Review: A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux
Title: A Man’s Place
Author: Ernaux, Annie
Translator: Leslie, Tanya
Length: 96 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher / Year: Seven Stories Press / 2012 Originally published in French in 1983
Source: From the publisher for review.
Why I Read It: It sounded interesting.
Date Read: 29/05/12
What does it mean to grow up and away from where you were born? In this short but powerful book, Ernaux examines her father’s life and the ways in which they lost touch through the ages. It is a story of family and love and loss within it, as well as a story of the power of our roots and the very real disconnect that can come between generations due to changes in life. It is an examination of one woman’s feelings and memories of her father, and essentially where she came from.
Ernaux’s father came from a poor peasant background, eventually moving to another village and becoming a grocer and cafe owner. Ernaux herself studied and became a teacher. Through her studies she feels she is making a better life for herself, but at the same time she feels she is becoming more distant from her father whose values seem different from her own.
I imagined that I had nothing else to learn from him. His words and ideas wouldn’t be heard in the French and philosophy lecture halls, or in the other girls’ drawing-rooms, where one sat on crimson plush sofas. In summer, through the open window of my room, I could hear the regular sound of his spade hammering the freshly-dug earth.
Maybe I am writing because we no longer had anything to say to each other. (pate 67)
Despite this, what comes through is how much she has actually learned from her father and the large impact he had on her life. Her memories of him dominate to the extent that she felt the need to write them down, to honour them and him. His life is described, his joys and dreams, disappointments and pains, inasmuch as she knew them.
This book is one which will resonate for many, I think. It speaks to the alienation that can come up between generations. Her disconnect comes from her view of the importance of class markers and her changing life, feeling embarrassment or shame over her roots, but the way the world changes there are myriad ways in which children can feel like they are choosing a different, and maybe wrong, path.
Highly recommended to all for its wonderful prose, the translation maintaining the original sparse beauty of the writing. Recommended as well as a thoughtful examination of family and differences. If you enjoy memoirs, or fantastic fiction about life, this one will not disappoint.