My Friday book: “Place de l’Étoile”

imageHave you ever been high on drugs? I haven’t. I have never used any narcotic of any kind. Except morphine after surgery and all that did to me was make my skin crawl with itching, making me dizzy and nauseous. So I have no idea what it feels like to hallucinate and mix reality with fears and guilt and a good dose of wild imagination. Nor do I know what it feels like to have a psychosis. But after reading this book, I guess I have an idea. Because this books runs like one nasty hallucination from beginning to end, and I am SO grateful that I only borrowed it from the library. Because I rather spend my money on good books!

Desperately, I read page after page, trying to understand what the point of it is. To find some kind of story. But this is just 138 pages of ramblings. I feel very sorry for 2014 year’s Nobel prize winner Patrick Modiano. His mind must be so screwed up that the money might give him the ability to a long and well deserved rest. Perhaps in Israel. Please, Monsieur Modiano. Take the money, fly to Tel Aviv and go float around in the Dead Sea and think about absolutely nothing. Perhaps one day you will be cured.

Simon Wiesenthal’s wife one time complained that she was living with six million dead jews. Her husband did not just bring his work home but the fate of all those million jews who were not as lucky as him, to survive. I can imagine what it would have been like to live with him. 24 hours a day, trying to bring justice to the dead, not letting the world forget them or what had been done to them. Wiesenthal had all reason in the world to feel that way though. Someone had to! The guilt of surviving.

Someone said that there are two types of Jews, the ones who will always feel like victims and the ones who do not, but look at the future with bright eyes. Patrick Modiano is the victim Jew. The man who feels guilty for having been born in safety, having been spared the Holocaust, missing it by not being born yet. And yet, in reading his book, it feels like he would have liked to have gone through it, in order to be a real Jew. The Nobel committee gave the reason for his prize as being his constant fascination with and return to the occupation years. Why return to those years, when you have not gone through them yourself? And his father, the scoundrel who escaped the holocaust by what? A miracle? Or will thieves and criminals always get away? His father spent the entire occupation by selling black market things. From a previous book I have read, it seems the fate of his fellow peers did not become him. He never felt any fear because he was never in danger. Weird! Was it really that way? Was it really that easy to avoid arrest and deportation to Auschwitz if one lived in France? Not the idea I have got through my historical studies! I can’t say that Modiano deserved the Nobel prize because he makes it sound like the Jews who were killed, had themselves to blame. That they just went to their fate willingly. That they could have saved themselves like others did. I wish one could find out if there really was a difference. If anti-Semitic and collaborating Jews really did live safely, the way Modiano describes it.

I would like to sum up the book but don’t really know how, since at the end one doesn’t know what was supposed to be storyline and what was not. Is it Modiano’s memoirs? Is Raphaël Schlemilovitch really Patrick Modiano? Did Raphaël enter an insane asylum, trying to get over his fantasies? Because the last two pages clearly shows that the young man is in such a place, being told that the Nazis are dead and gone and that he wasn’t even born when all atrocities were committed. That he is safe and has always been so. The problem is that it is Freud that tells the young man this, and of course Freud did not survive the war. Dying a natural death in England!

The first part of the book talks of Raphaël Schlemilovitch’s anti-Semitism. He goes through how he wrote for anti-Semitic magazines and was involved in the entire nazi machinery, being best friends with all the top-notch people. It gets tiresome  because every French author in history is mentioned through the book, and as a reader, I finally just skimmed those authors and their work, because they have no interest to me. Same goes for street addresses like in “Dora Bruder”. As a rational human being, it gets tiresome reading the book for the simple reason that if Raphaël was writing those things in the 1930s, then he would be in his 30s after the war. But that is not the case! More on that matter later on…

Eventually Raphaël goes to Switzerland where he gets acquainted with a young aristocrat by the name of Jean-Francois Des Essarts. Des Essarts works as a sports journalist in Switzerland and Raphaël convinces him to quit his job. He himself sells his fancy car, so they can live on that money and they spend their days in Geneva, shopping antiques. Raphaël finds out that Des Essarts is in Switzerland to avoid French military service and helps him getting false papers, which claims that he is Jean-Francois Lévy, a Jew. But that is not all, Raphaël taunts the press with letters saying that HE, under a false name, refuses to do military service, because of the way Dreyfus was treated.

