Nous n’étions pas des tendres by Sylvie Gracia

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Some books manage to capture turning points in life, periods of transition that we dread, that we try to put off until later, as long as possible, until they inevitably come crashing down on us, with lightning-fast violence. Nous n’étions pas des tendres is such a book. Sylvie Gracia depicts sensations up close: beauty, ugliness, sadness, bursts of pleasure, the chaos of existence as we blindly and tenaciously go through it.

Hélène, a woman in her early 40s, spends the summer with her elderly, lonely father in the family vacation home by the lake. The house no longer has much in common with what it used to be in her childhood or that of her daughters. Miguel, her brother, has bought it back, with his wife, Myriam, and refurbished it to bring it up to date.

The pair has erased all traces of a shared past: old furniture and dishes, books, photos. Everything has disappeared in favor of modern, functional comfort. Yet, as Hélène comes into contact with the rugged landscapes, the places she knows like the back of her hand and old friends, something inside her begins to crack.

The woman Hélène has become, a successful Parisian publisher, a divorced mother of two young women, is back in the languid days of adolescence. At a market, she crosses paths with Patrick, her one-time lover. Tensions rise between her and Patrick, her father and Patrick, with the arrival of her brother Miguel and his wife Myriam.

“Beneath the flat surface lurked a sunken world: rivers, fields, mills, farms. Trees cut low had become black coals. Waters are so cold they suffocate you when you dive in.”

Like the murky waters of the lake, Hélène harbors a buried world that will gradually emerge, as she recovers impressions of the light filtering through the heavy clouds, the scent of earth and grass after the storm. Beyond the rhetoric of a class defector, Hélène goes in search of her inner self, of what made her who she is; tenacious, tough, tender.

What remains of us, in our mutated selves, this book seems to ask on every page: the remembrance of a father’s exile following the Spanish Civil War, a life built with his own hands, like the houses he bequeathed to his children? His mute temperament? the sensual embraces of youth?

What Nous n’étions pas des tendres captures with great accuracy are the vacillations of being prey to dispossession, forced mutations, distressing spams and lulls, and moments of floating between the two.

Nous n’étions pas des tendres, Sylvie Gracia, éd L’Iconoclaste.
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After almost two decades of working in publishing, and a few round trips between Paris and New York, Miriam has decided to settle down at Albertine to do what she enjoys most: recommending books she loves. Somehow this also includes taking bizarre pictures for Albertine's social media outlets.
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