The Longest Year
A magical family history about lives brutally ended and mysteriously extended.
Finalist, Governor General's Award for Translation, 2017
Full of wit, whimsy, and a wellspring of historical detail, both real and imagined.
An intriguing journey spanning two countries and multiple centuries... at once epic and intimate, heartwarming and grotesque.
The book moves fluidly across century; a story about time that occupies and transcends temporal passage within. Here, now, it’s been translated en masse. I’m not sure what the French word for that endeavour might be, but English has a good one: doozy.
It was all food for thought: this comet’s great beauty and meticulous course, how it never strayed from its path, whereas his life was a collection of digressions and truncated episodes that were almost impossible to fit together into meaning, trajectory, or even significance. Aimé told himself, he asked himself: Was it really possible to be conscious of everything, to witness every event in all these lives, without having a role to play in their coming into being? While he pursued this line of thinking he also tried to cleave to reason, not to give in to the magical thinking that would make him an extraordinary being. Aside from longevity there was nothing extraordinary about him. He never wanted to forget that.
Without hesitation he walked a few yards over past them and hailed the conductor with an upraised hand, a hand raised up so high you couldn’t miss it. With his other hand he placed his fingers on his tongue, pressed his lips together, and whistled. The horses stopped right in front of them, showing discipline, and the conductor winked, in on the story taking shape here, and turned to them with a polite bow, inviting them to board, and Aimé knew Jeanne was finally looking at him. It only lasted a moment, he felt her eyes on him, on his scalp, on his blushing cheeks, lending him ballast and sudden purpose, but also asking him to do no more for the time being, to take care not to wreck this.
The wind slipped in through the loopholes but it was hot inside, the men’s bodies touched as they paced their cell, only to end up back where they’d started. Aimé tried to settle into a corner and enjoy the warmth a little, at least until his nose and fingertips had time to thaw. They’d pulled off his boots and pushed him into the cell without further explanation. He didn’t know when he’d be sentenced, maybe later that day, maybe not for weeks. Though this worried him, the absence of pain in his limbs was cause to rejoice, something he wanted to experience in silence, simply moving his lips a little. A euphoric feeling was coursing through his body, and he was gradually assimilating it. He touched the cross on his neck, took it out of his shirt as a man came up to welcome him. Deep cracks in his hands told Aimé he’d spent too long outdoors, laying siege to the city last December, and would have scars for the rest of his life. He spoke English and his greasy hair stood out every which way, as if someone had yanked off his wig. Aimé answered in halting English but addressed him respectfully. Clearly he was a man of rank: the others got out of his way when he walked, like tropical insects boring an opening in the swarm.
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