Grimbert: Un Secret

Grimbert 71CezALwqXL


1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
Un Secret refers to the burden Philippe’s father has carried with him his entire life.

2. Who is the single main character about?
Philippe Grimbert, the author  who is writing  this family memoir.

3. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. External – Philippe is ‘fils unique’ only child, sickly, non-athletic and he struggles with his imaginary ‘big brother’. This is the child his very athletic parents would have wanted. (Mother is a swimmer and  father is gymnast/wrestler).
b. Internal – Philippe discovers the ‘secret’ that his father has concealed…must decide if he should tell him what he knows or …just leave well enough alone.

4. How is the conflict resolved?
The ending is to moving, I don’t want to reveal anything.

5. How does the author handle characterization?
There is very little direct dialogue. The characters emerge through gestures, clothes, physical features:
a. description: Louise: 60 yr. – neighbor, curls of smoke (volutes de fumée) surround her while she drags her ‘millstone’. (orthopedic heavy shoe)
b. actions: Philippe (8 yr) is frustrated he can never live up to parents expectations and wrestles with his ‘imaginary big brother’ pushing his face into “sables mouvants de l’oreiller’ (the quicksand in his pillow)

6. Who tells the story? What point of view is used?
Philippe Gimbert – first person narrator

7. Where does the primary action take place?

8. What is the timeline?  1948 – 1966  (flashbacks  1936 – 1945)

9. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
Philippe tells us how his mother and father met.

10. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
We meet aunts, uncles, grandparents all living in the fear of the approaching German occupation. Some will wear the yellow star but others refuse and flee Paris.

11. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
Philippe discovers his father’s secret while he is studying for his final exam (18 yrs).

12. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
Epilogue is one of the most moving parts of the story.

13. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for me?
The quote that impressed me the most was on page 164 “ those we love don’t need a tombstone with their name engraved upon it. We always carry them inside of us.”


Stuffed toy animal is in his mother’s suitcase. Philippe wants to take it to his room but does not….he sees how upset his mother is. A gripping family secret unfolds.

  1. An innocent child starts to write his family story
  2. ….but knows nothing about his parents.
  3. With the help of a friendly neighbor, Louise, he gathers fragments of their lives.
  4. As a young adult Philippe finally confronts his mother and father with the truth.
  5. In 2004 the author has still not stopped living this memoir.
  6. Un Secret is the result.
  7. Last thoughts:
  8. This is the first book that left me speechless and sent a shiver down my spine.
  9. Never have I read such a touching memoir.
  10. This book had exactly what Le Rapport de Brodeck was missing – emotion.
  11. The book is available in English…just 182 pages.
  12. You can read it in a day!   You won’t be disappointed.

Score: 5 ++++

Grimbert Paris_-_Salon_du_livre_2012_-_Philippe_Grimbert_-_001

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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


Claudel: Le Rapport de Brodeck

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  • Simple story but it started with a confusing  first chapter.
  • Brodeck must write a report about unfortunate death of ‘the other’.
  • A stranger (devil? antichrist?) who drifted into his forest town and  disrupted the peaceful lives of the villagers.
  • Philippe Claudel describes what happened while flashing forward and backward to his days in a concentration camp.
  • Quote that resonated:
  • Some men are not worthy of ‘Him’ (God) an ‘He’ is at times not worthy of most of the people.
  • If people can create such horror (holocaust) then there was always a ‘Creator’ who whispered the recipe in their ears. (pg 238)
  • Writing: 
  • Philippe Claudel uses many similes  to give the reader an image of the character. 
  • In the first two chapters no less than 13 animals were used (weasel, mole, ducklings, tadpole, shrewmouse, turkey etc.).
  • The most beautiful simile was on page 148:
  • “Large silent tears round like mistletoe berries” (pale white).
  • I’ve never read ‘tears’ describes like this!
  • “…grosse larmes silencieuses, rondes comme des baies de gui.’

claudel bulk_mistletoe

Last thoughts:

  1. The book has been on my shelf since 2012. I avoided it because the cover was unattractive. I have the tendency to be easily swayed by images.
  2. Sections describing the concentration camp were difficult to read.
  3. Creative descriptions of people, landscapes, camps… do not a great book make.
  4. Claudel tackles a powerful subject but leaves me empty.
  5. The book is just missing something…..
  6. If you want a GREAT book…I suggest Le Quatrième Mur by S. Chalandon.
  7. Would I read another book by Philippe Claudel?  Not in the near future….
  8. Would I read another book by Sorj Chalandon? Definitely!
  9. Despite all the prizes awarded to Le Rapport de Brodeck…still score 3.