They spend their days in the hotel bar, writing, as well. Des Essarts writing a book on Russian film before the revolution and Raphaël translating Alexandrian poets. This is where they notice that they are being observed by an elderly man who turns out to be Maurice Sachs, former Gestapo agent, G.I. agent, cattle dealer in Bavaria, real estate agent in Antwerp, bordello owner in Barcelona, clown in Milano and finally book shop owner in Geneva. He invites them to his shop and there they sit and work and Raphaël discloses more about his past. Or his it his past? In 1940 he turned collaborator and demanded to head the commissariat of Jewish questions and having free hands to do as he pleased. Like creating a Jewish Waffen SS and a militia to fight Bolshevism. 500 000 needed not be liquidated because he promised to brain wash them in to loyal little German-lovers. He became the right hand to Jo Darnand, who ever that was? Then he tells the reader of the disturbed Polish Jew Tania Arcisewska who injects herself with drugs since she can’t handle the memories of Auschwitz, which she survived. Later in the book he says that he gave her razor blades so she could slit her wrists. Really?

One day, Maurice has disappeared and the men feel all depressed till they hear of a South American plane, which has crashed. On board was Des Essarts’ grandfather and he now inherits the title of Duke. On board was also Raphaël’s rich uncle and he inherits a fortune which he decides to spend in a wild manner, hoping to be loved for his money. At the same time he does his best to make people hate him. He tells them he is a Jew, he buys a yacht that he turns in to a bordello, he hires a car with loudspeaker and goes around shouting that he is part  of the jewish conspiracy, raping and killing Aryan girls. Finally he writes a play of the same kind and anti-Semitism, but wherever he goes, he is met with respect. “Jews can’t do anything wrong after the war.” He and Des Essarts tire of the lifestyle and settles in France, in Versailles. One day Des Essarts wants them to attend a fancy dress ball and has hired costumes. Raphaël, who has discovered he has tuberculosis, refuses so Des Essarts takes off himself and gets killed on the motor way. Raphaël says later in the book that he tampered with the breaks. Really?

He writes his fat, greedy New York Jew of a father (his own expression) and tells him that he can have all his money if he comes to visit. The father comes right off, in an outlandish outfit. And Raphaël, who finds his father pathetic tells his father’s story: Coming from Latin America, from a Sephardic family, he had fled his country to France, after seducing a dictator’s daughter. In France he became a Paris guide to the militia men and he socialized at clubs, with false ID papers, with the Germans. In July 1944 he sold the forest in Fontainebleau to the Germans, took the money and went to New York where he started a kaleidoscope company, which went belly up. Now Raphaël’s money made him in to the fourth richest man in the US. Raphaël tells his father he is giving up the playboy lifestyle, that he is dying of tuberculosis and that he intends to move to the French countryside and study at a Lycee. Lycee is Swedish gymnasium, and this does not make sense. Him having claimed to have been a writer of anti-semitic texts in the 1930s. Attending Lycee when one is in one’s 30s???? You are 16-19 at Lycee!

His father goes with him to Bordeaux and wears another outlandish outfit. Raphaël who finds his father pathetic and in need of protection from himself, hopes that they will get arrested. He will then tell the police that for 20 years an Elsass man has told the French people, that the Jews don’t exist if one ignores them. That is why Jews wear screamy fabrics, to catch people’s eyes to prove they exist. He joins a course at the Lycee and tells his father to take all his fancy clothes and accessories with him to New York as a memory of his son. “I am now a naturalized French man and at last assimilated”. His father wants him to come visit New York but he tells his father that he will barely be able to finish the course, before he will die. That it is phase one of assimilation and that his son will be completely assimilated. Yes, he plans on procreating and make his father a grandfather.

