Professor of contemporary history at the University of Paris XIII, the author of Laëtitia, or the end of men has won the seventh round. His text is not a novel, but it explodes the boundaries of the genre. And above all, it is one of the best books of the season.
The Médicis Prize 2016 is attributed to Ivan Jablonka, for his narrative-inquiry Laëtitia, or the end of men (Threshold). In the category “novel,” foreign, this is Steve Sem-Sandberg, for The elect (Robert Laffont) who has won. This text is translated from the Swedish by Johanna Chattellard and Emmanuel Curtil. In “trials”, the price returns to Jacques Henric, to Boxing (Threshold).
so It is after seven rounds of voting, the jurors, at the outset, very divided, have focused their votes on Jablonka. The jury of the Prix Médicis is definitely the art of surprise. In his fiction, he has crowned a text non-fiction: Laëtitia, appeared on the Threshold, collection “The Republic of ideas”. This book is neither an essay nor a novel, but it is a great book that is unclassifiable, which makes joy and life to a young girl of eighteen years, Laëtitia Perrais, murdered near the town of Nantes, in 2011.
In this book, Ivan Jablonka combines the discipline of historical investigation, the personal emotions. It is definitely one of the best books of the season. A real ufo literature, which breaks the boundaries of the genre. He had also been selected for the Prix Goncourt. In an interview with the Figaro, Ivan Jablonka, professor of contemporary history at the University of Paris XIII, explains her process. A fact various, it has made a literary work of non-standard.
LE FIGARO. – Why have you chosen to treat this story?
Ivan JABLONKA. - It was a long time that I wanted to work on a story as it is full of suffering, and also because it is an epicenter that reveals the movements underground – social or political – at work in our society. Why Laëtitia? Because her story has touched me. I wrote this book as a historian, but also as a citizen and a father of three girls. The closeness that I have felt is obvious, as any father or mother of a family. Beyond the drama itself, what interested me is that this story is completely outside the norm. First, by the violence of the crime. Laëtitia has been slain, “surtuée”, you might say, not to mention the mutilation of the body. Then, by the shock wave in the media, the considerable means put in work to find it, and because the story became an affair of the State. I don’t see an equivalent. For France, one could go back to the case of Calas (1761, ED). For the historian and the writer that I am, there w as a material exciting.
What purpose were you?
My project is a quest for truth and justice. Laëtitia is not a various. It is not acceptable, neither historically nor morally, to reduce someone’s life to his death. There was a justification at once literary, moral, and cognitive to engage in this enterprise, which was to trace the life of Laëtitia to make it, somehow, to escape his death. I have no fascination for criminals. Laëtitia is the only heroine of my book.
In what area would you situate your book, history or literature?
I am a researcher in the social sciences, but I have always considered that the social sciences belonged to the literature. I’ve written an essay entitled The story is a contemporary literature, and this is what I wanted to illustrate as well in History of the great-grandparents that I have not had (Threshold, 2012) than in Laëtitia. We may satisfy the rules of method, we can comply with the requirement of the discipline of history or sociology, and at the same time a literary work. If the social sciences agree to embody in a text, then they form not only a literature, but a literary form, new. In this sense, I am a “writer in the social sciences”.
This way to get involved in saying “I”, to share your emotions, should hardly appeal to historians?
I have readers, but also colleagues. From the academic point of view, I am a teacher and a researcher as another. But you put your finger on an important issue: how to reconcile the rigor, and the personal involvement? This is a fundamental point, because too much subjectivity can kill research and, conversely, it is not a question for me to get away from my object of study. The challenge is to find the right distance between the hindsight and empathy to put the cursor at the right place between the emotion you feel and the critical distance that we must keep. This is called the correctness of tone. It is therefore also an issue of literature.
Have you wanted to raise a tomb to Laëtitia Perrais?
For my grandparents as to Laëtitia – even if the context has nothing to do -I wanted to rip the missing, and the crime that destroyed them. The two books have a common point: I wanted to not revive someone (it has no sense), but remember that the missing people were alive, with their joys and their sorrows. These people were not destined to be dashed. We can’t let the death, suck life. So, yes, it is a stele of paper, one prayer. My book is not an obituary, but a biography, with the radical Greek who returns to life.
You resume a sentence of Modiano who says that it is the role of the novelist to “unveil this mystery, and the phosphorescence which are at the bottom of each person”…
The sentence of Modiano is admirable. I recovery my account because Laëtitia has disappeared in an ocean of darkness. It is necessary to see the pond in which her body was recovered, a small winter morning. Laëtitia has lived in a situation of great poverty, and this darkness has also been one of his life. She has not counted for many people. It was important for me to say, her courage, her beauty radiant, her joy of living. It is not me that throws a spotlight on it. I only collect the phosphorescence of Laëtitia.
Laëtitia, or the end of mans, Ivan Jablonka, Threshold, 394 p., 21 €.