Score: 3

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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


Reading List 2016 update

BOOKS Inspirational-Quotes-for-Students-1600x1000

Here is the game plan for 2016

  • NO crime fiction
  • NO science fiction
  • I’m joining NO challenges in 2016.

Fiction: (read in French)

  1. Noailles, de A. – Le Visage Émerveillé
  2. Duras, M. – Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia
  3. Duras, M. – Moderato Cantabile 
  4. Gard, du R.M. – Jean Barois   Nobel Prize 1937
  5. Fournier, A. – Le Grand Meaulnes
  6. Bazin, H. – Vipère au Poing
  7. Modiano, P. – Interrogatoire E. Berl
  8. Chalandon, S. – Le Quatrième Mur     Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2013
  9. Prochasson, C. – François Furet     
  10. Claudel, P. – Le Rapport de Brodeck    Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2007
  11. Grimbert, P. – Un Secret
  12. Berl, E. Essaies    read 16/ total 115 (reading) pg  129
  13. Chalandon, S. – Profession du Père
  14. Tournier, M. – Lettres Parlées à Son Ami Allemand Hellmut Waller
  15. Martinez, C. – Le coeur cousu
  16. Gimbert, P. – Un Secret
  17. Marceau, F. – Les Pacifiques
  18. Davrichewy, K. – L’ autre Joseph
  19. Robin, R. – La Mémoire Saturée
  20. Du Gard, M. – Les Thibault, I
  21. Ozouf, M. – Varennes
  22. Bourdeaut, O. – En attendant Bojangles
  23. Kaddour, H. – Les Préponderants
  24. Binet, L. – La Septième Fonction du langage
  25. Giraudoux, J. – La Folle de Chaillot (play)
  26. Modiano, P. – Rues des Boutiques Obsures
  27. Le Clézio, J.M.G. – Étoile errante
  28. Malraux, A. – L’ Espoir
  29. Némirovsky, I. – David Golder
  30. Molière – Le Misanthrope
  31. Modiano, P. – La Place de l’étoile
  32. De Beauvoir, S. – La Femme rompue
  33. Duras, M. – Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique

Fiction (read in English)

  1. Nasaw, D. – The Patriarch (bio JP Kennedy)
  2. Solzhenitsyn, A. – The Inner Circle
  3. Twain, M. – Innocents Abroad
  4. Pearlman, E. – Binocular Vision (stories)
  5. Mitchell, J. – Up in the Old Hotel (stories)
  6. Dickens, C. – Dombey & Son
  7. O’Neill, E. – Long Day’s Journey into Night
  8. Naipaul, V.S. – A Bend in the River
  9. Pinter, H. The Caretaker (play)
  10. Pinter, H. – No Man’s Land
  11. Williams, T. – The Streetcar Named Desire (play)
  12. Williams, T. – Glass Menagerie (play)
  13. Miller, A. – All My Sons (play)
  14. Miller, A. – Death of a Salesman (play)
  15. Rattigan, T. – The Winslow Boy (play)
  16. Rattigan, T. – Separate Tables (play)
  17. Chakrabarti, L. – Red Velvet (play)
  18. Mahfouz, N. – In the Time of Love
  19. Singer, I.B. – In My Father’s Court
  20. Heaney, S. – New Selected Poems (1966-1987)
  21. Brodsky, J. – On Grief and Reason (essays)
  22. Durrell, L – Justine
  23. Sinclair, U. – Oil
  24. Roth, P. – American Pastoral
  25. Grossman, V. – Life and Fate
  26. Shange, N/Bayeza, I. – Some sing, some cry
  27. Ngoziadichie, C. – Americannah
  28. Sebald, W.G. – The Rings of Saturn
  29. Chekhov, A. – The Lady with the Little dog (stories)
  30. Carver, R. – What we talk about when we talk about love (stories)
  31. Hall, K. – Saturday night/ Sunday morning ( play)
  32. Potok, C. – The Chosen
  33. Zweig, S. – Confusion
  34. Kaniuk, Y. – The Commander of the Exodus
  35. McCoole, S. – Easter Widows
  36. Waters, W. – The Secret Life of Plays.
  37. Browsings – M. Dirda
  38. Wright, L. In the New World
  39. Neruda, P. – Prague Tales
  40. Vircondelet, A. – Marguerite Duras (biography)
  41. McCullough, D. – John Adams (biography)
  42. McCullough, D. – Truman (biography)
  43. Berlin, L. – Manual for Cleaning Women ( stories)


