those stars, crowded against one another like scared fledglings looking for company, and thinking that soon we would plunge, all of a sudden, into winter. Where we live, winter seems as long as many centuries skewered on a giant sword, and while the cold weather lasts, the immensity of the valley around us, smothered in forests, evokes an odd kind of prison gate.
When I entered the inn, almost all the men of the village were there. Their eyes were so somber and their immobility so stony that I immediately guessed what had happened. Orschwir closed the door behind me and stepped to my side, trembling a little. He fixed his big blue eyes on mine, as if he were seeing me for the first time.
My stomach started churning. I thought it was going to eat my heart. Then I asked, in a very weak voice--staring at the ceiling, wanting to pierce it with my gaze, trying to imagine the Anderer's room, trying to imagine him, the Anderer, with his sideburns, his thin mustache, his sparse curly hair rising in tufts from his temples, and his big round head, the head of an overgrown, good-natured boy--I said, "Tell me you haven't... you didn't...?" It was barely a question. It was more like a groan that escaped from me without asking permission.


From the Hardcover edition.
Philippe Claudel|John Cullen

About Philippe Claudel

Philippe Claudel - Brodeck

Photo © F. Mantovani

Philippe Claudel is the author of many novels, including Brodeck, which won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2007 and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010. His novel By a Slow River has been translated into thirty-two languages and was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 2003 and the Elle Readers’ Literary Prize in 2004. Claudel also wrote and directed the 2008 film I’ve Loved You So Long, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, which won a BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.

About John Cullen

John Cullen - Brodeck

Photo © Joy von Tiedemann

John Cullen in the translator of more than fifteen books from the French, Italian, German, and Spanish. He began his association with Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in 1995 and his translations for the imprint include Susanna Tamaro's Follow Your Heart from the Italian, Christa Wolf's Medea from the German, and Henning Boetius's The Phoenix from the German. Last year, two of his translations were short-listed for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award: Margaret Mazzantini's Don't Move from the Italian and Yasmina Khadra's The Swallows of Kabul from the French.

Cullen is the also the co-author with Alexandra de Borchgrave of Villard: The Life and Times of an American Titan and is a freelance scout for foreign books. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Loyola University and University of Virginia respectively, and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Texas. A year of full-time university teaching after graduate school gave him the urge to travel, and he set out on the first of a series of sojourns in Europe, living in Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Madrid, among other places, which for a time included his dauntless little Fiat Panda; these sojourns generally ended after his contributions to various European economies had reduced him to penury, a process that took anywhere from eighteen months to three years. Originally from New Orleans, John Cullen lives in Millbrook, New York, with the writer Valerie Martin.
Praise

Praise

"Arrives like a fresh, why-haven't-we-known-him discovery, revealing Philippe Claudel
to be as dazzling on the page as he is on the screen."--The New York Times
 
“Extraordinary. . . . [A] modern masterpiece.”—The Independent, London 
 
"A haunting, intensely claustrophobic allegory about intolerance, trauma and guilt."--San Francisco Chronicle
 
“A layered recollection of wartime crimes, atrocities, cowardice, and betrayal.”—The Boston Globe

“Claudel’s insightful prose, translated gracefully by John Cullen, renders the tale both literary and deeply philosophical.”—Washington City Paper
 
"This is a remarkable novel, all the more so because this account of man's inhumanity to man, of coarse and brutal stupidity, of fear and surrender to evil, is nevertheless not without hope. Brodeck survives because, despite all he has experienced, he remains capable of love. It is also beautifully written."—The Scotsman
 
“This novel, like the brothers Grimm fables, is full of terror, horror, and beauty and wonder.”—Publishers Weekly
 
"Philippe Claudel is at the peak of his art as a storyteller and portrait-painter."
—Elle (France)
 
"It is a relentless, uncomfortable book that achieves a beauty of its own through Claudel's deft writing and passionate commitment to truth.”—The Times, London 
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Brodeck, Philippe Claudel's powerful and moving new novel.

About the Guide

Forced into a brutal death camp, Brodeck returns to his village at the end of a great war and takes up his old job of writing reports for a governmental bureau. One day a stranger comes to live in the village. His odd manner and habits arouse suspicions: His speech is formal, he takes long, solitary walks, and although he is unfailingly friendly and polite, he reveals nothing about himself. When the stranger produces drawings of the village and its inhabitants that are both unflattering and insightful, the villagers murder him. The authorities who witnessed the killing tell Brodeck to write a report that is essentially a whitewash of the incident.

As Brodeck writes the official account, he sets down his version of the truth in a separate, parallel narrative. In measured, evocative prose, he weaves into the story of the stranger his own painful history and the dark secrets the villagers have kept hidden.

About the Author

Philippe Claudel is the author of many novels, among them By a Slow River, which has been translated into thirty languages and was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 2003 and the Elle Readers' Literary prize in 2004. His novel La petite Fille de Monsieur Linh was published in 2005. Brodeck won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2007 and the English translation won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010. Claudel also wrote and directed the film I've Loved You So Long starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein, which opened in movie theaters in the United States in the fall of 2008 and in thirty other countries around the world.

Discussion Guides

1. The novel is set in an unidentified place and time. Why do you think the author chose to make the setting anonymous? Do you think he had a specific historical event in mind? Was this device effective or not? Can you think of another novel in which this is done?

2. The first lines of the novel are, “I'm Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it. I insist on that. I want everyone to know.” How do you interpret Brodeck's tone? Why is he so adamant about this point? Is it true that he's innocent?

3. Brodeck takes it upon himself to assign names to the significant events in his life. Kazerskwir, or “the crater,” refers to his two years in the death camp and the Ereigniës, or “the thing that happened,” refers to the murder at Schloss's Inn. In your opinion, why does Brodeck name these events? Are these names fitting?

4. Brodeck's experience in the prison camp is revealed at intervals throughout the novel, rather than all at once. Why do you think the author chose to develop the story this way?

5. Father Peiper tells Brodeck, “Fear is what governs the world.” How is this evidenced in the novel? Do you think this is true?

6. The novel frequently touches on the contrast between remembering vs. burying the past. Which characters or scenes exemplify this theme? Do you believe that a society can learn from past mistakes? What does the novel seem to say about the merit of a historical record?

7. Were you surprised by Diodemus's letter? How did you feel about Brodeck's admission that he doesn't feel hatred toward him? Do you think Diodemus' action is forgivable? Why do you think Brodeck doesn't turn over the letter to see the names of the other villagers who sent him away?

8. Do you agree with the Anderer when he tells Brodeck, “talking is the best medicine”? Does talking about one's problems have any negative effects?

9. Why do you think the villagers murdered the Anderer? Why do you think they chose Brodeck to write the report?

10. In Brodeck's last flashback he tells what happened on the train ride to the prison camp. Why does he save this scene for the end of the story? Did this event change the way you felt about him? Can you think of another time in the book when Brodeck acted cruelly?

11. Why does Brodeck decide to leave the village? Is his departure cowardly, brave, or neither?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)


  • Brodeck by Philippe Claudel translated by John Cullen
  • July 13, 2010
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Anchor
  • $15.95
  • 9780307390752

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