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Brodeck

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"Forced into a brutal concentration camp during a great war, Brodeck returns to his village at the war's end and takes up his old job of writing reports for a governmental bureau. One day a stranger comes to live in the village. His odd manner and habits arouse suspicions: His speech is formal, he takes long, solitary walks, and although he is unfailingly friendly and polite, he reveals nothing about himself. When the stranger produces drawings of the village and its inhabitants that are both unflattering and insightful, the villagers murder him. ...

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Overview

"Forced into a brutal concentration camp during a great war, Brodeck returns to his village at the war's end and takes up his old job of writing reports for a governmental bureau. One day a stranger comes to live in the village. His odd manner and habits arouse suspicions: His speech is formal, he takes long, solitary walks, and although he is unfailingly friendly and polite, he reveals nothing about himself. When the stranger produces drawings of the village and its inhabitants that are both unflattering and insightful, the villagers murder him. The authorities who witnessed the killing tell Brodeck to write a report that is essentially a whitewash of the incident." "As Brodeck writes the official account, he sets down his version of the truth in a separate, parallel narrative. In measured, evocative prose, he weaves into the story of the stranger his own painful history and the dark secrets the villagers have fiercely kept hidden." Set in an unnamed time and place, Brodeck blends the familiar and unfamiliar, myth and history into a work of extraordinary power and resonance. Readers of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, and Kafka will be captivated by Brodeck.

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Editorial Reviews

Caryn James
"I write novels like a filmmaker, but I write films like a novelist," Philippe Claudel said when "I've Loved You So Long," his first work as director, appeared last year. The comment couldn't have meant much to American audiences. To us, that powerful and eloquent movie, with Kristin Scott Thomas as a doctor just released from prison, seemed to come out of nowhere. Although Claudel had long been respected as a novelist in France, only two of his previous books, By a Slow River and Grey Souls, had been translated into English. Now his latest novel, Brodeck, arrives like a fresh, why-haven't-we-known-him discovery, revealing him to be as dazzling on the page as he is on the screen.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Coming across as the love child of Bela Tarr's film Werckmeister Harmóniák and Gabriel García Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," this disconcerting and darkly atmospheric novel, set in an unnamed European town secluded high in the mountains, deals with the effects of collective guilt by examining the dark secrets of its residents as they recall the hardships of war and occupation. Following the end of an unspecified war that sounds very much like WWII, protagonist Brodeck, who survived the camps by literally becoming a guard's pet (Brodeck the Dog), is reunited with his wife and daughter. After the murder of a mystical drifter, Brodeck is made to write a narrative of the events for the authorities absolving the village's inhabitants of any blame. Though there are no innocents, by the end some characters make tentative footsteps toward reclaiming their humanity. Claudel's style is very visual and evocative (he also wrote and directed the film I've Loved You So Long), and this novel, like the brothers Grimm fables, is full of terror, horror, and beauty and wonder. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
The pettiness and sometimes horror of small-town life are chillingly evoked in this highly imaginative tale, which reads like a cross between a Holocaust memoir (which it is not) and a fable. Brodeck inhabits a remote, imaginary village in central Europe after an unnamed war. One day a stranger, the Anderer, arrives and attracts much attention and, eventually, suspicion. We learn early on that fearful townsmen have murdered him, and Brodeck is ordered by the mayor to write a "report" that exonerates the villagers for their misdeed, in which Brodeck had no part. Brodeck's ruminations, in part on his earlier incarceration in a death camp, are the thread that ties the tale together. After struggling with the report, he ultimately submits a parallel account of his version of the truth. VERDICT The multi-award-winning Claudel (By a Slow River; writer and director, I've Loved You So Long) offers up an engrossing tale of collective guilt and redemption, smoothly translated by Cullen, that should appeal to those concerned with issues of good and evil.—Edward Cone, New York
Kirkus Reviews
Man's distrust of strangers, and the primal violence it may engender, is the theme of this fable from French novelist Claudel (By a Slow River, 2006, etc.), which won the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens in 2007. Much of the action occurs in an isolated mountain village in the European heartland. The time is a convincing fusion of modern and medieval; while there are parallels to Nazi Germany, the peasant villagers belong in a Breughel painting. The eponymous narrator was not born in the village (a key point), but was brought there as a four-year-old war orphan by kindly old Fedorine. Brodeck thrives after that and goes to university in the distant capital, where he meets his true love, Amelia. When the city is torn by anti-foreigner riots, they flee to the village, which Brodeck believes is a safe haven. That's an illusion. The army occupies the village; Brodeck's non-native origins are revealed; and he is sent to a death camp with other "foreigners." Against the odds, however, he survives and returns home. One day, a strangely dressed fellow arrives with horse and donkey. He is benevolence itself, but the ultimate outsider; Brodeck calls him De Anderer (The Other). The villagers' welcome turns to suspicion when De Anderer refuses to reveal his past; tension mounts, and he is murdered at the inn. Some 40 men participate, but not Brodeck. Claudel constantly shuffles the chronological order and passes up opportunities for suspense as he presses his inquiry into the nature of evil. His insights are not especially original: We are all implicated in wrongdoing, even the gentle Brodeck; remembering atrocities threatens the powers-that-be. Claudel wisely withholds the exact circumstances of DeAnderer's murder. Less is more, just as the quiet moments affirming the purity of Brodeck's love for Amelia, their child and Fedorine are more resonant than the luridly detailed horrors of the death camp. Consistently involving but ultimately unsatisfying.
From the Publisher
"Arrives like a fresh, why-haven't-we-known-him discovery, revealing Philippe Claudel to be as dazzling on the page as he is on the screen."—The New York Times
 
