One of those books that I want everyone to read…

Philippe Claudel’s work (Monsieur Linh and His Child. Philippe Claudel (Author) and Euan Cameron (Translator). Maclehose Press, 2012) is almost palpably sad, and deeply moving, a portrayal of humanness at the sharpest edge of suffering, yet also about how affecting and critical real friendship can be. Cliched it may sound, but the kindness of others truly has the power to transform the experience of suffering.

The novel is about the elderly Mr Linh, who we meet as he leaves his homeland with his baby granddaughter, his only remaining family:

‘The old man’s name is Monsieur Linh. He is the only one who knows this is his name because all those who knew it are dead.’

The child is just six weeks old, and Monsieur Linh’s only goal in life is to care for her and to keep her safe:

‘Nothing else matters but his little girl. He wants to look after her in the best possible way.’

Which he does. She is also his link with his past, his homeland, and his dead family. Her eyes:

‘…are the eyes of his son, they are the eyes of his son’s wife, and they are the eyes of his son’s mother, his dearly beloved wife’

In a strange country and city where he does not speak the language, Monsieur Linh is overwhelmed by people, strangers, and anonymity. He has come from a village with just one street, where everyone knows everyone. Now, he is lost, and bewildered by the strangeness of this new world, where ‘nothing is like anything he knows.’

His epiphany comes when he meets the recently widowed Monsieur Bark. Also lonely, the men strike up a friendship, although neither speaks the other’s language. The friendship grows through gestures and acts of kindness. Language is not essential for understanding the sadness of others, for appreciating a depth of melancholy that is beyond words.

The friendship with Monsieur Bark becomes pivotal to Monsieur Linh’s life and survival.¬†Inevitably, the relationship is threatened by external monsters – the city, beaurocracy, and strangers who fail to consider and to understand Monsieur Linh’s plight. However, just as he unwaveringly devotes all his energy and attention to his beloved grand-daughter, so now he turns his attention to his friend and to the friendship that means so much. Kindness wins out in the end.

A parable of sorts, this short narrative is never cloyingly sentimental. Rather, it leaves you with the belief and the hope that we humans can truly help one another, and make a difference to the suffering of others. This may sound pious, and the book, like many parables, is a work of fiction. Yet, this matters not.

Read it, weep, and consider…