FAIL TO PLAN If-you-fail-to-plan-e1439391323199


Posted by on January 31, 2016 in Uncategorized


Chalandon: Le Quatrième Mur

CHALANDON copertina-Antigone1


1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
Le Quatrième Mur is the imaginary wall that separates the readers from the characters in the story. Sometimes the characters ‘break’ this wall and speak directly to the audience. This is done frequently in the TV series ‘ House of Cards.  Part of the joy of reading this book is discovering how Chalandon uses the ‘Quatrième Mur’ as a symbol.

2. What is the predominant element in the story?
Character: the book revolves around Georges the aspiring stage director.

3. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. External – fulfill promise made to his dying friend Sam –  stage Sophocles tragedy ‘Antigone’ in Beirut 1982.
b. Internal –  struggles to understand the tragedy of the Lebanon War after meeting many on its ‘players’.

4. How is the conflict resolved?
This is difficult to answer without revealing too much of the plot. Let’ s just say Georges must confront his  past (death of mother), his friend Sam, his wife and child and most important himself during the rehearsals for the play.

5. How does the author handle characterization?
a. Conversations that Georges has with Sam, his wife, the actors and their families in Beirut were used to link the themes of the Sophocles play with Jean Anouilh’s version of ‘Antigone’. The play was preformed during the German occupation in Paris February 1944. Georges finally understands how Sophocles is connected to  WW II, extreme right in France (Ordre Nouveau) and the Lebanon War 1982-1985.

6. Who tells the story? What point of view is used?
a. As with all good ‘war journalists’ Chalandon uses the first person to draw the reader into the action.

7. Where does the primary action take place?
Paris and Beirut Lebanon

8. What is the timeline?    1974 – 1983
Chalandon intertwines the present with the past. Sometimes a flashback was just a short paragraph which did not disturb the flow of the story. While reading the book I didn’t feel jolted out of the present….very cleverly done.

9. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
Georges’s taxi in Beirut is attacked by a T55 Soviet tank, ‘un vieux pépère” (an old grandad).

10. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
Following Sam’s stage directions and his selected cast of actors, Georges starts rehearsals in Beirut.

11. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
The moment Georges can finally tell Sam: “J’ai écrit: -Fin-. C’est tout. J’ai entouré le mot de cercles nerveux, jusqu’a ce que le papier cède.”  (…surrounded the word with nervous circles until the paper gave away) (pg 269)

12. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
George returns to Paris but feels drawn to Lebanon once again, la guerre.

13. Does this story create any special mood?
Going beyond the obvious mood of war torn Lebanon…The mood I felt was of discovery. After reading several pages I discovered the concealed links to the play, its themes and the characters. These elements could be applied to  WW II and its famous Resistance heroes, Jean Anouilh playwright, Sam as Jewish-Greek refugee and Georges as a man confronted with his own tragedy.

14. Is this story realistic or true to life?
The book reflects the ravages and massacres  of war in Lebanon and the shock Georges  feels knowing that just a few hours away in Paris life goes on as usual. It emphasized for me how soon….we forget the tragic scenes of that conflict.

15. What is the general theme of the story?
The theme is resistance. Antigone defies her uncle Créon. She choose her dignity above her happiness. During WW II Jean Anouilh defied the German occupation. He staged ‘Antigone’ knowing that Antigone represented  the French resistance and Créon the German occupiers.
The French wanted also to maintain their dignity….and resist.

16. Did you identify with any of the characters?
Antigone: during the book I discovered how many different characters really ‘played her role‘. Georges: He finally arrives at the door…crosses the fourth wall, the one that protects the living. This all sounds very cryptic but once you read the book you will understand how strong Georges’s character is.

17. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
SymbolKey to house abandoned in Jaffa. This represents the deplacement to Palestinians during the war. A small envelope  filled with ‘some Palestinian soil. The sand that will be the main link to the character of Antigone and the play. Antigone  defies her uncle Créon and scrapes some dirt with her fingernails to properly bury her brother.

18. Does the story contain a single effect or impression on me?
The quote that impressed me most was on page 257.
Marwan: (trusted friend-taxi driver ): “You can no longer stage ‘Antigone’, do you understand ?
Marwan: You are not above the war, no one is above the war.
There is no other tragedy here than this war!”

