Laëtitia ou la fin des hommes
In the first hours of January 19, 2011, nineteen-year-old Laëtitia Perrais is kidnapped 50 m away from the house of her foster family. The whole country is shaken, and people gather in a silent walk to support her relatives—especially Jessica, her twin sister. The president of France makes it a personal priority to work towards solving the case, publicly blaming the judges, and inciting unprecedented ire towards the judiciary department.
Laëtitia is a wonderful piece of narrative nonfiction inspired by a fait divers. However, unlike the work of Truman Capote or Emmanuel Carrère, the book shies away from fascination for a murderer. Instead, Jablonka delivers an interdisciplinary investigation on the figure of Laëtitia that calls upon sociology, journalism, psychology, and jurisprudence. He focuses on Laëtitia’s volatile childhood – spent bouncing between a violent and alcoholic father, a depressive mother, and foster care services–, her daily life under the authority of an abusive social worker, and her plans for the future. And although it might sound like Jablonka is writing a teary melodrama, he is doing nothing of the kind. No, he is trying rather to retrieve Laëtitia from the newspaper column where she exists only in death. He lets us see all the markers of her story–its time and values, its social and political system that continues to frame our lives.
As he dissects the facts, hour by hour, from various points of view (Laëtitia’s family, friends, lawyers, police, employers, journalists, social workers), Jablonka unveils how this tragic story – which was initially presented to us as being extraordinary—not only contains a deeply humane experience to which we can all relate, but also reveals an obscure face of French society.
Jablonka pays tribute to the resilience, and the strength of the Perrais sisters. As we close the book, we no longer see Laëtitia as the miserable victim the newspapers have described, but as a young woman who made the most of the little that had been given to her, and who died as a free woman, standing up for herself, with impressive dignity –”a whole [human], composed of all [humans] and as good as all of them and no better than any” –to quote Jean-Paul Sartre, one of Jablonka’s references throughout the book.
Laëtitia ou la fin des hommes by Ivan Jablonka, Le Seuil