Title: History of Violence
Author: Édouard Louis
Translated from the French by Lorin Stein
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Genre: Literary Memoir, LGBT, Biographical
Rating: 5 Stars
It came out of the blue. A sudden kick to my stomach, reverberating throughout my body. It felt personal. It couldn’t have been more real than this. The book had been on my radar for a while now, however, I did not imagine that it would trigger so many emotions or that it would leave me more bereft than ever, once I finished reading it. “History of Violence” by Édouard Louis isn’t an easy book to stomach. Well, any book on rape and its aftermath isn’t easy to digest. You are left with that sinking, horrid feeling and you want something good to happen, but that most of the time isn’t possible, because it is life and it takes its time to heal and repair.
“History of Novel” is a meta non-fiction novel. Yes, it is a genre that I just got to know of once I started reading this book. The review isn’t about the genre. The book is about rape and its aftermath. Édouard Louis was raped in December 2012 on Christmas Eve. “History of Violence” charts the incident in the author’s voice, his sister’s voice (in some chapters) and the way life goes on or doesn’t sometime.
The pathos and the indifference in the book are startlingly dichotomous. Indifference mainly because in so many ways Édouard just wants to distance himself from the incident and yet he cannot stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. That is another way to disassociate, by the way. Pathos because literally no one can understand or maybe no one will. The ideas in this book are many: Of being gay, of racism that is deep-seated in Paris (because the novel is set there and in the author’s home village), of anxiety and fears, of the post-trauma and what it truly means to come back home.
“History of Violence” is very disturbing in most places and rightly so. You can sense Édouard blaming himself, of hating what happened, of trying to make sense of it all and in all of it wondering if life will ever be the same. At the same time, places and interactions seem more intense – be it the nurse at the hospital or the homeless man the author meets in the waiting room, or a basic taxi ride, or even a walk that triggers memories. This book has been written in narratives that shift – past and present merge, so it might seem like a difficult read but it isn’t. If anything, it will make you more empathetic to people around you, if a book is capable of doing that.
What it means to be humane. When the author doesn’t feel anger anymore toward the perpetrator Reda, but pities him, also even feels sorry for him if anything. Everything isn’t about just the good or bad. There is the in-between and “History of Violence” quite stunningly manages to convey that. I remember during the novel when the narrator can’t bear people being happy, after the incident. And another time, all he sees is Reda – in almost every face he comes across on the street. Such scenes remain and almost haunt the reader. At least, that’s what happened to me.
The translation shines. Not once did I feel that I was reading a translation. Lorin Stein has encapsulated it all brilliantly from French to English. No emotions are lost. Nothing seems out of place. Stein understands every emotion, every scar, every memory and is able to seamlessly bring us this read in a language we understand.
“History of Violence” is a book that is not for the weak-hearted. I don’t say this to make you shy away from reading it. In fact, if anything I want you to read it. I want you to understand perspectives. More so because Édouard has done a stellar job of putting his heart, body and soul on paper and nothing can beat that.