Serge by Yasmina Reza
Last month, a customer walked into the store and asked me for some “light and funny” French literature. I found this to be a very tough question, since we French seem to only find great inspiration in depression and failed romances (wink wink, Emmanuel Carrere). Although I was only fifty pages into the novel, I decided to take the risk and recommend Serge to this client as it had been hilarious so far. But another fifty pages later, all the characters were going on a not so funny memorial trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp–which might make me the worst living bookseller in NYC.
However, now that I have finished it, I can positively affirm that Serge falls into that very specific category of novels that manage to keep a light tone despite the darkness of some of the themes they display. Yasmina Reza achieves something delicate here in translating traumas, complicated family relationships and mid-life crises into delightful and often quite funny literature. Her biting sense of humor sometimes echoes that of Albert Cohen in Belle du Seigneur, despite how Reza confronts memory and ancestry in such a unique and contemporary way.
Serge is indeed a family story; it revolves not only around the eponymous character, but also his siblings Jean and Nana, as well as their children, partners and parents. This Jewish family of Hungarian descent continuously faces generational and interpersonal conflicts, which culminate during their visit to Auschwitz. While her characters provoke, fight and resent each other, Yasmina Reza delicately leaves traces of the mutual love and shared memories that continue to bind them all together. And it is precisely this tension that constitutes this novel’s strength. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Serge, a novel by Yasmina Reza, Flammarion
Click here to purchase this book with us.