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Tournier, Michel

life stories tiffauges camp

(French, 1924– )

Tournier has won international acclaim, and literary prizes within France for his novels and stories. In his fictional world myths, legends, religious and philosophical beliefs, and bizarre coincidences of plot are employed to reveal unexpected insights into events in the real world. Begin with The Erl King (1970) which traces the life of Abel Tiffauges, a huge French garage mechanic, from his childhood memories—of which the most potent is being carried on the shoulders of his friend and protector Nestor—to his 1940–4 experience as a prisoner of war, ending up working at a training camp for young boys at Kaltenborn. Tiffauges interprets his life in terms of signs and symbols, and is happy in Germany, ‘the country of pure essences, where everything that passes is symbol, everything that happens is parable’. He ranges the countryside securing boys for the camp but it is only as Germany crumbles, the Red Army advances, and concentration camps are evacuated, that he encounters a half-dead Jewish boy, who shows him the real meaning of the symbols he has interpreted (wrongly, oppositely) in his own life. Tiffauges is a compelling creation, and there are moments of sudden illumination, and a yoking of ideas which is more often associated with reading poetry than prose. Friday (1967) tells the Robinson Crusoe story from Man Friday's point of view. The Fetishist and Other Stories (1978) contains stories of transformation, delusion, and obsession, again often based on old tales, fairy-tales, and the Bible.

Gunter Grass, Primo Levi, Albert Camus  JR

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