Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Review: ON LEAVE by Daniel Anselme
Daniel Anselme's short novel about soldiers on leave from the Algerian War was originally published in 1957 to little notice. The novel follows three soldiers on a 10-day leave, from their arrival on the military train to their departure in the middle of the night a week and change later. In the mean time, they drink, wander, meet with family and friends. They barely talk about the war but what they are running from, and going back to, haunts every page.
The majority of the book follows Lachaume, a former teacher who tries to reunite with his estranged wife only to find out that she's moved on. From there he becomes adrift, staying at a fleabag motel and spending his days in bars and cafés. Eventually he is invited to dinner with the family of one of his fellow soldiers who lives in a Communist enclave just outside Paris. They later meet up with the third officer, who seems to be living in a different world entirely. But all three of them are bound by their alienation, by the war and by their imminent return to it.
On Leave is a book which takes place in the spaces in between. The action comes is social details, conversation, and all the things they don't say. It's a quiet book and profound. The men live in limbo; they can't settle in and they don't want to go back but their lives aren't their own. They are in the middle of the war; no end is in sight, and no end was in sight when Anselme wrote it based on snatches of conversation overheard in the real bars and cafés of the real Paris.
The book contains a very helpful introduction by translator David Bellos in which he gives a great summary of the Algerian War of Independence and cultural attitudes of the time. I don't know much about this subject so I was glad to have that information and I think you should read it if you're going to read this book. And I do recommend you read this book, because it's a beautifully wrought character study that is both very specific and broadly universal in its theme and subject. It's a strange and wonderful work, a memorable and sad story that is as true today as the day it was written.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.