“Extraordinary. . . . [A] modern masterpiece.”—The Independent, London 
 
"A haunting, intensely claustrophobic allegory about intolerance, trauma and guilt."—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“A layered recollection of wartime crimes, atrocities, cowardice, and betrayal.”—The Boston Globe

“Claudel’s insightful prose, translated gracefully by John Cullen, renders the tale both literary and deeply philosophical.”—Washington City Paper
 
"This is a remarkable novel, all the more so because this account of man's inhumanity to man, of coarse and brutal stupidity, of fear and surrender to evil, is nevertheless not without hope. Brodeck survives because, despite all he has experienced, he remains capable of love. It is also beautifully written."—The Scotsman
 
“This novel, like the brothers Grimm fables, is full of terror, horror, and beauty and wonder.”—Publishers Weekly
 
"Philippe Claudel is at the peak of his art as a storyteller and portrait-painter."
—Elle (France)
 
"It is a relentless, uncomfortable book that achieves a beauty of its own through Claudel's deft writing and passionate commitment to truth.”—The Times, London 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385527248
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/23/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Philippe Claudel is the author of many novels, among them By a Slow River, which was awarded the Prix Renaudot and the Elle Readers' Literary prize, Brodeck, which won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, and La Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh. Each of these novels have been translated into more than thirty languages. Claudel also wrote and directed the film I've Loved You So Long starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein, which opened in movie theaters in the United States in the fall of 2008 and in thirty other countries around the world.

