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Brodeck [Paperback]

Philippe Claudel , John Cullen

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Book Description

July 13 2010
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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (July 13 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307390756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307390752
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 13.4 x 1.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #643,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"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 

About 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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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark July 19 2009
By Biblibio - Published on
In giving Philippe Claudel a second chance (after leaving "By a Slow River" not wholly impressed), I hoped Claudel would learn from the failures of that previous book and find a tighter storyline and a clearer purpose. While Claudel maintained his beautifully written style and often a sense of distance from the story itself, "Brodeck" ends up as the best of both worlds, a beautifully interesting story that does more than just amble along.

Be warned: "Brodeck" is not a fast paced book. It has no intention of racing through pages at a breath-taking speed. Instead, narrator Brodeck calmly tries to arrange his thoughts on paper, essentially leading to three stories. In one, Brodeck tells about life before the unnamed war (easily the second world war), in another, he tells of his war experiences (clearly the camps) and in the third he tells of the "Anderer", the "other", a man who suddenly and strangely appeared in Brodeck's town after the war. These three stories develop side-by-side in a rather non-linear fashion: hints in regards to each are dropped along the way but they're not meant to surprise, necessarily. The story simply grows and becomes clearer as Brodeck tells his tale.

This is not much of a Holocaust tale, even as the remarkable unnamed parallels become clear. The story focuses less on the horror of the war and more on consequences. It shrinks a giant story and presents one man, one town, one situation. The story does not ever feel tired or old; rather, its anonymity gives it new light. While aspects of the setting seem set in stone, each reader leaves the book with their own impressions regarding certain aspects, with their own interpretations and their own crystal clear image of the story.

It helps that "Brodeck" is beautifully written. Claudel sticks to the flowing elegance of "By a Slow River" but gives it a slight nudge, leading to a story that actually moves along. Each chapter adds and leads into the next, even as the stories shift and change. It's difficult to set this book aside for long without wanting to understand more about these perfectly drawn characters. Brodeck may be the main character, but he is far from the only one: Claudel manages to create an entire diverse town, full to the brim with whole characters. Whether it's a strange eccentric man, the town priest, the mayor or a whole range of human characters, each man woman and child feels real and speaks truly. Even as Claudel (through Brodeck) prefers to highlight the bad, sparks of humanity and good still emerge on occasion, despite the dark undertones to the story.

"Brodeck" is an excellent book that will stick with readers for a long time to come. It is a dark story, representing (for the most part) the dim parts of human nature, traveling deep into gray/black murky waters. It is not meant to be a quick cheerful tale, but "Brodeck" is powerful, fascinating and wonderfully written. It'll be hard to leave "Brodeck" without feeling slightly changed or at least feeling more aware of certain things. Whether the characters draw you in, the plot appeals to you, or Claudel's clear, elegant prose attracts you, "Brodeck" is worth the time.

Highly recommended.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking Aug. 23 2009
By S - Published on
I'm sorry I've finished reading it; I didn't want it to end. But I couldn't stop reading. Brodeck is the story of a man, his village, and a visitor. And the story is three tales in one.

The biggest story is the backdrop of history, of camps in a nation that has undergone cleansing. We can't be certain the character is talking about Nazi Germany, but we can be fairly comfortable with that analogy.

Or...perhaps the biggest story is that of the visitor, the traveler, and an event that occurs in this village, already scarred by fear, suspicion, and a decided lack of kindness.

Or...maybe the biggest story is about the report that our protagonist Brodeck must write, is asked to write, to explain the situation with the visitor. And in collecting interviews, we learn about the villagers, their dark hearts, and their consciences which ought to be guilty. Crowd psychology, what fear will make people do.

I'm taken by the non-linear presentation, yet it flowed like silk. The natural environment, the Valley, the secrets and suspicions. The things I read that I still question - particularly the reality of some things.

I won't forget this book. Nor his name.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Astounding Work: One of the Decade's Best July 14 2010
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on
There are many reasons we read: for enlightenment, escape, education, and in some rare instances, to confront ourselves with truths and insights we never would have encountered otherwise.

Brodeck is one of those rare instances. It is, quite simply, one of the best contemporary books I have ever read. And I have read a lot.

The book - which reads like an allegory or dark adult fairy tale - transcends those genres by strongly tethering itself to recognizable events and images. Brodeck, by many indications, appears to be Jewish, yet he served as an acolyte to a priest in his youth, implying that he isn't. The locale appears to be in France's Alsace-Lorraine, yet many of the geographical features do not fit. And the Nazis have wrecked havoc in the region, yet they are never mentioned by name. What we DO know is this: Brodeck has been taken prisoner of war and has scratched and scraped his way to survival, serving as "Broderick the Dog" to sadistic camp officials. Against all odds, he has returned to his insular village where he is greeted with less than 100% enthusiasm.

