the exodus, a journey without memory


by Stéphane Émond

The Round Table, 128 pages, €16

There are family stories that are too painful to pass on. And yet: to tell the past is to save the memory, to free it from the weight of pain. In a few days, from June 11 to 20, 1940, life changed for the family of the author, Stéphane Émond. Launched on the paths of exodus, here are the elders, with wives and children, leaving their native land, in Argonne.

We must flee the invader: “They walk until nightfall, joining thousands of floating shadows, exhausted silhouettes, like an army of routed civilians. » By fleeing danger, they take other risks. And no one could have foreseen this air attack which struck Marie-Thérèse, in the cart, mother of three children. Including the father of the author, this peasant carpenter father, walled in silence, who did not know how to tell the younger generations where they came from.

It was time for Stéphane Émond to go back to the land of childhood and take the reverse route. Cross the Aube, go up to the Argonne, “a land of confluence, of welcome I am sure, and one of the most worn lands in France”. Earth laminated, among other things, by the Great War, but also that of 1870. The author of this tight, dense story is above all a bookseller. This story makes him a writer now, with a refined, classic and captivating style.

Wound without scar

Humble and patient, he investigates: “I keep questioning my legitimacy to evoke this period, the few days of June 1940, and beyond. (…) I move to the scene of the drama, trying to reconstruct its itinerary, the circumstances, the exactness. » And the last witnesses despaired of this visit. Those who had taken care of the body abandoned on the way. They who could attest to the exhaustion of the people of the exodus. Collect the last words, find the old photos: “They brought me material proof that the past has something carnal, lively, intelligent, and that it is never completely buried. »

A meticulous work, a poignant restitution. We “see” the countryside, the devastated houses, the congested roads, the heavy bodies, the drawn faces. And the drama. It takes few words to tell the grapeshot that comes to mow down a mother. Life goes on, with this gap, a wound without a scar. The father dies without filling the void: “It will also have been necessary for Etienne to die, he the last survivor of their exodus, for me to allow myself to fill in the hole in their story and put an end to this story which is none other than the eternal story of the world and of its crashes. »

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