Monsieur Linh and His Child
Traumatized by memories of his war-ravaged country, and with his son and daughter-in-law dead, Monsieur Linh travels to a foreign land to bring the child in his arms to safety. The other refugees in the detention centre are unsure how to help the old man; his caseworkers are compassionate, but overworked. Monsieur Linh struggles beneath the weight of his sorrow, and becomes increasingly bewildered and isolated in this strange, fast-moving town. And then he encounters Monsieur Bark. Neither speaks the other’s language, but Monsieur Bark is sympathetic to the foreigner’s need to care for the child. Recently widowed and equally alone, he is eager to talk, and Monsieur Linh knows how to listen. The two men share their solitude, and find friendship in an unlikely dialogue between two very different cultures. Delicate and restrained, but with an extraordinary twist, Monsieur Linh and His Child is another limpid, immensely moving novel of perfect simplicity, by the author of Brodeck’s Report.
Philippe Claudel won the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction prize for his previous novel Brodeck’s Report and has also achieved success as for his BAFTA award-winning film I’ve Loved You So Long starring Kristin Scott Thomas. Sadly Monsieur Linh and His Child is the only novel I have read by Claudel but I do plan on rectifying this now!
Monsieur Linh and His Child is probably one of the most heart-wrenching stories I have ever read. The combination of Claudel’s use of a simple storyline with his poetic and lyrical writing style really grabs you and makes you feel so much for these two men who have experienced so much grief in their lives. It warms your heart and makes you smile just to see their friendship and love for one another developing despite the language barrier. It is amazing to witness how little importance their differences in language actually hold. They have experienced the same pain, the same losses and more than anything they understand each other.
Of course the one thing that is really evident throughout the entire story is Monsieur Linh’s love for his little granddaughter. The one person he knows and lives for. He never leaves her side and it is clear that if it were not for her he maybe would not have survived the tragedies of his homeland. The concepts of Claudel’s story is so very simple – the love between a man and a child, and the friendship and companionship between two men. The other thing I found really interesting was the omission of place names throughout – you never do find out where Monsieur Linh is from though if I had to guess it would be war-time Vietnam. But the fact that it is left out just makes you realise that it does not matter where these people are from or where they are now, it is just themselves that count – their loyalty to each other.
There is a great twist at the end which I will definitely not give away! But it really does convey the real trauma of having to leave your homeland – the place you were born and grew up, the place where you knew everyone around you – to go to a foreign land where everything is strange, and where you know no one. It definitely made me think more about the way refugees are treated and just the sheer injustice of it all.
I will definitely be reading more from Claudel in the future and I strongly suggest you do too!
Monsieur Linh and His Child is due to be published on the 31st March 2011.
My Rating: ****