19. Name one major personality trait of the leading character.
I kept wondering how much of Chalandon is in the main character?
You cannot  miss the name similarity:  Sorj  –  Georges.


  • The book was excellent.
  • I cannot understand why it has not been translated into English!
  • Chalandon is a master story teller having been a war and investigative journalist.
  • Chapters are titled with names of the characters in the book, the play, actors in Lebanon, a music componist, French resistance hero’s and German executioner.
  • All this makes every chapter surprising.
  • It gives the reader the challenge of connecting the dots.
  • To completely enjoy the book I would suggest reading the synopsis of Antigone.
  • I also used Wikipedia to gather information about…
  • the history of  French resistance hero’s and the Lebanon War  1982-1985.
  • Chalandon uses a classic technique of book-ending chapter 1 and chapter 24.
  • The quote that ‘slipped by me’ pg 16  had a powerful meaning pg 323!
  • “Tu a croisé la mort, mais tu n’as pas tué….”
  • You ran into death but you did not die….

Score: 5 ++++

PARIS :TF1 " Au Field de la nuit"

PARIS : enregistrement de l’emission Au Field de la nuit sur TF1 avec : Sorj Chalandon/GINIES_1509.05/Credit:GINIES/SIPA/1309161515


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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in Uncategorized


François Furet

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  • Author: C. Prochasson
  • Title: François Furet (1927-1997)  Les chemins de la mélancolie
  • Published: 2013
  • Genre: non-fiction
  • Contents:  8 chapters, 521 pages
  1. Part I:   French Communist Party
  2. Porchasson’s goal is to show where F. Furet stood  in the list of ex-communists.
    After death of Stalin (1953) and repression of Hungarian uprising (1956) Furet finally left the Communist party (PCF) and political life. He would channel all his passion into the study of the French Revolution.
  3. Part II:  Squabbling historians
  4. Furet wanted to place himself above the ‘worn out mixture’ of historians.  He approached the French Revolution as the ‘science of history’ (historiography) with its  truths, errors, virtues and excesses.
    Furet’s book Penser la Revolution Française was to detonate a lively and critical debate. Sentences that shook  historians to the core: La Révolution est terminée.
    La Révolution entre au port. 
  5. I didn’t realise that a history book could be SO controversial!
  6. Part III:  De Tocqueville vs Marx
  7. This was summary of Furet’s speech while accepting in 1991 Prix De Tocqueville.
  8. Part IV:  Documentation
  9. This section describes how Furet he collected and processed his information. Also we read about the seminars  he taught to  students who became renowned historians in their own right!
  10. Part V:  Le Passé d’une illusion (1995).
  11. This chapter discusses Furet’s book in which he tried to understand the influence Communism had on people’s minds. (1917 Revolution – 1991 Fall of the Soviet Union)
  12. Part VI:  International
  13. Two nations, Israel and The United States,  gave Furet the opportunity to visit and compare his ideas of democracy with what he saw in these countries
  14. Part VIII:  Role of historian
  15. Furet leaves his role as historian and enters the word of journalism. Furet was a ‘spectateur engagé. He combined his  curiosity of the past with the interpretation of the present! Furet wanted to be useful and not just play a visible role.

Last thoughts:

  • Strong point: gave me an interesting look at the French Revolution with the emphasis on interpretation of history  rather than a study of the facts.
  • Strong point: Furet’s praise for De Tocqueville. He was an aristocrat by birth but a democrat by means of reason. I must ready his book on Democracy in America.
  • Weak point: the book was TOO academic. It was impossible  for me to absorb all the content. The introductions were easy to understand for example about  historians who were important to Furet.
  • But once Furet got  into details, he lost me.  I just continued to read and drill some new ‘academic’ words into my vocabulary .
  • I enjoyed only the insights into the French Revolution, De Tocqueville and the historians that were so important for Furet: Quinet, Jaurès and Halévy.
    I would have liked at least one chapter about the man himself…a bit more up close and personal.
  • General impression:  the book was as dry a chalk.

Score 2

FURET sept-prefets-prefigurateurs-ont-ete-nommes

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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Uncategorized


Dickens: Dombey & Son

DOMBEY Charles_Green12

  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Title: Dombey & Son
  • Published:  1848
  • Genre: novel
  • Movement: realism; social criticism
  • Table of contents: 62 chapters
  • Trivia: Edgar Allan Poe:  the only person who was able to predict the conclusion of the plots in Dickens’ novels.


