Where life began
to have meaning for me was during the summer of 1947. My father
rented a small house at the seashore at a place called Cabourg,
and we stayed there all summer with our Aunt Marthe, and our
father made periodic showings for the odd weekend.
During the cold
winter before this raw summer, I had developped an avid reading
habit. To be frank, real life held very little attraction for
me during this entire period: I was still missing my mother
and my grandmother too much. I took no comfort from Aunt Marthe:
I was far too aware of the fact that from May to December of
1944, I had been abandoned to strangers who ill-treated me terribly,
and to the thought which carried the weight of reality as I
perceived it, that I was the only person who had survived the
So that the discoverey, or revelation, in December, that both
Aunt Marthe and Alain had also survived, and that she had taken
Alain with her, left me with an abysmally deep mystery, why
had no one ever come to check out how I was doing? Why hadn't
anyone thought it important to come give me one hug and let
me know I was not alone in the world, someone, somewhere loved
me and we would one day be reunited?
I thought it was all my
fault and that I was not loveable. It didn't exactly make me
feel like reaching out.
Anyway, discovering the
world of literature was the perfect solace: I loved reading,
and when I stepped into a book the world became perfect, nothing
was impossible, all pain became tolerable, nay, nonexistent,
and I lacked for nothing.
Among my father's famous
friends, in Deauville, was Leo Lax, who was known in his day
for "Special Effects". As I remember it, he had a daughter about
my age, maybe just a year or two older, I think I remember her
name was Valerie. We didn't meet enough to become real friends,
we were just both of us tagalongs with the grownups who met
for their own pleasure, but she had a lot of books that I had
not read, and she lent them to me, and I was happy and grateful.
I read a lot of books that
summer published by the Bibliothèque Rose (the "Pink Library"
for young girls, provided by Aunt Marthe) and the Bibliothèque
Verte (the "Green Library" for young boys and girls somewhat
older, provided by Valerie Lax). I remember my fascination for
Edmond Rostand's Le Roi de la Montagne (The King of
the Mountain), and all the Comtesse de Segur stories, I could
not get enough of them.
In those early post-war
days, I suppose paper was still fairly rare everywhere in Europe,
so that books, newspapers and magazines were always in relatively
short supply. But still during that time of hardship one weekly
magazine was launched for girls, and it was called La Semaine
de Suzette, Suzette's Weekly. It came out on Wednesdays
and the rythm of my life swung on a joyous pendulum, from Wednesday
I don't believe anything in my life has ever matched the sense
of happy expectancy I associate with obtaining the new issue
of La Semaine de Suzette each week. Even today, the
mere mention of the name brings a huge grin to my face and a
warm feeling of pleasure into my heart.
Things were not very sophisticated in those early days of recovery,
and La Semaine de Suzette was not a glossy-covered,
bound affair, filled with advertisements. In fact, I don't remember
any advertisements at all.
La Semaine de Suzette was printed on several large
sheets of regular newsprint, no photos, just line drawings,
black and white only; these large sheets were folded into four
and you started out by cutting the pages yourself, if you wanted
to handle your copy by turning the pages over.
Naturally, Aunt Marthe would not let you use the sharp kitchen
knife, she only allowed you access to a very unsharp, almost
butterknife blunt knife, after which she berated you for a scruffy
cut that was less than perfect. The knife? You say... A bad
workman always blames his tools. You learnt to make a sharp
crease with the back of your thumbnail, and to work out how
to cut mutiple folds one at a time, carefully, patiently, so
that you never tore an ugly gash across a part of the text.
This difficulty of access to the contents built a head of steam
on the excitement of opening a new issue.
When you had properly cut your magazine, the next decision to
be made was: which sequel to read first. La Semaine de Suzette
operated on the simple formula of several parallel cliffhangers!
Then also, every week there would be a new, stand alone story
of one sort or another.
In that childhood of mine, La Semaine de Suzette always
satisfied, never disappointed. I truly believe it is the reason
I grew up halfway normal. I also remember it had a serial about
children a little older than myself, teenagers old enough to
have experienced the German occupation with a great deal more
awareness than mine, and this serial story fascinated me even
more than the ones which told more familiar tales appropriate
to my age group, as they enabled me to process and reevaluate
some of my own experiences, which I would otherwise not have
been able to assimilate, since there was no one around me at
the time with whom I could have discussed what were for me events
of tremendous significance, carrying unimaginable pain and regrets.
La Semaine de Suzette was my secret garden and my fortress.
As they remember it, it rained all summer in Normandy for everyone
except me. Despite the memory of the cold bathings on that mined,
windswept beach, it never rained on me: I had the best time
of my life and I mainly remember that weather and that miserably
cold climate because everyone else has told me so often what
it was like that I have finally adopted the opinion of the majority.
In my inner heart, it glows forever with the tremendous sunshine
of La Semaine de Suzette.