Poignant, affecting, and epic are three of the top three words I can think about when I try to describe Japrisot’s novel. It was cinematic enough to inspire a film, something I promise to watch later on in the comforts of my home with a bucket of popcorn on one hand and a box of tissue in another.
I know that Audrey Tautou has given good justice to the role of the tenacious and headstrong Mathilde. After her very impressive portrayal as Amelie Poulin in my favorite French movie of all time, I think that her acting shall serve this epic love story some justice. If anything, both films were directed by the same person and I think he has done an awesome job.
The weaving of the story is amazing. It had me gasping as the letters progressed to uncover the events that governed the life of Manech during the war. Manech is Mathilde’s one and only lover and fiance. It slowly climaxed until their very bittersweet reunion 7 years after the war. With my own engagement in tow, I find it hard to surmise the longing that Mathilde had for her lover. While the rest of the world gave up on the slim chance that he is still alive, she doggedly persisted in finding him at all odds. Her wheelchair did not stop her from getting the answers, answers that would have been buried in the sands of historical accounts otherwise. Her eidetic memory was a staple that rivaled those of private investigators and historians. She memorized his letters word for word until she had worlds and worlds beyond with the life these words have given.
The book is a celebration of love, of familial ties, of a time when novels had tender moments that are neither vulgar or meant to sell sex or other marketable things. Japrisot is an artist of making volumes of meaning out of the tiniest of moments: an obscurely placed name in a cryptic love letter, a pair of boots, some scraps of ill-written posts in the midst of war, the tenderness of poplar and mimosas, and a patch of tall sunflowers that had a tie from beginning to end.
Such artistry, such brilliance. And it did not take highfalutin words or complex philosophical arguments to render that effect.
At first I was a little bored with the barb wire and war setting. I was thinking that this was just another depressing read. I thought it was a cheesy staple where there are fixed happy endings like most movies. But it was not like this. The book was not just a woven set of words bound on the sepia-colored cover. It provided an experience unlike any other. I learned so much about love, sacrifice, and the ugly faces of war after a few hours of just immersing myself in the many worlds of Mathilde and the pains of Manech’s soul. I learned about writing in a way that shows but tells more beneath the surface of the i’s and t’s. Or perhaps I was also brooding in my own pain and this pain festered and united itself with my current read, hence the waterworks after the last chapter.
Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Sebastien Japrisot.