1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story.
Dombey & Son was the name of a well respected  shipping/trading business. The title is the basis of a study of a Victorian middle-class family, the British trade with the colonies. Dickens described in ch 1: “The earth was made for Dombey & Son to  trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light.” Dombey & Son was the center  of the ‘universe’. The narrative will tell the the story of the  rise and fall of this family and firm.

2. What is the predominant element in the story?   Character

3. What is the setting?
London,  Brighton, Leamington Spa, Barbados

4. How does the author handle characterization?
a. Dombey is glad  to hear the the nanny say: ” She hoped she knew her place”.  (Mrs. Toodles). Dombey wants to be absolutely dominant (as does his social class)  but needs somebody to dominate.  The  butler, footman, maids…“Mr. Dombey’s household subsided into their several places in the domestic system.” …but his daughter will not be so governed. When Florence leave the house she breaks Dombey’s domination. He looses control of his property, inheritance his middle class values. Edith, Dombey’s second wife feels her marriage is enslavement; “ He sees me at the auction and he thinks it well to buy me”  (ch 27)
b. Florence: the book begins with a the description of her as “base coin”. Dombey judges his daughter with ‘trade and capitalism’ in mind. She has little worth for him. But at the end of the book  she is the “golden link” (ch 14) and “glorious sunshine” (ch 59) of her father’s life.

5. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. ExternalDombey is powerful, rich and feared..but is incapable of loving another person
b. Internal –  Dombey must admit his ‘alienating flaw’ and try to redeem himself.
c. ExternalFlorence is rejected by her father after the death of his heir, Paul.
d. Internal –  Florence searches  for the ‘magical behavior‘  that will make her father love her.

6. How is the conflict resolved?
No spoilers, this time!

7. Who tells the story?
Third person omniscient

8. What is the timeline?
Florence is six years old. in chapter 1.
Florence is married  with Walter Gay and has 2 children, Paul and Florence.
I estimate the time line between 20-25 years.

9. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
Mr. Dombey is a widower with two children; however, he only considers his son, Paul, to be worthy of his attention.
His daughter, Florence, is merely a “bad boy.”
Paul was to carry on the family name, but died of an illness that shattered Mr. Dombey’s hopes for an heir.

10. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
Dombey’s neglect of his daughter Florence which caused problems his second wife, Edith.
Dombey trusts James Carker  his devious business manager.

11. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
After the sinking of SS Son and Heir Dombey & Son is bankrupt.

12. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
Unfortunately Dombey loses his business and his wealth.
Dombey  realizes that his daughter was the only person who truly cared for him, even when he had nothing left.
He reconnects with Florence in his later years and gains an heir through his son-in-law.

13. Does this story create any special mood?
Dickens uses houses, rooms and their decorations to create different moods that he needs in the narrative.
The book starts with images of a darkened room, crib in front of a warm fire. The new born son is compared to a muffin “ it was essential to toast him brown as he was very new”. (ch 1) The mood shifts after the death of Mrs Dombey.  The house is cold, not fires glowing. The blank house inside and out, after the funeral the furniture was covered with great winding sheets, rooms ungarnished, windows-blinded, lookingglasses being papered up, lustre (chandelier) muffled in holland (cloth) looked like a monstrous tear depending from the ceilings eye.

14. What is the general theme of the story?
The redeeming power of love.

15. Did you identify with any of the characters?
Florence: rejected by her father, does not let this influence her self-worth. She leaves her father’s house in disgrace and anger, finds happiness with Wally yet returns to save her father.

16. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
Symbol  – bottle of Madeira:  Bottle is opened to celebrate Wally’s employment as a clerk at Dombey & Son. “…we shall drink the other (last) bottle, Wally, he said, when you come to good fortune.” (ch 4). The bottle of Madeira has crossed and recrossed the trading routes. It has been shipwrecked and resurfaces and survives. These are all things that Wally will also do!

Irony: Wally sails and is shipwrecked on the SS Son and Heir. This is the beginning of Wally’s survival and start of a happy life. Ironically this is the end of Dombey who spirals into bankruptcy and depression.
Irony:  Dombey cannot find  love in his heart for his daughter. “But now he was ill at ease about her. She troubled his peace.” […] “– he was afraid that he might come to hate her. (ch 3)  Ironically  in the end  Florence was the only one who could give him peace of mind!
Irony: Dombey considers Edith (2nd wife) as the only the person he can possess completely. He has lost possession of his daughter. Ironically at the end of the book the roles are reversed. Florence lives for Dombey’s love and Edith only scorns him.

