Synopses & Reviews
A powerful and moving novel about the ravages war and the need to tell the truth, even in the face of adversity.
After the close of a great war, a mysterious stranger arrives in a small European village. He is an artist and he begins sketching the villagers, showing the painful reality of the crimes and betrayals the war left in its wake. Consumed by distrust, the villagers conspire and murder him. The authorities commission Brodeck, a timid, low-level bureaucrat, to write a report that essentially whitewashes the incident. Brodeck agrees to write the official account, but he simultaneously sets down his version of the incident in a parallel narrative, which interweaves his own horrific experiences as a prisoner of war, the truth about the stranger’s disappearance, and the dark secrets the villagers have fought fiercely to keep hidden.
Translation originally published in New York Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009.
About the Author
PHILIPPE CLAUDEL is the author of many novels, among them By a Slow River, which has been translated into thirty languages and was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 2003 and the Elle Readers' Literary prize in 2004. His novel La Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh was published in 2005, and Brodeck won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2007. 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.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Brodeck, Philippe Claudel's powerful and moving new novel.
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?
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