And now, an elusive stranger referred to as the Anderer - the Other - has appeared in the village with his horse and donkey and sketch pads, serving as a mirror to the truth of the village's betrayals...its cowardice, dishonorable conduct, spinelessness and moral stain. Early on, we learn that the village participated in a mass murder of the Anderer and it falls upon Brodeck - a low-level bureaucrat who now makes his living cataloguing the area's flora and fauna - to write a whitewashing report about the event. Brodeck himself is also "the other"; he is an orphan, with only the sketchiest recollections of where he comes from and how he got to where he is. He knows that "each of us was a nothing. A nothing handed over to death. Its slave. Its toy. Waiting and resigned." His survival has not changed that fact: "The others the ones who came out of it alive, like me - all of us still carry a part of it, deep down inside, like a stain. We can never again meet the eyes of other people without wondering whether they harbor the desire to hunt us down, to torture us, to kill us."

His quest to discover what really happened to the Anderer is also a personal quest; to find out his own back story. At the start, the reader knows little: we know he has a mute wife Amelie and a young baby daughter and that he is merely tolerated by the village. As the book progresses, the picture begins to fall more and more into focus.

As he interacts with the various members of the community, he at one point meets with the village priest. In one of the most harrowing passages, the priest says, "Men are strange. They commit the worst crimes without question, but later they can't live anymore with the memory of what they've done. They have to get rid of it. And so they come to me, because they know I'm the only person who can give them relief, and they tell me everything. I'm the sewer, Brodeck. I'm not the priest; I'm the sewer man."

This book achieves something I thought would be impossible in literature: it universalizes the Holocaust. It offers up Brodeck as "everyman" and his tormenters as "everyman" as well. It reveals mankind's ability to perpetrate the worst deeds and to turn its collective eye elsewhere when heinous deeds are being perpetrated. It displays our fervent struggle to forget and to absolve ourselves in the worst of times.

The prose is luminous and masterful. For that, I must partially give credit to the incredible translator, John Cullen. In reading international books, I've learned that a good translator can make or break a work of literature, and Cullen does Philippe Claudel proud. As for Claudel, his insights are astounding and his words are transformational. Some of the scenes are exquisitely painful to read; I gasped and shed tears on some of the more horrific.

Some evocations to works such as Camus' The Stranger and Ibsen's Enemy of the People come to mind but make no mistake: this is a highly original work. In the end, I knew that I had read something fiercely important - a modern masterpiece.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad and Powerful Oct. 15 2009
By Raizel the Raisin - Published on
There's a quote from LIRE on the back of Brodeck that reads, "Don't expect to get out of this powerful, disturbing novel unscathed...long after you close the book, you'll remember its words, which always sound like terribly accurate reflections of our doubts as well as our fears." This is true. This book is so sad and you will be thinking about it for days after you read it. It unfolds like flower petals opening, but it shows evil in its petals instead of beauty. I've never read a book like this.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting masterpiece Feb. 12 2010
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on
It is after the Second World War, but Claudel's descriptions often call to mind a more ancient world of monumental, gnarled villagers; and the way he writes about scenery evokes now some illuminated manuscript, now paintings by Brueghel. The village is not named, but we are obviously in Alsace: the villagers have German names, and they use words in a twisted (invented?) German dialect.

Brodeck is one of them, but, unlike the others, he is far from monumental. He is timid and quivers with anxiety after his appalling experiences in a concentration camp from which he had recently returned. (There are hints, never made explicit, that he was of Jewish origin.) He has an insignificant job reporting to the local administration on the state of the local paths and streams, fauna and flora.

The villagers have murdered a man who had come to the village from Outside and whom from the beginning they had called the `Anderer' [sic - the Other], and later, more ominously, the `Fremder' [Foreigner]. Brodeck had not been present at the murder, but because he is a reporter, the villagers force him to write a report for the mayor of the village to pass on to the authorities. He had not been present because he was himself something of an Outsider, having been brought to the village as an orphan child soon after the First World War, and then having returned to it from the camp when those who had denounced him to the Germans had presumed him dead. (Just how much of an Outsider or `Fremder' he has always been considered emerges later.) It is clear from the start that the task he has been given is dangerous: for before he can carry it out, he has to question himself and others about the circumstances which had led to the murder.

He zigzags back and forth between shards of memory. Many of course concern the enigmatic Anderer who had been seen sketching or writing things into his notebooks, but who hardly ever spoke. The tension that builds up around him grips not only the villagers, but the reader also.
Other memories recall Brodeck's horrifying past experiences: the inhumanity of men in the mass, a murderous city riot, life and death in the camps. We learn how the villagers had behaved under the occupation of the Germans, who are referred to throughout as `Fratergekeime' [brother brood? because they spoke the same language?]: the betrayals of frightened collaborators, willing collaborators, penitent collaborators. None of them can now bear to see the truths about themselves.

Brodeck recalls oppressive heat and freezing cold (the weather often plays the part of a chorus), smells of cooking, of smoke, of farm animals, of ordure, of decaying corpses and of perfumes. There is his love - its pathos becomes clearer as the story progresses - for his wife, his young daughter, and for the wise old woman who has looked after him as nurse and housekeeper ever since she had brought him as an orphan to the village.

There are some near-surrealistic incidents, and passages rich in similes and symbolism. A haunting work of art.

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