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Read an Excerpt

Brodeck

A novel
By

Nan A. Talese

ISBN: 9780385527248

I

I'm Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.
I insist on that. I want everyone to know.
I had no part in it, and once I learned what had happened, I would have preferred never to mention it again, I would have liked to bind my memory fast and keep it that way, as subdued and still as a weasel in an iron trap.
But the others forced me. "You know how to write," they said. "You've been to the University." I replied that my studies hadn't amounted to much--I hadn't even finished my courses and didn't remember much about them. They didn't want to hear it. "You know how to write, you know about words and how to use them, you know how they can say things. That's what we need. We can't do it ourselves. We'd get into a muddle, but you, you'll say it right, and people will believe you. Besides, you've got the typewriter."
It's very old, the typewriter. Several of its keys are broken, and I have nothing to repair it with. It's capricious. It's worn out. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, it jams, as though suddenly balking. But I said nothing about any of that, because I had no desire to end up like the Anderer.
Don't ask me his name--no one ever knew it. Very quickly, people coined some expressions in dialect and started applying them to him: Vollauga, literally "Full Eyes" (because his bulged a bit); De Murmelner, "the Whisperer" (because he spoke very little, and always in a small voicethat sounded like a breath); Mondlich, "Moony" (because he seemed to be among us but not of us); Gekamdorhin, "Came from over There."
To me, however, he was always De Anderer, "the Other." Maybe I thought of him that way because not only had he arrived out of nowhere but he was also different, and being different was a condition I was quite familiar with; sometimes, I must admit, I had the feeling that--in a way--he was me.
As for his real name, none of us ever asked him what it was, except the mayor, perhaps, and then only once, and in any case I don't believe he received an answer. Now we'll never know. It's too late, and no doubt better that way. The truth can gash you so deeply that you can't live with the wounds any longer, and for most of us, what we want to do is live. As painlessly as possible. It's only human. I'm certain you'd be like us if you'd known the war and what it did here, and above all what followed the war, what those weeks and months were like, particularly the last of them, the period when that fellow arrived in our village and settled here, just like that, from one day to the next. Why our village? There are dozens and dozens of villages in the foothills of the mountains, lying amid forests like eggs in nests, and many of those villages are a lot like this one. Why did he choose precisely our village, so far from everything, so utterly remote?
When they informed me that they wanted me to write the Report, we were all at Schloss's inn. It was about three months ago, right after... right after... I don't know what to call it. The event? The drama? The incident? Or maybe the Ereignies. Ereignies is a curious word, full of mists and ghosts; it means, more or less, "the thing that happened." Maybe the best way to say that is with a word taken from the local dialect, which is a language without being one, and which is perfectly wedded to the skin, the breath, and the souls of those who live here. Ereignies, a word to describe the indescribable. Yes, I shall call it the Ereigni‘s.
So the Ereignies had just taken place. With the exception of two or three ancient villagers who had stayed home, close to their stoves, as well as Father Peiper, who was no doubt sleeping off his liquor somewhere in his little church, all the men were at the inn, which is like a great cave, rather dark, and suffused with tobacco fumes and smoke from the hearth; and the men, all of them, were dazed and stunned by what had just happened, yet at the same time--how shall I say it? --relieved, because clearly, one way or the other, it had been necessary to resolve the situation. You see, they could bear it no longer.
Each was folded into his own silence, so to speak, even though there were nearly forty of them, pressed together like withies in a bundle, choking, inhaling the others' odors: their breath, their feet, the acrid reek of their sweat and their damp clothes, old wool and broadcloth impregnated with dust, with the forest, with manure, with straw, with wine and beer, especially wine. Not that everybody was sloshed; no, it would be too easy to use drunkenness as an excuse. Saying that would just be a way of diluting the horror. Too simple. Much too simple. I'm going to try not to simplify what's very difficult and complex. I'm going to try. I don't promise that I'll succeed.
Please understand me. I repeat: I could have remained silent, but they asked me to tell the story, and when they made the request, most of them had their fists clenched or their hands in their pockets, where I imagined them grasping the handles of their knives, the very knives which had just...
I mustn't go too fast, but it's hard not to because now I keep sensing things behind my back--movements, and noises, and staring eyes. For some days, I've been wondering if I'm not changing, bit by bit, into quarry, into a tracked animal with the whole hunt, led by a pack of snuffling dogs, at its heels. I feel watched, tailed, surveilled, as if from now on there will always be someone just over my shoulder, alert to my smallest gestures and reading my thoughts.
