Édouard Louis was born into poverty in northern France, as Eddy Belleguele, in 1992. His autobiographical novel En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, newly translated into English as The End of Eddy (Harvill Secker), draws an unsparing portrait of the violence, alcoholism, racism and homophobia of the milieu into which he was born, and quickly became a sensational bestseller both in France and throughout Europe. Louis will be in discussion with the novelist Tash Aw.
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THE PEOPLE OF THE VILLAGE
A chance encounter on Christmas Eve ends with Edouard Louis, a student at the École Normale Supérieure, taking a stranger back to his apartment. Louis has struggled with the decision to invite the man to share his home and his body, and now, poised on the brink of terrible physical and emotional violence that will have long-standing consequences for both of them, the young men have choices to make. Both have a chance to end the sequence of events that led them to this point: in other words, to flee. But neither does. ‘I believe that each decision made that evening,’ Louis writes in Histoire de la violence, ‘on my part as well as his, rendered all other decisions impossible the very moment afterwards; that each choice destroyed all other possible choices, and that the more he chose, the less free he became.’
In the latter stages of Korean-American author Min Jin Lee’s patient, sprawling story of a Korean family in Japan, Nobuo Ban, one of the novel’s principal characters, allows himself a moment of reflection. He is living a “small, invisible life” in Nagano, Japan, in 1969 – a modest but respectable middle-class existence, with a wife and four children and a job as a manager of a gambling joint where customers play the pachinko machines that lend the novel its title. But Nobuo’s unchanging routine and determinedly detached manner hide a terrible secret that plagues him daily: he is not, in fact, Japanese, but Korean – born Noa Baek, the son of poor immigrants despised by the rest of Japanese society. His failure to commit himself emotionally to his wife is at odds with the totality of his dedication to Japanese language, culture and manners, and betrays not just a deep-seated fear of being unmasked but an acceptance of the impossibility of equality or redemption.
A humble traveller discovers a monumental secret from outer space in the forests in Southern Thailand. A vampire named Rattika goes missing in Pattaya. A couple engaged in an extramarital affair witnesses the death of a man crushed by fragments of an advertising sign (they are playing Twister when this happens; the killer debris spells ‘N’ ‘O’). Elsewhere, a mother in Bangkok strives to save enough money to take her troubled son to Alaska to see snow, and a young man obsesses over the loss of buttons on his shirt.
The stories that form Prabda Yoon’s mind-bending and strangely melancholic universe are unfailingly provocative, both in their choice of subject matter—there isn’t a single dramatic situation that can be said to be conventional in the collection of twelve stories—as well as their narrative form. Protagonists cede their place to a chorus of casual acquaintances, or else rebel against their creation by addressing the reader directly; heroes are also antiheroes; plotlines streak ahead but are deliberately thwarted; the writer Prabda Yoon even makes an appearance in one of the stories.