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A story more real than life itself.

I don’t believe in signs, but I know how to see them. Let me explain. After spending the week following in the footsteps of Augustine Soubeiran, accompanied by the historian and writer Nelly Duret (including at a Philo Bistro), I continued to unpack the 280 boxes from my move and came across some old medals. One of my ancestors received the French Military Medal, the one in the photo with the blue and red striped ribbon, which was easily given to boost morale among the troops. He also received the British War Cross awarded by King George V. An English general personally presented it to him (which appeals to me, as I am also English after 13 years in London). This medal is prestigious and he deserved it: he saved a whole trench of Englishmen with a risky act. He was a daredevil, hot-tempered, and belligerent, often rebellious! He lost his wife due to childbirth complications in September 1916 while fighting at Verdun, and the baby died a month later. That’s how he remarried my great-grandmother, my grandmother’s mother, Suzanne. I had some friends over last night for a “Debates Among Friends” evening, and we talked a bit about history. The aptly named Romain even shared his passion for the fall of the Roman Empire, the reasons for its failure, and more broadly, the end of civilizations. A week anchored in history, therefore. History with a capital H, Cartesian, documented, proven. But, at the same time, and I come to the sign I mentioned at the beginning, I believe that literature can play a role in the discovery and formulation of a historical narrative. After all, Gavroche is imaginary. Liberty on the barricades is imaginary. One could even say that there is an imagination of historical material, an imagination of rationality. And I had the sad confirmation yesterday, when, to my greatest sorrow, to my deepest despair, there was a particularly bloody knife attack in Sydney, in its symbolic heart: Bondi (Junction). A historical event that we would have gladly done without, and which led several people to question me about my latest novel, which deals primarily with these turning points at which a human being decides to commit the irreparable. I won’t mention it here, it’s neither the place nor the time. I just wanted to express the fact that when reality meets fiction, it is also a confirmation of the close links between history and literature. Nelly Duret is saying nothing else when she speaks of the influence that Jules Verne’s great work “The Children of Captain Grant” had on Augustine Soubeiran. This book undoubtedly made her want to come to Australia…

Note: Thanks to Annick Zente for providing me with the details I was missing. I am grateful to her.


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