I will come back to what was done with the knives. I will perforce come back to that. But what I wanted to say was that to refuse a request made under such conditions, in that special mood when everyone's head is still full of savagery and bloody images, is impossible and even quite dangerous. And so, however reluctantly, I agreed. I simply found myself in the inn at the wrong time, that is, some few minutes after the Ereignies, in one of those moments of bewilderment characterized by vacillation and indecision, when people will seize upon the first person who comes through the door, either to make a savior of him or to cut him to pieces.
Schloss's inn is the biggest of the six taverns in our village, which also boasts a post office, a notions shop, a hardware store, a butcher shop, a grocery store, a tripe-and-offal shop, a school, and a branch of a legal office based in S. Over this last place, which is as filthy as a stable, preside the senile lorgnettes of Siegfried Knopf, who's called an attorney even though he's only a clerk. In addition, there's Jenkins's little office; he served as our policeman, but he died in the war. I remember when Jenkins left. He was the first to go. Ordinarily he never smiled, but that day he shook everyone's hand, laughing as though he were on his way to his own wedding. Nobody recognized him. When he turned the corner at Moberschein's sawmill, he waved broadly and threw his helmet into the air in a joyful farewell. He was never seen again. He has never been replaced. The shutters in his office are closed, its threshold now covered by a small growth of moss. The door is locked. I don't know who has the key, and I've never tried to find out. I've learned not to ask too many questions. I've also learned to take on the color of the walls and the color of the dust in the street. It's not very difficult. I look like nothing at all.
Widow Bernhart pulls down the metal shutter of her grocery store at sunset; after that, the only place where you can buy a few provisions is Schloss's inn. It's also the most popular of the taverns. It has two public rooms. The one at the front is the larger of the two; its walls are blackened wood, its floor is covered with sawdust, and you practically fall into it when you enter because you have to go down two steep steps carved into the very sandstone and hollowed out in the middle by the soles of the thousands of drinkers who have trod there. And then there's the smaller room in the back, which I've never seen. It's separated from the first room by an elegant larch-wood door with an engraved date: 1812. The little room is reserved for a small group of men who meet there once a week, every Tuesday evening; they drink and smoke either tobacco from their fields in porcelain pipes with carved stems or bad cigars from who knows where. They've even given themselves a name: De Erweckens'Bruderschaf, which means something like "the Brotherhood of the Awakening." A peculiar name for a peculiar association. No one knows exactly when it was created or what its purpose is or how you get into it or who its members are--the big farmers, no doubt, maybe Lawyer Knopf, Schloss himself, and definitely the mayor, Hans Orschwir, who owns the most property in these parts. Likewise unknown is what they get up to or what they say to one ?another when they meet. Some say that room is where essential decisions are taken, strange pacts sealed, and promises made. Others suspect that the brothers dedicate themselves to nothing more complex than the consumption of brandy and the playing of checkers and cards, accompanied by much smoking and jocularity. A few people claim to have heard music coming from under the door. Maybe Diodemus the teacher knew the truth; he rummaged everywhere, in people's papers and in their heads, and he had a great thirst to know things inside and out. But the poor man, alas, is no longer here to speak of what he knew.
I almost never go to Schloss's inn because, I must confess, Dieter Schloss makes me uneasy, with his darting mole's eyes, his bald pink cranium, his eternally sweaty forehead, his brown teeth that smell like dirty bandages. And then there's another reason, namely that ever since I came back from the war, I don't seek out human company. I've grown accustomed to my solitude.
The evening when the Ereignies took place, old Fedorine had sent me to the inn to get a bit of butter because we'd run out and she wanted to make some little shortbreads. Ordinarily, she's the one who fetches provisions, but on that baleful evening my Poupchette was lying in bed with a bad fever, and Fedorine was at her side, telling her the story of "Bilissi and the Poor Tailor," while Amelia, my wife, hovered nearby, ever so softly humming the melody of her song.
I've thought a great deal about that butter since then, about the few ounces of butter we didn't have in the pantry. You can never be too aware of how much the course of your life may depend on insignificant things--a little butter, a path you leave to take another path, a shadow you follow or flee, a blackbird you choose to kill with a bit of lead or decide to spare.
Poupchette's beautiful eyes shone too brightly as she listened to the old woman's voice, the same voice I'd listened to in days gone by, coming from the same mouth--a younger version of the same mouth, but already missing a few teeth. Poupchette looked at me with her eyes like little black marbles, burning with fever. Her cheeks were the color of cranberries. She smiled, stretched out her hands to me, and clapped them together, quacking like a duckling. "Daddy, come back Daddy, come back!"
I left the house with the music of my child's voice in my ears, mingled with Fedorine's murmuring: "Bilissi saw three knights, their armor bleached by time, standing before the doorstep of his thatched cottage. Each of them carried a red spear and a silver shield. Neither their faces nor even their eyes could be seen. Things are often thus, when it's far too late."


