Le garçon qui voulait dormir / The man who never stopped sleeping
After WWII, Erwin, a 17 year old survivor of the hardships and atrocities of the Nazi regime finds himself homeless and alone following a wave of Jewish refugees setting off to build a new life and world in Israel.
Most of his plight across Europe is spent sleeping. A deep and soul cleansing sleep, an escape from his memories, from the ghettos and camps and the destruction left behind. The people around him transport him from town to town, lifting him onto trains or trucks or carrying him along the way. He has no memory of these events, nor does the narrator give much detail to the reader about what happens; I think this is the weakest point of the story; I should have liked to have known more about the journey. Instead, we are simply told that it happened.
Eventually, Erwin wakes up and starts to participate in life again, but more often than not he is sleeping or hoping to sleep again soon. His sleep is dream filled now, every night he finds his parents and talks with them; finding them often engaged in common chores that bring a sense of normalcy to his dream state that no longer exists in the real world.
It took me quite a while to get through the book, it’s slow reading not to say the story just plods along (it does at times) but it’s also the kind of book that makes the reader think (and sometimes thinking gets in the way of reading further). I think the best compliment I can give the book (overall I am not in love with it as a novel) is that it did in fact make me THINK, and think about the plight of so many who suffered in the war. My mother was born in 1934 and as a child in France (though not Jewish) faced a number of hardships and saw things that no child should have to see; but mainly (as a child) she was hungry…always so hungry, and cold in the winter. So my thoughts rambled on to her life and I dreamed of her almost every night that I read this book (and Erwin dreamed of his parents).
My gratitude towards my own parents was reaffirmed; as a boy growing up in the 1970’s in the US I never suffered hunger pangs or want of anything; I lived in a nice house, went to school, visited national parks, sailed off to France on vacation (on THE France) and had friends who were also all happy and healthy, living without fear of war or starvation or any real sort of hardship…so, if nothing else the story of the man who never stopped sleeping made me appreciate the life I have lived, the childhood I enjoyed, the parents who raised me and the opportunities I have enjoyed. All things that so many millions of people did not have, especially in Europe, because of the war and its consequences.
This was a thought provoking, intellectual and challenging book to read; but did I like it? Not really, in terms of story telling I think it was lacking in emotion; I never felt anything real for the characters or what they went through, they are not well developed and the dream sequences were too numerous and often repetitive to the point where I would skip ahead to the next chapter (and find yet another dream…). So, in the end we have a world class author, a challenging subject and big part of 20th century history, but, alas, not a great novel.