Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Review: La traversée by Philippe Labro
La traversée is a beautifully told story by French author Philippe Labro. I read it in French, and it was my first experience reading anything by Labro. I often feel like I shouldn't praise writing when it's in French, because I'm obviously not a native French speaker and therefore feel like I might not be "feeling" the language quite as well as a native speaker….but I feel the need right now to praise Labro. I LOVED his writing. It was gorgeous. This is sort of an autobiographical novel. The main character (we never get a name, but I pretty much assumed it was the author speaking himself, since he also had an "out of body experience" while in the hospital), retells of his time spent in a semi-coma in a French hospital. While doctors around him are testing him to try to find out what is causing him to be so sick, the main character is left to his dreams and thoughts, and finds himself back in situations he experienced years ago as a young man. He also is fighting for his life, trying to keep at bay the voices telling him that he is going to die. Throughout his struggle in the semi-coma, the main character discovers certain things that give him strength and keep him going. This is a fascinating story about a man who, through illness, discovers what really is important to him and how to keep those things (and people) close to him.
I thought it made total sense that this book was based on the author's own experiences. It truly seems to come from the heart. Sure, some things within the story might be fiction, but the concepts and the things the main character goes through seem so authentic. You just can't make that stuff up. The entire book really is a journey. A physical journey? Well, yes. The narrator finds himself remembering past travels in his youth. But it's also a mental and emotional journey. He is stuck within himself for weeks and is pretty much forced to face facts, and the experience really leaves him humbled. The title of the book itself represents the narrator's journey: "la traversée" in English is "the crossing". This could relate to a lot of things. The narrator crosses continents in his journeys. The narrator comes very close to crossing into the afterlife in the worst days of his illness. And the narrator also crosses over to a better self because of his illness. There is a beautiful passage at the end of the book where the main character is sitting by a fire, just enjoying life and all that it has given him. The fire is so much more than a fire now that he is healed. It represents LIFE. As Labro puts in (though in a much prettier manner), the fire is beautiful, multicolored, irregular, sharp-all the different things that are life. It's not all black and white. It's not all happy. But it is alive, and you've just got to live it.
I was so enamored with La traversée that it left me contemplating it for days. I especially loved the things the narrator discussed as life-savers for him: first, the will to live and resistance. Second, laughing. Third and most important, love and the people who you love and who love you. There are times when the main character is close to giving in and letting go, and then he realizes how selfish he is. After all, he has a wife who adores him, children, friends. As long as he has a say, he won't let himself leave them. I think that's just beautiful.
One of my favorite passages in right in the beginning, at the very start of the narrator's struggle with life and death. He describes hearing two voices in his head: one tells him that death is near, the other that there is so much more life to live.
I believe the translation of La traversée in English is Dark Tunnel White Light. It might be different in different English-speaking countries though?
Here are some fave quotes (believe me, there were a ton! It was hard to narrow them down to post here!). These are rough translations by the way. I can't find my copy of the book at the moment to verify, but I think when I took notes I did just rough translations? Maybe not, I can't remember ha!:
Page 76: The pieces of your life that you see aren't always the most important events of it.
-This quote was really beautiful in context, because the narrator is discussing the images he saw in his out of body experiences. He didn't see himself receiving writing awards. He didn't see himself being praised for directing great movies. He saw himself living daily life, and made him realize what really was important to him.
Page 277: La vie n'est pas un mot. (Life is not a word.)
-As in, you need to LIVE life. It’s not just a word. It's an action. Powerful stuff.
Page 286: La traversee est la vie. (The crossing is life.)
-This refers back to that scene with the fire. Life can be tough, sad, happy, fun. But it's life and you need to take it as it is and live it.
So, I highly recommend La traversée, and I would love to know what you have to say about it if you've read it! Have you read any other books by Philippe Labro?
Title: La traversée
Author: Philippe Labro
Date of Publication: 1998
Number of Pages: 286
Source: Personal Copy