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the brilliant Emmanuel Carrere’s “Lives Other Than My Own”

Just wiping away tears, yet again – I just finished the book Lives Other Than My Own, translated by Linda Coverdale, by a stunning writer, Emmanuel Carrère, considered France’s
greatest writer of nonfiction
. Essential
reading. Extraordinary how he is both there and not
there on the pages as an authorial presence. It’s personal, the “I” is
constantly present, and yet his work is an extreme act of generous exploration
of, as the title says, other lives, small lives, yet as big as the world. Wise
even as he details his own weakness, blindness, and depression, humble even as
he forces himself into others’ worlds to expose them, supremely honest –
the book is also about the writing of the book. 


The narrative starts in Indonesia,
where he was witness to the tragedies of the tsunami; the reader is pulled in to
his story by the force of his skill and purpose as he moves on to the death by
cancer of his young sister-in-law. Says a NYT article about him:
Profoundly intimate, historically and philosophically
serious but able to cast compulsive narrative spells, Carrère’s books are
hybrids, marrying deep reporting to scholarly explorations of theology,
philosophy, psychology, personal history and historiography.
The article tells how he could not
figure out how to write a story that obsessed him, of a Frenchman who pretended
to be a doctor, and who, when his lies were about to be exposed, murdered his
entire family to safeguard his secret.

But six years passed, “six years,” Carrère has said, “of my life
circling this story like a hyena,” six years during which this very productive
writer published only 150 pages. He just couldn’t figure out how to finish the
Romand story. Before he put it aside, he wrote himself what he calls a memo
about what he tried to do, as a way of getting some closure on the wreck that
the project had made of his life and his career. The memo began:


On the Saturday morning of
January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I
was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting at the school attended by Gabriel,
our eldest son. He was 5 years old, the same age as Antoine Romand. Then we
went to have lunch with my parents, as Jean-Claude Romand did with his, whom he
killed after their meal.
“I’m not an
idiot,” Carrère has said about the moment after he wrote those lines. “I very
quickly realized that this impossible book to write was now becoming possible,
that it was practically writing itself, now that I had accepted writing it in
the first person. … Others are a black box, especially someone as enigmatic
as Romand. I understood that the only way to approach it was to consent to go
into the only black box I do have access to, which is me.”
What a wonderful way to describe
the persona of creative nonfiction writer, especially the memoirist: going into the black
box which is me. 
Have ordered his latest book
from the library,
97,196 Words: Essays.
I’m in bed today, not
actually sick but not well, with a bug of some kind hanging around, am doing my
best to head it off. Last night was triumphant, a joyful gathering of writers
eating, drinking, reading, telling the truth with skill and commitment. Delving
into the black box that is them.

And there are leftovers for
lunch.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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