Vol. XXI, #2 Janice Galloway / Thomas Bernhard / Robert Steiner / Elizabeth Bowen
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Loving Sabotage, by Amélie Nothomb. Trans. Andrew Wilson
reviewed by Alan Tinkler
New Directions, 2000. 144 pp. $21.95.
In her afterword Amélie Nothomb writes: “Loving Sabotage tells a true story: my own.” Regardless of the accuracy of such an admission, Loving Sabotage is a compelling story of a young girl, age seven, who moves to China with her family when her father, a Belgian diplomat, takes a post in Peking. While the story includes insightful declarations about a young girl’s experience in a foreign country, it primarily focuses on the dynamics between and among children. When writing about the diplomatic compound, “the ghetto of San Li Tun,” Amélie acknowledges that anyone “who thinks that kids will extend the hand of friendship to each other is an idiot.” The children, including Amélie, band up and fight against each other, following their own perverse though strangely logical codes of battle. Even as Amélie, “the Pathfinder,” and her coterie, “the Allies,” battle first the East German children, then the Nepalese children, Amélie directs her efforts to gaining the friendship of Elena, an Italian whom Amélie immediately and unreservedly identifies as “the centre of the world.” The childhood battles, including the vomiting and urinating on opponents, seems relatively benign when compared to the turmoil Elena causes Amélie. Amélie wants one thing: to be seen. And, in an effort to be seen, Amélie prostrates herself, agreeing to do anything to gain her favor: “You want me to sabotage myself for you? You’re on! It’s worthy of you and worthy of me. Just watch how far I’ll take this.” Loving Sabotage is not a lament about childhood experiences but rather an interesting celebration of awareness. To be aware represents victory, and the author Nothomb is certainly victorious. Not only is the story compelling, the prose is exceptional.