I'm coming at this a bit late (knowing how slowly I seem to be moving through books these days I won't finish by the end of the month), but I will still read along in spirit. The War: A Memoir by Marguerite Duras is this month's choice for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. I have read a few books by Duras (her The Lover and The North China Lover, which I read at different times but would be curious to read them now side by side). From what little I have read about Duras I think she was a really fascinating woman and her life story is really fascinating--she was born in what was then French Indochina and wrote extensively as well as was a film director. I need to find a biography of her, but this short memoir written just at the end of WWII is probably a very good place to start.
So, just a very short teaser today from the opening pages of the book. Here she has heard that Bergan-Belsen has been liberated (it is April of 1944) and she is tensely awaiting word of whether her husband, a French Resistance fighter has survived or not. The writing (as you will see) is spare but very raw. In this day and age of instant connection (even if we sit at home alone), it is almost inconceivable to think how agonizing it must have been not knowing if a love one has survived and in what condition they will return--if they return.
"In the street I am like a sleepwalker. My hands are thrust into my pockets, my legs move forward. I must avoid the newsstands. Avoid the transit centers. The Allies are advancing on all fronts. A few days ago that mattered. Not it doesn't matter at all. I've stopped reading the communiques. There's not point--not they'll advance all the way. Light, the light of day, flooding in on the mystery of Nazism. April, it will happen in April. The Allied armies are surging over Germany. Berlin is burning. The Red Army continues its victorious advance in the south, they're past Dresden. They're advancing on all fronts. Germany is driven back within its own borders. The Rhine has been crossed, everyone knew it would be. Remagen, that was the great day of the war. It was after Remagen that it started. In a ditch, face down, legs drawn up, arms outstretched, he's dying. Dead. Beyond the skeletons of Buchenwald, his. It;s hot all over Europe. The advancing Allied armies march past him. He's been dead for three weeks. Yes, that's what's happened. I'm certain of it. I walk faster. His mouth is half open. It's evening. He thought of me before he died. The pain is so great it can't breathe, it gasps for air. Pain needs room. There are far too many people in the streets; I wish I were on a great plain all alone. Just before he died he must have spoken my name. All along the roads of Germany there are men like him. Thousands, tens of thousands of others and, just for me, completely separate and distinct from the thousands of others. I know all one can know when one knows nothing."
It goes on much like this in the same stream of consciousness style, which is very effective in capturing her uncertainty and fears. There is such a breathlessness to her anxiety. Can't you feel it, too? Although different in style (Duras is a memoir and the Wiazemsky a novel) it reminds me very much of My Berlin Child by Anne Wiazemsky, which I read a couple of years ago. The latter novel is based on true events about a French Red Cross nurse in Berlin. Such a harrowing time but such rich material came out of it. I'll be chipping away at the Duras as it is easy to pick up and read a few entries daily.