“Softness”, by Etienne de Montety: portrait of a great lady


by Etienne de Montety

Stock, 270 pages, €20.50

Why does a hedonistic and fairly disillusioned journalist come to fix his attention on a woman who has little reason to arouse his interest or attraction? May de Caux is noticeably older than him. She chairs the International Federation of the Rose, a subject that never preoccupied the narrator of the book until the editor-in-chief of the lifestyle magazine to which he collaborates sends her to cover the triennial. World Rose Convention in Constantia, Australia.

Our man begins his report a little freewheeling, professional experience making up for his lack of enthusiasm for the subject. However, he is struck by the elegance of the Frenchwoman who is presiding over the event. To his own surprise, he feels “the grace of a septuagenarian woman”from which emanates “a force, a density” very particular. An idea crosses him. “The beauty of this woman comes from the fact that she seems inconsolable. »

He will soon learn that May de Caux is a former deportee. In July 1944, aged 19, she was arrested for acts of resistance and interned until April 1945 in Ravensbrück, in northern Germany. A young girl from the aristocracy plunged into the dereliction of a concentration camp: the journalist feels that there is a formidable subject there. To which the person concerned refuses to lend herself. Taming will take time. A book will be born with the complicity, soon to be in love, with a German colleague met in Constantia.

Étienne de Montety thus offers us an impressive story of deportation. It powerfully renders the hardness of the concentration camp but also the solidarity and fraternity between inmates from very different backgrounds. Without the attention of a communist friend, the very young girl who only knew a castle life would probably not have survived. The book also tells how difficult the return was. It would even have been impossible without the sweetness of Paul, May’s husband. Candy – “you who wonder what you are doing on earth” (Malraux) – which appears in several ways in this novel and gives it its title.

In the end, there is a magnificent tribute paid to the action of women in the Resistance, long considered only as “collateral victims of the commitment of their fathers, husbands, brothers”. And then a portrait of a woman you won’t forget, inspired by a real person, Lily de Gerlache. A woman who “forces everyone to be a little above themselves”including a journalist who thought he had come back from everything.

Source : BBN NEWS

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