Our Europe: Banquet of Nations

Our Europe: Banquet of Nations

by Laurent Gaudé, Alison Anderson

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A history of Europe like you’ve never read before.

“For some time now, Europe seems to have forgotten it is the daughter of epics and utopia. It has been drained by its inability to remind its citizens of this. Too distant, disembodied, the concept often arouses nothing more than disillusioned boredom. And yet, the history of Europe is one of constant upheaval. So much fire and death; inventions and art, too. Literature, perhaps, can remind us of this: that the European history is one of muscle, vigour, passion, anger and joy. Words of literature, perhaps, can restore conviction and momentum, which make everything possible, to the heart of the story.”

From the industrial revolution through two world wars and to the birth of the European Union, Our Europe sets in free verse the story of 150 years of growth, confrontation, hope, defeat and passion. Our Europe is a heartfelt appeal to bring into being a Europe that celebrates difference, solidarity, and freedom.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609455804
Publisher: Europa Editions, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/10/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Laurent Gaudé is a French novelist and playwright. After being nominated for the 2002 Prix Concourt with The Death of King Tsongor, he won the award in 2004 for his novel The House of Scorta. Europa Editions published his novel Hear Our Defeats in February 2019.

Alison Anderson’s translations for Europa Editions include novels by Sélim Nassib, Amélie Nothomb, and Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. She is the translator of The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa, 2008) and The Life of Elves (Europa, 2016) by Muriel Barbery.

Read an Excerpt


/* NOVEL DTD, Stylesheet companion ***********************/
/* Gabriele Alese & Diego Vitali for Edizioni E/O SRL & Europa Editions */
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Hear Our Defeats


For some time now, Europe seems to have forgotten that it is the daughter of epics and utopia. It has been drained by its inability to remind its citizens of this. Too distant, disembodied, the concept often arouses nothing more than disillusioned boredom. And yet, the history of Europe is one of constant upheaval. So much fire and death; inventions and art, too. Literature, perhaps, can remind us of this: that the European story is one of muscles, vigor, passion, anger, and joy. Words of literature, perhaps, can restore conviction and momentum, which make everything possible, to the heart of the story.

Who are we? Which past have we inherited? What trials have we endured? What crimes have we committed, what utopias believed in? What do we want? Our continent has invented nightmares, made its own populations weep, but it was also the birthplace of an enlightenment that shone on the entire world. It is this contradiction that makes us who we are. We are nations of suffering, who have been intermingled for so long—in rivalry, trade, death, and desire, peoples so different that our decision to unite in a common assembly is an event unprecedented in history. In what other era, what other place, have we witnessed any such political adventure: twenty-eight nations deciding to host a great banquet of nations?

So many of those who came before us would be stunned to see the territory we have built. I am referring to the millions of men and women, our parents, grandparents, ancestors, who bore in their flesh the painful experience of borders. There are many who fled, leaving everything behind in the middle of the night, individuals thrown by History from one country into another. There are many of these border individuals, who take their country with them wherever they go. They have come to constitute a vast nation, speaking several languages and sharing memories of faraway traditions, and they know what upheaval means. Perhaps they constitute the true European model: a tormented people looking for a response to the harassment of History, and who have found it in the humanism they use as a compass in their wanderings.

Why did our countries decide to create this community of Entente? For the sake of peace. And besides peace? For prosperity. And besides prosperity? Was it to regain possession of those old demons of nations: competition, and the desire for domination? Is there no way to build Europe other than as a translatio imperii? After a period of waning influence, have the countries of Europe found—through the construction of Europe—a political structure which will grant them greater influence, in order to compete with the greatest, and “regain their rank?” We deserve the loftiest dreams, the maddest passions. We deserve to name the impossible and to work toward making it happen.

