Original title: Déserter
From the heart of a familiar yet inscrutable Mediterranean scrubland emerges a dirty and exhausted man. An unknown soldier who has escaped from an unspecified war, he seems to be trying to flee his own violent tendencies and find refuge in solitude, beyond the battlefields in the lands of childhood. He wants to travel north to the border, but an unexpected encounter forces him to alter his plans and reassess the price that he puts on a life.
On 11 September 2001, aboard a small cruise ship on the Havel on the outskirts of Berlin, a scientific conference is taking place to pay tribute to Paul Heudeber, a prodigiously gifted East German mathematician, committed anti-Fascist and Buchenwald survivor who remained loyal to his side of the Berlin Wall even after the collapse of the Communist utopia. He was just as stubborn but lucid when it came to love, his entire live being lived in the shadow of the absence of Maja Scharnhorst and his memories of the time they spent together – the free-spirited, independent and indomitable Maja who was a symbol and political figure of the Willy Brandt years.
Twenty years later, war having returned to Europe, their daughter Irina recalls the improbable cruise onto which the violence of a new era descended and this great love affair that withstood the 20th century: a story full of trials and tribulations that made her what she is but at the same time eludes her.
In this novel Mathias Enard exploits silences and vibrations to economically achieve a fictional richness that is inversely proportional to the words expended. With war seemingly everywhere at every moment, Déserter arms us with the images and conjectures we need to confront it.
- print run: 30,000 copies