SEPTEMBER READING: MONSIEUR LINH AND HIS CHILD by Philippe Claudel
Translated from the French, this is 130 pages of the most exquisite and perfect writing. This little book will touch your soul and leave both a lingering sadness and joy at what the human soul can desire and find.
Monsieur Linh is an elderly Vietnamese refugee who has endured a long journey by boat with his baby grand daughter and one old suitcase. He has seen his homeland destroyed by foreign soldiers, his village, fields, buildings and population burnt and killed, including his son and daughter-in-law. All that is left is the baby, Sang diu. Monsieur Linh arrives in a city in France, and is moved to a refugee centre where he lives in a dormitory like place with other refugees. He is lonely, homesick, deeply traumatised, only living to devote his whole self to his care of the child.
One day, having gone out for a walk to give Sang diu some air, he meets Monsieur Bark, an elderly gentleman whose wife has recently died. The two of them strike up a most unusual but strangely beautiful friendship, as of course neither can understand the other. But both feel the pain and loss in the other, and both are soothed by voice of the other, the body language, the smiles, and genuine attempts at understanding. Things go terribly awry when Monsieur Linh is suddenly moved out of the refugee centre to an old people's home some distance away. But he never gives up hope or the determination that he and the baby will be ok, and that he will see Monsieur Bark again.
This could be a book set in any time or in any city. It has the universal themes of war, displacement, hope, humanity and love. We live in times where millions of people have been forced to leave their entire lives behind, often having witnessed the murders and deaths of their loved ones. They cross borders to new places with virtually nothing and are simply expected to get on. Books like this one are very important for us to read, to help us have even a modicum of understanding as to the plight of such people. Very very worthwhile, and for maximum effect read in one sitting.