The past has shown us that only very rarely have we been able to come up with a plan other than domination. And yet, European integration will only have meaning if it is also an opportunity to come up with a new aim for civilization. Not to reign anymore—but to create, fully autonomously, the contours of an enlightened territory. And to be—why not?—a laboratory for dialogue between nations. For we must not delude ourselves: in the future, other regions of the planet will decide to unite. In the future, the contour of nations will be ever hazier. The planetary stakes of trade, the flow of information, the environment, energy, and our relationship with the animal world are all driving us toward this international dialogue. If we only evaluate our relation to raw materials on a nation-bynation basis, this means evaluating them in conditions that lead to war. We know this, we have tested it so many times. Europe—with its slowness, debates, the constant necessity of coming to an agreement, its art of compromise to avoid paralysis, is the laboratory for what, increasingly often, humankind will have to do when they seek to reflect on the scale of the Earth and its ecosystem. In the future, we will have to engage in constant dialogue with all five continents. In the future, we will have to learn to foster a sense of belonging more all-encompassing than the one that ties us to our countries.

Everything dies. Perhaps someday we will say that we were born in a world that is now buried. The civilizations of the Entente are fragile. They always have been. For a long time my generation took this Europe for granted, that it would remain the fixed framework of our lives, and now we are astonished to discover that our generation may be the one that will bury that Europe or, at least, the one that will see the first signs of its demise. Those who, like me, believe in this venture, will be to blame if we give way to the countervailing discourse. The point is not to deny the frustration, anger, or dissatisfaction. I too have felt these emotions—and often. But I want to distinguish between the anger that can be transformed into political struggle and the negation on principle of the great groundswell which, for over fifty years, has been building a country that is greater than our twenty-eight nations.

Our Europe was born of this desire: to tell our shared epic tale, and to do so with passion. As I am putting the finishing touches on this text, I realize it is in fact unfinished. Not that I have left the project I set myself incomplete, but because it suffers from the fact it is one voice when I would have liked for it to be many. All through its composition my constant concern has been to leave the story open as much as possible to the realities of neighboring European countries, and yet, alas . . . all through my work I have been forced to acknowledge how little I know about the history and geography of the twenty-seven other countries, and that, although it is not what I want, this story will remain one written by a Frenchman. I came to understand how much ground would have to be covered for us to have a common cultural core. In short, if Our Europe is an unfinished poem, it is because it is waiting for other voices— from Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the others . . . so that one day, perhaps, a great text will be born, nourished by several flames that will share their light, their impressions, and their riches.

Until that day comes, I will continue to wander through my Europe. As I do so I will be thinking about this new sense of belonging that still has to take root and grow so that one day, when someone asks, “Who are you?” it will seem natural to reply using this one simple word that explains everything—both the turmoil of the past and the hope for the future: “I am European.”

To the men and women who, immersed in
the upheavals of History,
said the word “Europe,” with passion.


Are we old? Are we young?

How old are we, exactly? Sometimes we’re old people, Sometimes slender youth,

We are the heirs to amassing years.

A long fossilization of languages, of cultures, Successive deposits of so many past lives—mingled,

enriched, superimposed, Layers of war,

Of trade,

Of exchange, Of conquest.

We are the sons and daughters of the sedimentation of centuries.

How old are we, exactly? The borders have shifted, Countries have expanded, Empires, fallen.

A long river of History runs through us and gives us the density of time.

Perhaps this is what we are: old children,

Alliance of fatigue and enthusiasm.

Who can tell the exact date of our birth?

We have to dig into the 19th century. The guts of modernity,

Bolts, hammers and fever,

We are made of the same flesh, the same nervousness. Century of conquests and sweat,

Of progress and exploitation.

We have to dig into the 19th century, because it is like us:

It invented too fast, Thought too deeply.

We have to plunge into its dirty belly, Smell its factory armpits,

Listen to its voice, hoarse from shouting so long on the barricades.

The 19th century, because it is the century of dizziness and hunger,

Tilting between two worlds,

Tottering before so much novelty and rumbling. What is our date of birth?

We have to decide, so let me say it: Palermo, January 12, 1848.

Something yearns for birth on that long-ago day, Something growing,

Until it blows the old monarchies to smithereens. Something will come to life

And it will be red and puling.

It will smell of viscera and sweat, but it’s new.

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