Myth of Russia in French Culture

21 page

J.-M. Guenassia was born in Algeria and thanks to his parents received an excellent education and a prestigious profession of a lawyer. However, he gives up the profession which the French deem profitable for the sake of his French dream to become a diplomat, an officer or an author. The publication of a novel The Incorrigible Optimists Club (Le Club des incorrigibles optimists, 2009) can be considered as an undeniable, almost phenomenal success. The author seems to have gathered the whole France in a small café: you can find anybody here – from its intellectual elite to rogue emigrants, including the Russians. Against this background, a standoff between two great existential philosophers – Camus and Sartre – arises in the book, the standoff based on Sartre’s pro-Soviet and on Camus’s anti-Soviet, anti-Stalinist spirits. This is the way the Soviet theme is introduced into the text of the novel and it is interpreted in accordance with the triad of Stalin-Gulag-chekists. The author attempts to research the psyche of not only former Soviet rogue emigrants but also of Hungarian and Czechoslovak nationals who were forced to leave their homeland after the events of the 1940s – 1960s. In the meantime, he always refrains from any moral assessment of their behaviour.

One of the characters of this novel Joseph Kaplan becomes the main character of Guenassia’s second book La Vie rêvée d’Ernesto G. The major part of the book represents reflections on fascism, totalitarianism, the Soviet experience, and the European democracy. A special role in the novel is attached to Pavel Cibulka’s personality, a diplomat who had a brilliant career after the World War II. In the text he intertwines two cultural and historical worlds: the Russian and the French. He has already appeared in Guenassia’s first book as a secondary character. Pavel is well known to the café’s customers as the author of a fundamental work on the conclusion of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. His character had a real historical prototype that Guenassia used to encounter in a Paris café. Guenassia concludes Pavel’s story of scientific inquiry into history on a positive note: “In September 1950 two thick volumes came out in Czechoslovakia and a year later were published in the USSR. Theresa had to retype the 687 pages long manuscript of The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: diplomacy and revolution three times”[1].

Guenassia’s novels abound in so-called non-narrative elements: letters, quotes, documents. It is no coincidence. J.-M. Guenassia and his books, where it is basically impossible to separate fiction author from biographer, perfectly fit into the literary movement of non-fiction which is nowadays so popular in the West and in Russia.

[1] Guenassia J.-M. La Vie rêvée d’Ernesto G. Paris, Albin Michel, 2012. 544 p. (See : Russian edition: Genassiya Zh.M. Udivitel’naya zhizn’ Ernesta Ch. Moscow: Inostranka, 2015. P. 233.)

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