He does not get on well with his classmates. He feels that a fellow Jew has been successfully brainwashed by the gentiles after the classmate tells Raphaël that there is no such thing as a Jew, that it is an invention of the Aryans. Now  Raphaël claims to be 198 cm tall, a giant in other words, and 90 kilos heavy, even with tuberculosis. Right! And he becomes the worse bully, hitting people right and left. Why? To protect their literature teacher Adrien Debigorre, who in turn are bullied by all students. Debigorre was famous for supporting Vichy France and by protecting him, Raphaël is called a Nazi. He becomes his teacher’s body-guard but also gets to decide on the course literature. He suggests his fellow class mates should read French romantic books and leave the deep literature for people who have gone through 2000 years of pogroms, since they are the only ones who can understand that literature. The teacher agrees to all Raphaëls suggestions, feeling that they are kindred spirits. But his time at Lycee is cut short. Parents are threatening with police and court for the abuse and the headmaster wants to throw Raphaël out. But Raphaël threatens to go to the Paris press and informs the headmaster that people will write petitions on his account and that the headmaster’s career will be ruined. “We are always right, always excused!”. He also threatens to stand in the court room and claim the beatings as  revenge for what the count of Toulouse did to his ancestors, when he every year at Easter hit the head of the Jewish community. But Raphaël does not get brought to court and he quits Lycee which makes Debigorre go insane from grief.

14 days later, he spends his last money in a restaurant where Vicomte Charles Lévy-Vendôme chats to him. The Vicomte is the descendant of jesters to the dukes of Pithiviers. He offers Raphaël a despicable job. The Vicomte is a white slave trader and he has to get a girl for a bordello in Brazil and one in Beirut. He is introduced to two helpers, former Waffen SS members of the North Africa legion, Moloud and Mustapha. The Vicomte wants revenge, it has to be gentile girls. Raphaël’s first job sends him to an Alpine village. The Vicomte taught him things that a tradesman need to know, how to play belote and billiards but also to have aperitifs. These things break the ice but can also be used to kill time. Raphaël pretends to be Des Essarts but can’t find a suitable girl. The Vicomte has told him that he must not become known as a womanizer, but the girls have to be introduced to him by family members. The only woman introduced to him is the notary’s wife and he decides that she will have to do. But the Vicomte says that his clients don’t want older women. The abbé Perrache saves the day. After an argument, the priest wants Raphaël to make amends by writing a speech and he brings him home so he can write it in his house. There Raphaël is introduced to the abbé’s niece Loïtia, a convent girl. People more or less starts looking at him and Loïtia as a couple and he starts working as a history teacher at the village school. But he grows bored and decides to hand over Loïtia to the Vicomte, to be sent to Brazil. He tells the abbé he has to go to Geneva and on the way, he stops at the convent school and persuades Loïtia to elope with him. Reluctantly she comes along and when in Geneva, he gets the money from the Vicomte and abandons Loïtia to her fate.

He goes off to Normandy to get an aristocratic lady for the emir of Samandal. His aim is the Marchioness de Fougeire-Jusquiames. She is a recluse but he manages to trick her and soon he is a guest at her Chateau. He worships her and finds her so regal. The descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine. She knows that he is Jewish, which he had tried to hide, and it is a turn on for her. During her father’s time, the Chateau was a bordello according to her, her father acting pimp for all the French collaborators. He supplied SS men, young pilots of the Luftwaffe, Hitler Jugend and after the war, he turned to women of the left-wing who had other desires. Now she was just acting like her dad, in her own words.

They spend a week having sex, she always dressed in historical dress from ancestors. On the day she is Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Vicomte bursts in to the bedroom with his two goons, slaps the Marchioness, ties her up and have her put in his car. He is furious with Raphaël and tells him she was expected a week earlier in Beirut. Raphaël looses his job. But first he has to listen to the Vicomte’s preaching, saying that eventually Raphaël will find his way back to his own people. He tells him despicable things like that gentiles were created from live stock feed while Jews were created from God. That gentiles were created to serve Jews night and day. That Jews must curse them three times a day and pray to God that he will exterminate them all. And that it is a Jew’s right to rape and kill gentile women since they are just mares. Why does Modiano have him say these things?

