(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“A kind of bottomless fear wrapped her in herself, and she wished she had never set foot in her father’s world again.”
Ania and her son Théo came by train to her childhood home of Les Épinettes to visit her estranged father, Gabriel, whom she hadn’t seen in four years. She felt the need to come as he was fired from his job as a long-time journalist and now was somewhat notorious. Once well-respected in his field, he was now ostracized from his profession and society. This occurred because he defended a couple of youths who randomly murdered an African immigrant.
“There was considerable irony in thinking that Gabriel now found himself making common cause with these petty local people, whose vulgarity and narrow mindedness he had so often ridiculed…”
Ania went home after that night, still feeling as emotionally detached from her father as before. She still didn’t understand how his moral views had changed so much.
Later, she received a phone call from his girlfriend stating that he committed suicide that night. As the sole heir—her mother died when she was young—, Ania is forced to come back to settle his affairs. She wants to protect Théo from all of this, but he is adamant about coming and, unknowingly to her, comes with his father, Ania’s ex-husband, Novak. Théo wanted some connection with his grandfather that he barely knew.
Therefore Ania is forced to come back and not on her own terms. She reluctantly learns about her father’s and mother’s past and is confronted with hers. She feels “so absent from her own past”, yet “An infinite nostalgia for everything that had gone wrong in her childhood began to weigh down on her like a stone.”
You’ll notice that I’m quoting a lot from this book. I can’t really explain how delectable the prose is in the writing and translation. This emotionally charged novel is still written with a certain amount of reserve.
“In one sense, Gabriel’s suicide confirmed the threatening debacle ushered in by a world in which they no longer felt safe or in their own element.”
More importantly, Autopsy of a Father provides commentary on France’s societal attitudes on race and immigration. This will lead to hours of discussion in itself.
I highly recommend this captivating novel that explores social issues in modern-day France.