Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Homeless in France

This book simply broke my heart. From the jacket, I went in expecting ups and downs. Being a translated French novel, I expected few punches to be pulled. In a sense, I was ready for the punch in the stomach. I never saw the kick in the back coming.

Rico is at once a character to pity, a character to admire and a character to question. His journey from Paris to Marseilles combines heartbreak, humanity and struggle- I was left more grateful for the smallest things in my life than ever before. Like hot showers. His physical appearance notwithstanding, Rico emerges as a hero of sorts, the solitary man beaten down in life, but not in spirit. He chases the dreams of his youth so to speak, when the life he knows in Paris as a homeless man dies with his friend.

Along the way, he finds kindness where he least expects it, cruelty in response to fear and misunderstanding. Stripped of everything, Rico clings to his pride and his memories as if they are precious gems. He feels himself fighting harder and harder to keep less and less, a feeling many of us can relate to. I found myself alternately rooting for him, hoping against hope for some positive change, and commiserating to the point that I wondered if giving up might not be the best thing for Rico.

A Sun for the Dying had me fighting to keep reading at times, with the detail of the author combined with the atrocious nature of the events unfolding becoming almost too much too handle. I didn't, and I was rewarded for it.

Some key passages I enjoyed:
- p. 66, Everyone judges by appearance, whatever they say...Poverty scares people.

- p. 119, They weren't two men from the same generation anymore, they were two men from different worlds, with nothing in common.

- p. 201, Looking at the sea, you know, I understand how much life I have in me. There's nothing on land. The land is ugly. Nothing changes there. It's as if everything is dead. Even the people...

- p. 216, We always think dreams are more beautiful than real life.

What did I take from this book ultimately? Life is hard. Money and success mean nothing without the real human interactions to go with it. Those human interactions are what remind us we are alive.