He finally tells Raphaël to go to Wien, Constantinople and the beaches by Jordan. Raphaël goes where the Vicomte tells him, to Wien. Broke, he meets Hilda, whom he names Marizibill, the daughter of Murzzschlag, an SS man who died in the bombing of Berlin and daughter of a mother, who was cut to pieces by the cossacks. Hilda hates the Jews and loves kaleidoscopes who accidentally were manufactured by Raphaël’s father. He doesn’t dare to tell her he is a Jew. In order to support them, she prostitutes herself and soon another prostitute moves in with them, Yasmine from Turkey. She becomes his favourite.

If the book was not weird up till now, it really goes bananas after this. And really, I have made it sound logic and like it is a novel, but it really has no thread and logic in it. I’ve cut out all the worse anti-Semitism and all the weirdest side tracks. That is all. Up till now. Raphaël claims to have suddenly gone to Trieste, to see cousins, then on to Budapest, where noone was left, everyone murdered. Then on to Saloniki where his family was from and where everyone was also murdered and finally arriving in Istanbul where his four female cousins greeted him with open arms. From there he went on to Kairo to see cousins and put on parties where he pretended to be all his friends, Himmler… Then suddenly he is back in Wien and no time has passed. He decides to leave the two women, but is caught by the police on a bridge who want to see his ID papers. When he can’t show them, he is brought to the police station and is examined and taken to hospital for surgery of his lungs. The two surgeons have a bizarre conversation and then he is back in the police station where the police decides that he needs to go to Israel, to go home.

So he is on a ship to Israel but is locked up by the captain, who is Jewish, when he confides that he is a French Jew. One moment they are in Paris, one moment in Israel. He is tortured by Jews, and is going to be sent to a correction kibbutz. He is scolded because the Israelis can’t stand the European Jews. Europeans Jews dwell on being the persecuted wandering Jew, they want to go through the pain and the torture. The person in charge tells Raphaël that while he nourished his neurosis, Israeli Jews trained their muscles, while he moaned and felt sorry for himself, the Israeli Jews worked hard on kibbutzes. He must learn that they are not interested in tears, in the Jewish anxiety, the Jewish tragedy. They do not want to hear about Jewish intelligentsia, Jewish scepticism or the Jewish humiliation. I can’t even describe what happens next. Rebecca, a lieutenant in the army, says she loves him and will take him to Tel Aviv and then go back to Europe with him. They set off, to a club in Tel Aviv and his torturers show up. They rape and kill Rebecca. Suddenly everyone mentioned earlier in the book is there, acting weird and talking nonsense, they are in Paris and they blow Raphaël’s brain out. And then he is in a mental hospital, with Freud telling him that Jews don’t exist, that he is just a human among humans. That noone is trying to hurt him, that they are living in a friendly world now without Himmler and that Raphaël wasn’t even born when the bad things happened. Whereupon Freud breaks down!

On the inside of the book it says that the book is an important puzzle piece to all his books. If that is the case, I am not sure what to think about reading another book of his! The author Jean Cau who wrote the foreword said that it is a devilish book and a hard trial. That’s an understatement. He also mentions Modiano’s imagined memories. It seems like Jean Cau thinks that the book is   about Raphaël’s scattered memories. I do not agree. A man who enters Lycee after the war can absolutely not have been a guest of Hitler’s at Berghof and been Eva Braun’s lover! That is what he also claims in the book. In 1968 I guess this book was a shock and something to talk about, today it just leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Wasted hours and why choose a man like this for the Nobel prize, who might actually make people more anti-Semitic with his writings, in a day when we try to fight it. Or was the choice of him  for the prize anti-Semitism itself?

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