“Even though I can’t remember my childhood, my memory being as if ravaged by some disaster, there nevertheless remains a series of images from the time before my birth . . . of my first twenty years, only ruins are left in a memory devastated by unhappiness.”
These opening lines from Queneau’s novel, first published in France in 1937, are a brilliant, moving introduction to a story about the devastating psychological effects of war, about falling in love, about politics subverting human relationships, about life in Paris during the early 1930s amid intellectuals and artists whose activities range from writing for radical magazines to conjuring the ghost of Lenin in séances. Most of all, it’s about Roland Travy’s agonizing search for happiness after having been conditioned to live unhappily but safely for so long, about his growing self-awareness and need for another human being, about his willingness to shed his fears and accept his humanity.