Anne Berest on Diving Into Her History for The Postcard
This Week on The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan
Anne Berest, the author of The Postcard—one of the most acclaimed and beloved French novels of recent years—came to Books & Books and dazzled a room full of readers. Let’s join those readers on this episode of The Literary Life.
From the episode:
Brenda Diaz de la Vega: There’s a precise date in the book: on October 8th, 1942 at four o’clock in the afternoon, two French police officers knock loudly on Emma and Ephraïm’s door. When Layla tells you that she has the name of the two policemen, you tell her that you prefer not to know. But throughout the book, what you’re looking for are names, clues to get more information. So I was curious to know why did you choose to not hear those two particular names?
Anne Berest: I regret and I will explain why I didn’t want to write the names in the book. I am not an historian. I am a writer, a novelist, so, I had the right to change some things, and I decided to change the names of people who behaved badly during the war. Okay? For example, uh, in the book, you will read the letter that the mayor of the town wrote to denounce my family. All the words, all the sentences of this letter are true. I changed nothing, but I changed the name of the mayor because I didn’t want the great-grandchildren of this man to have trouble now because they are not responsible for what happened during the war.
Of course, I give the name of people who were heroic. We, we call them les justes in France, all the people who gave their lives to help people but collaborators, I changed. But I regret to have done this for the two policemen. Why? Because when my book came out in France, we were in a moment during the elections, and one guy who became very famous in France went to the media to say, historians are totally wrong. The French government didn’t collaborate with Nazis and it’s wrong, French policemen never arrested Jews.
And so that’s why I regret because while I’m not an historian, I think that literature is a gateway to history.