A Child Without a Narrative

Original title: Un enfant sans histoire

Author: Huy, Minh Tran

Publication Date:

August 2022



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia


Literary Fiction


  • prix Essai et Roman France Télévisions 2023 (longlist)

A Child Without a Narrative

Original title: Un enfant sans histoire

Author: Huy, Minh Tran


As a writer of fiction, Minh Tran Huy invites reality into her work and delivers a testimony that, after the turmoil that is customary for any new literary season, will remain. By giving form to the chaos that has become her daily life, she makes universal a personal struggle, choosing literature as her weapon, and a writing that empathizes rather than pities, that allows us to better understand the world in which so many so-called “maladjusted” people live. — Laëtitia Favro, LIVRES HEBDO

Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, little Paul will never be able to read the book that his mother, Minh Tran Huy, has dedicated to him. A torrent of love and amazement, a cry of rage and sorrow, faced with the impossibility of “saving” him. A heartbreaking story. — Ariane Valadié, VOICI

Some books take everything away. They take your breath away and you never let go. This is the case with the book Un enfant sans histoire, by our collaborator Minh Tran Huy. Once you have read it, it leaves you knocked out in the face of the mysterious continent you have just crossed: autism. — Valery de Buchet, MADAME FIGARO

A novel that is both tender and conveys a brutal reality: that of parents powerless to cope with the difficulties of a son who will never be able to read this book. — Anaëlle Forveille, OUEST FRANCE

The title alone is painful. It alone speaks of pain, suffering and almost acceptance. But there is definitely a story nestled between these pages. — Florence Dalmas, LE DAUPHINÉ LIBÉRÉ

A tender, moving, luminous novel that also aims to raise awareness of what still needs to be done in France to help children and parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. — Aurélie Janssens, PAGE DES LIBRAIRES

“I would have liked to be able to offer you life rather than a book”, writes the author who would so much like her story to move and bring a little beauty. She has achieved this. With Un enfant sans histoire, she offers us a heartbreaking, but fascinating book, shot through with grace. — Patricia Reznikov, LIRE MAGAZINE LITTÉRAIRE

Whether the topic concerns you or not, this is a book for everyone. — RADIO LIBERTAIRE – Idéaux et débats

The success of this inspired book is that it escapes its creator like a child who has grown up. In literature, to give is to give, to take back is to create. — Antoine Perraud, LA CROIX

Minh Tran Huy delivers a powerful literary plea that awakens to this essential truth, perpetually threatened: there is not only one way to be human. — Lauren Malka, CAUSETTE

Un enfant sans histoire tells the story of what the arrival of a child like Paul does to a mother and father, and the battle they must wage in all areas, from diagnosis to care. To succeed in making tangible what we turn away from is only one quality of this book of struggle and love. — Alain Nicolas, L’HUMANITÉ

A very restrained writing style which only gives more relief to a deeply moving testimony. If a non-verbal autistic person is condemned to silence, this does not mean that he has no story. […] Between testimony, letter, diary, investigation and essay, this is a strong and courageous book, served by a subtly changing writing style. — Sophie Ehrsam, EN ATTENDANT NADEAU

A novelist, avid reader and fervent lover of fiction, Minh Tran Huy never imagined that she would allow reality to invade her writing. She had never imagined either that the birth of her first son Paul would bring her into intimate contact with disability and turn her into an unwilling expert on the disorders of the autism spectrum and how they are treated (or go untreated). Nor did she imagine that her vocabulary bank and address book would expand so much, or that her relationship to the world would be enriched by so many acronyms, statistics, methodologies and benchmarks – an accumulation of information and knowledge far from her poetic sensibilities even though they can constitute a formidable, if at times fragile, response to impotence. It is through literature that Tran Huy manages to wrestle with and express this earth-shattering experience, the challenge being to recount a story that eludes all conventional narrative strategies.

For Paul is diagnosed with a serious condition and, despite his handsome looks, he does not fall into that Hollywood category of autistic savants. As the years pass, she has to abandon the notion of the secretly brilliant child and resolve herself to adapting Paul as far as possible to a world that has not reckoned on having to accommodate a person like him.

It is as a highly disciplined writer that the mother in distress constructs a narrative capable of capturing Paul’s experience. We know from her novels that she is attracted to correspondences and echo chambers, which are central to her calm and precise art of weaving together narrative strands. By unpacking the story of Temple Grandin, the autistic anti-Paul and animal behaviourist who became a prominent campaigner for the humane treatment of animals and the quintessential American embodiment of a socially integrated autistic person, she manages to make the silence resonate.

With a rare intelligence and finesse, Un enfant sans histoire alternates between two life histories whose very disparity conveys a powerful message. As well as painting a picture – a chilling one, because it is clearsighted and pulls no punches – of the current state of autism treatment in France (supposedly a government priority since 2012), Tran Huy serves up a narrative that is much more than a first-person account. It is a book whose dignity and resolve win the reader over to the author’s cause, and it is the universality of this personal battle that lodges the issue firmly in our consciences.

Marketing Information

  • Longlist Prix Renaudot 2022
  • Over 10,000 copies in print

Other books by this author