This is Remembrance Sunday and for me that means remembering both those who died in battle, but also those who died as civilians in a war which is no longer confined to professional soldiers or geographically limited battlefields.
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (transl. Sam Taylor) is a perfect way to commemorate the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. Antoine’s wife Hélène had gone to the Bataclan concert that evening, while he stayed at home to babysit their 17 month old baby, Melvil. A day or so later, Antoine wrote a moving open letter on Facebook addressed to his wife’s killers, which quickly became viral.
This very slender volume builds on that open letter. It is a collection of diary entries and reflections, a poignant story of life after loss, of learning to cope in the face of tragedy, and refusing to be cowed or to descend to the level of hatred and vengeance.
Not many people understand how I can so quickly get over the circumstances in which Hélène was killed. People ask me if I’ve forgotten or forgiven. I forgive nothing, I forget nothing… of course, having a culprit, someone to take the brunt of your anger, is an open door, a chance to temporarily escape your suffering. And the more odious the crime, the more ideal the culprit, the more legitimate your hatred. You think about him in order not to think about yourself. You hate him in order not to hate what’s left of your life.
There are so many poignant little details about grief here. Losing oneself in the routine of feeding and bathing a child, so as not to have to think. The home-cooked baby meals prepared by the mothers at Melvil’s nursery, which he never eats, because he was used to supermarket meals. Learning to cut his son’s fingernails for the first time. Resenting the meter reader because he represents life going on. Choosing the clothes for his wife’s funeral. It is unadorned, heartfelt and full of love, and it made me weep.
Watching from a distance, you always have the impression that the person who survives a disaster is a hero. I know I am not. I was struck by the hand of fate, that’s all. It did not ask me what I thought first. It didn’t try to find out if I was ready. It came to take Hélène, and it forced me to wake up without her. Since then, I have been lost: I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know how to get there.
There is no egocentric posturing here, it’s a simple account of grief and learning to live, while fearing the possibility of forgetting. We don’t find out anything about their jobs or politics. All we hear about is their love for each other, for music and for their child. A story stripped to its bare bones and all the more beautiful for it.
As for why he wrote the book:
It will not heal me. No one can be healed of death. All they can do is tame it. Death is a wild animal, sharp-fanged. I am just trying to build a cage to keep it locked in. It is there, beside me, drooling as it waits to devour me. The bars of the cage that protect me are made of paper. When I turn off the computer, the beast is released.
13 thoughts on “#13Novembre2015: You Will Not Have My Hate”
This does sound like a moving and compelling story, Marina Sofia. I really like the sentiment in the title, too. A perfect choice for today, and it offers a lot of ‘food for thought.’
I can’t believe a year has passed – the horror of that day seems still so fresh. And as Margot says, the title is so apt – we cannot dignify what happened by hating the perpetrators.
I can’t believe a year has passed. For Antoine Leiris and many others affected by this atrocity it will seem both the twinkling of an eye and a lifetime. What a slippery beast time can be.
I have read longer extracts of this book when it was published and wondered about reading it in full. For the moment it is one of those books that I don’t want to face – which is cowardly, but honest. I’m reading Ann Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl at the moment, and finding the experience heightened by this time of remembrance. I think perhaps I shall make a note to read Leiris’ book this time next year. If he is brave enough to write it – and to live it every day – then surely I am brave enough to read it. He speaks for many and he deserves an audience.
It’s certainly an emotional read, but also ultimately uplifting. He said in an interview that he didn’t think of his writing as therapy, but I think reading it can be therapeutic for all those dealing with grief. Reminded me a little of Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, but it is much more visceral and immediate than that one.
I don’t think I can read it. Not now. Just thinking of the letter he wrote just after the bombing upsets me. I might buy the book, though, as a way to support him and his son.
I think that, as a people, we can be proud to have reacted with dignity to these horrible attacks..
PS Why “hate” and not “hatred” in the title?
It’s not an easy read and I certainly don’t recommend reading it as a way to get back to sleep at 3:30 in the morning. BAD idea!
But yes, you are absolutely right: ‘haine’ is hatred, so I’m not sure, maybe it sounded too correct?
My guess is the rhythm. “You will not have my hate” is pure trochees, bam bam bam bam bam bam; “you will not have my hatred” sounds lopsided.
I have this just arrived and waiting to be read. I know in advance – and your heartfelt review has just verified this – that it will be a very difficult, painful read, but also a hugely important and educative one, because the dirtier and more savage our world seems to get, the more important it becomes to seek out those who are actively striving towards a different, better outcome
Exactly. I felt it was important for me to read it just now, at the anniversary of those events, and remind myself not to become bitter nor resigned. I’d love to hear your thoughts once you’ve had the chance to read it.