Foreshadowing: Polly’s husband tells Dombey the worst that could happen to him was if he would lose one of his sons.(Toodle) “I couldn’t hardly afford but one thing in the world less, Sir. (Dombey) ” What is that?” (Toodle) ” To lose ’em Sir.” (ch 2). This foreshadows the death of Dombey’s son Paul.
Foreshadowing: father – daughter relationship – “Young as she was […] he felt as if she held the clue to something secret in his breast…” (ch 3)
Foreshadowing: Solomon Gills and Wally recall anecdotes of shipwrecks, casks of wine (Madeira = Wally)  rolling about (Baltic Sea 1749) and SS George II breaking loose along the Cornwall coast  (1771), SS Polyphemus (West Indies) catching fire and sinking. This foreshadows Wally’s shipwreck of the coast of Barbados. Suddenly Solomon Gills gave a short dry cough, and said: “Well, suppose we change the subject.” (ch 3)

27. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader?
The remark made by nanny Susan Nipper impressed me the most: “girls are thrown away in this house”. This emphasizes the role of the  woman in Dombey’s eyes. ‘Base coin’ , not currency that can be spent or invested. The first time we see Florence she is “in a corner”. Dickens does a wonderful job developing Florence with images and symbolism. The dying mother ‘clinging fast to the slight spar within her arms [as she] drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls around the world” (ch 1). This ‘slight spar’ will be the only thing her father can cling to and save his life.

Score: 4

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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Uncategorized


Bazin: Vipère au poing

BAZIN index

Author:  Hervé Bazin (1911-1996)
Title:  Vipère au poing
Published: 1948
Genre: Novel (fiction/reality) – the line between is very thin…
Contents: 25 chapters,  237 pages
Trivia: It is the first and best known of a trilogy (La Mort du Petit Cheval-1950) and (Le Cri de la Chouette -1972).  These three novels are largely autobiographical.
Trivia:  When published in 1948, Vipère au Poing was an immense success and also the cause of a considerable scandal. Bazin did  not even take the trouble to change the first names of his parents in the book!


1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
Vipère au poing: is a description of  Jean’s mother as a venomous cruel reptile. It also indicates the suffering Jean is about to describe in the story.

2. What is the predominant element in the story?  character…it’s all about the mother!

3. Who is the single main character about. whom the story centres?
Paule ‘Folcoche’ Rézeau – This is the mother  who corrupts her son boy into being as slyly evil as she is. She oozes seething resentment and ripening rage. In 1971  a TV film was made about this book. The actress Alice Sapritch (1916-1990) played Marthe Rézeau. It is an ironic role that  followed her throughout her life.

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4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. External –   Rebellious child vs unloving parent
b. Internal – Child must discover why he was treated so unfairly.  After “brasse bouillon”  stirring up the past he realizes that his maternal grandparents were the monsters…..not his mother.

5. How is the conflict resolved?
Bazin uses ironic humour and a sardonic view of his world to express the truth behind his emotions. He neither asked for nor supported this strict catholic upbringing.
He feels the pressure of his  parents for so long that he decides to rebel and find his own identity and way of living.

6. How does the author handle characterization?
There are several amazing characters in this book: deaf/mute cook who sides with the children, a father whose moustache reveals his moods and seven eccentric abbots who try to teach the children. Bazin used a very subtle gesture to mark the difference between the father and mother when they gave a little sign of the cross on the boy’s foreheads:
a. gestures:  “father traced the cross with his fat thumb, mother with her sharp pointed fingernail.” (pg 86)

7. Who tells the story?
a. first person –  Jean Rezeau nicknamed ‘Brasse-Bouillon’.

8. Where does the primary action take place?
French provincial village  Caron in Loire Valley.
The family home is called ‘La Belle Angerie’.

9. What is the timeline? (1922…1927…1931…1933)  Jean 6-17 yrs
In 1922  after the death of the paternal grandmother who cared for Jean, Ferdinand and Marcel  their parents have just come back from French Indochina.

10. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
The story opens with the ‘Brasse-Bouillon’ (Jean) killing a snake.

11. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
In the course of the story we discover who really is the snake in the family!
Life in a bourgeoise family between WWI and WWII is intolerable. Mme Marthe detests her husband and transfers her hate onto her children, especially Jean. (= Hervé Bazin).
Mother is nicknamed ‘Folcoche’ (folle, cochonne, insane pig).

12. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
The children are home schooled by a series of 7 abbots (religious brothers). They are all nicknamed BI,BII,BIII,BIV…… But finally ‘Folcoche’ finds  BVII. He is the perfect mean, vicious, cruel Father Traquet who can’ tame’ the children once and for all.

13. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
These first few pages are dripping with foreshadowing. Jean gloriously shows his trophy to his uncle and grandmother…”Rien n’est si bien mort qu’un un serpent mort.” (pg 9) Nothing is so good dead as a dead serpent. (mother). On the last page Jean repeats his motto: “Cette vipère, ta vipère, je la brandis, je la secoue, je m’avance dan la vie avec de trophée….”  This snake, your snake I burnt it, I shook it, I move on in my life with the trophy…(pg 237)

14. Does this story create any special mood?
Children are living in a nightmare!  This is  a dysfunctional family that Bazin manages to soften with his engaging humour. He uses comical  expressions as a means of communication that is  startling, intriguing, and profound. I had to laugh when Bazin describes himself as a saint between the ages of 4 – 8 yrs. He had a patron saint (Baptist, for first name Jean) who was a valet to his guardian angel Rézeau.  He was not expected to carry all the little packages of Jean’s sins without some assistance! (pg 21)

15. Is this story realistic or true to life?
Hervé Bazin was in conflict with his own parents (mother) all during his childhood and adolescence. This was the basic inspiration for this book. His family was staunch catholic traditional haute-bourgeoise. They insisted Hervé study law and enrolled in against his will in faculté catholique d’Angers. After six months he refused to study any further, packed his bags and left. Encouraged by Paul Valéry after Bazin won the prix Apollinaire for his collection of poetry….he turned to prose.

16. How are the events  presented?
Chronological: Chapters 1-3 give the reader an impression of Jean’s childhood and surroundings. Then Bazin announces: “Grand-mère mourut. Ma mère parut. Et ce récit decent drame.”  (Grandmother died. My mother appeared. And this story became a drama)

17. What is the general theme of the story?
Jean Rézeau searches in his past to find his identity.

18. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
Symbol – in the form of nicknames  are used to give the book a ‘familar family feeling’. Jean is ‘brasse-bouillon’. Brasser means to move or agitate and bouillon is a hot soup. This sobriquet represents Jean. When the atmosphere at home begins to heat up…he moves, rebels, is emotional and is insolent. He tries to cool things down as one would by stirring in a hot bouillon.
Ferdinand is ‘chiffe’. This means a milquetoast, unassertive. He follows Jean and without his brother he would never dare confront ‘Folcoche’.
Marcel is ‘cropette’.  In patois this means little brother.

19. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for me?
The book was a good ‘follow-up’ read after Jean Barois by Du Gard and Le Noeud de Vipères by Mauriac.These  books were filled with family feuds and church dogma.  Hervé Bazin describes ‘iron-fisted grip’ that the catholic church had on his family from a child’s perspective… with a light and humorous touch.

20. Name one major personality trait of the leading character.
Will to survive: Jean has declared war, civil war. From the outside his behavior looks bizarre. But from the inside he is acting so he can survive. It is the only thing that will help him get the snake  (mother) in his fist “vipère au poing”.


  • I can understand why this book is so popular with high-school students.
  • Bazin describes mother’s authority  with biting irreverence.
  • We meet many family members….Grand uncle René: ..”he was the brush that made the family gleam and shine”  (la brosse à reluire de la famillie)
  • Strong point: book is riddled with clever ‘eccelesiastical’ satire:
  • History: Petrograd “You are my rock and upon this rock I will build…” (pg 139)
  • Vacation: ‘swimming dips’ considered immoral (fear of naked); family is afraid of water…until it has been blessed.” (pg 134)
  • Last thoughts: I put off reading this book  because the cover irritated me.
  • Never judge a book by its cover!
  • Mme Rézard is scary looking but Hervé Bazin’s story is enchanting!
  • Epoustouflant….histoire rocambolesque!

Score: 5 +++

BAZIN AVT_Herve-Bazin_1571



Posted by on January 20, 2016 in Uncategorized


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