I Smiled First

Original title: Moi qui ai souri le premier

Author: Arsand, Daniel

Publication Date:

August 2022



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia


Literary Fiction


  • Grand Prix de La Société des gens de lettres (SGDL) 2023 (longlisted)

I Smiled First

Original title: Moi qui ai souri le premier

Author: Arsand, Daniel


With his sharp and powerfully evocative language, Daniel Arsand gives an account of the patterns that early experiences of love and sex imprint on our existence. — Marie Fouquet, Livres Hebdo

At one point in this book, Daniel Arsand writes: Storms and ruins are not the only thing inside me. And yet Moi qui ai souri le premier could be read as a private tour of the storms and ruins left behind in him by three decisive encounters – three memories of adolescence that are also possible acts of betrayal which not only signal the end of innocence but also the premature demise of hopes and dreams. A rape, a disappearance, a beating: three episodes of extreme violence – described by the writer with a forceful simplicity and an unflinching objectivity and directness – which structure the early life of a gay boy and serve to alienate him before he even reaches adulthood.

But in what is without a doubt Daniel Arsand’s most searingly intimate and rawest book to date, the honesty is pushed even further as he seeks to identify the source of an original solitude that is acknowledged, and perhaps even sought after and embraced, from his very earliest childhood.

And what Moi qui ai souri le premier also forces us to confront is the fact that the homophobia inherent in a society and an age will destroy all hope of love, since it injects violence into the very heart of a stigmatised sexuality and chips away at trust at the very moment when desire is first awakened.

In Moi qui ai souri le premier, Daniel Arsand addresses these issues for the first time, and this ferociously literary and deeply courageous book eschews any comfort zones, for either author or reader. Many other books – his own and those of others – had to precede this one before he could allow himself to write it, having reached the stage where he felt he had no other choice.

After various explorations of the ‘liberating of one’s voice’ and attempts to define consent and measure the repercussions of sexual violences on the lives
and self-perceptions of victims, the forceful and singular voice of Daniel Arsand moves onto the terrain of language, searching for rays of light, sources of strength, and instances of beauty in the wake of the devastation. Once again, it is the dazzling writing that gives the content its force in a book that could be read as the ‘making of’ his remarkable Je suis en vie et tu ne m’entends pas. But also as the unmaking of an entire life.