II


Night had dropped its cape over the village as a carter flings his cloak over the remains of his campfire. The houses, their roofs covered with long pinewood tiles, exhaled puffs of slow blue smoke and made me think of the rough backs of fossilized animals. The cold was beginning to settle in, a meager cold as yet, but we'd lost the habit of it because the last days of September had been as hot as so many baking ovens. I remember looking at the sky and seeing all those stars, crowded against one another like scared fledglings looking for company, and thinking that soon we would plunge, all of a sudden, into winter. Where we live, winter seems as long as many centuries skewered on a giant sword, and while the cold weather lasts, the immensity of the valley around us, smothered in forests, evokes an odd kind of prison gate.
When I entered the inn, almost all the men of the village were there. Their eyes were so somber and their immobility so stony that I immediately guessed what had happened. Orschwir closed the door behind me and stepped to my side, trembling a little. He fixed his big blue eyes on mine, as if he were seeing me for the first time.
My stomach started churning. I thought it was going to eat my heart. Then I asked, in a very weak voice--staring at the ceiling, wanting to pierce it with my gaze, trying to imagine the Anderer's room, trying to imagine him, the Anderer, with his sideburns, his thin mustache, his sparse curly hair rising in tufts from his temples, and his big round head, the head of an overgrown, good-natured boy--I said, "Tell me you haven't... you didn't...?" It was barely a question. It was more like a groan that escaped from me without asking permission.

Continues...

Excerpted from Brodeck by Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The novel is set in an unidentified place and time. Why do you think the author chose to make the setting anonymous? Do you think he had a specific historical event in mind? Was this device effective or not? Can you think of another novel in which this is done?

2. The first lines of the novel are, “I'm Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it. I insist on that. I want everyone to know.” How do you interpret Brodeck's tone? Why is he so adamant about this point? Is it true that he's innocent?

3. Brodeck takes it upon himself to assign names to the significant events in his life. Kazerskwir, or “the crater,” refers to his two years in the death camp and the Ereigniës, or “the thing that happened,” refers to the murder at Schloss's Inn. In your opinion, why does Brodeck name these events? Are these names fitting?

4. Brodeck's experience in the prison camp is revealed at intervals throughout the novel, rather than all at once. Why do you think the author chose to develop the story this way?

5. Father Peiper tells Brodeck, “Fear is what governs the world.” How is this evidenced in the novel? Do you think this is true?

6. The novel frequently touches on the contrast between remembering vs. burying the past. Which characters or scenes exemplify this theme? Do you believe that a society can learn from past mistakes? What does the novel seem to say about the merit of a historical record?

7. Were you surprised by Diodemus's letter? How did you feel about Brodeck's admission that he doesn't feel hatred toward him? Do you think Diodemus' action is forgivable? Why do you think Brodeck doesn't turn over the letter to see the names of the other villagers who sent him away?

8. Do you agree with the Anderer when he tells Brodeck, “talking is the best medicine”? Does talking about one's problems have any negative effects?

9. Why do you think the villagers murdered the Anderer? Why do you think they chose Brodeck to write the report?

10. In Brodeck's last flashback he tells what happened on the train ride to the prison camp. Why does he save this scene for the end of the story? Did this event change the way you felt about him? Can you think of another time in the book when Brodeck acted cruelly?

11. Why does Brodeck decide to leave the village? Is his departure cowardly, brave, or neither?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    A MUST READ! A book for the ages. Extemely powerful in its pla



    A MUST READ!
    A book for the ages. Extemely powerful in its plain stroytelling and suspense. A post-war (could be any war but most aptly WW2) era, a small village village with suspicion towards outsiders and an inquisitive visitor. A must read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    A few weeks ago I was sitting in a lobby reading a magazine inte

    A few weeks ago I was sitting in a lobby reading a magazine interview
    with Ben Kingsley (Ghandi). He was asked what his favorite books;
    Brodeck was one of them. I have never read a book quite like this--the
    author's descriptions are so vivid, you feel as though you're
    "watching" it, rather than "reading" it. Having
    been raised in a small town in Iowa, I found the plot to be
    fascinating--how alike we are, yet how much more aware we are of our
    differences.

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    Posted March 25, 2011

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    Posted February 17, 2010

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    Posted September 1, 2010

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    Posted August 8, 2010

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    Posted April 21, 2010

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