A small war


seaside song

by Oliver Rohe

Allia, 160 pages, €12

It’s the end of the 1980s, Lebanon is at war. The young Oliver Rohe, who left Beirut with his mother and older sister, settled in the seaside resort where he spent his time with young boys his age, played football, struggled at school, started to flirt with girls, and lives the war on a daily basis. There was material there for the bittersweet chronicle of an adolescence under the bombs, or else an intimate and poignant testimony, even a historical novel steeped in geopolitics. And no doubt Rohe borrows elements, scenes and colors from these genres – and many others – but it is by breaking them, by crushing them and by rearranging their fragments in a harsh writing, in the ras of the sensitive experiences lived by the young boy of that time.

Rohe had already evoked this Lebanese adolescence in one of the narrative threads of the very beautiful A small people (Gallimard, 2009): his sentences then unfolded in harmonious and elegant continuity. The memories are (almost) the same, but the language has changed, reduced to bone, a series of short sentences that follow one another from line to line, sometimes gathered in a more compact paragraph, before stretching again . The typography, the resulting rhythm, are those of the singing announced by the title, but without great elegiac or exalted flights: a subtractive song that refuses excess, never “poetizes” the language by wanting it to be grandiose or flowery, but condenses it.


It is a lyricism of observation, a factual poetry that emanates from this heterogeneous collection of various insights, neutral notations, direct borrowings from the most common or even vulgar orality, or formulas dazzling in their laconicism (“leisure structures are useless”, “Beauty struggles to return to her face”). If it cuts short any display of affects, Rohe’s “I” is revealed without shame, but without ever pouring into the outpouring of confession. More than its material, it is the condition of a story almost always in the present, the one to which all the experiences collected and delivered without hierarchy arrive: football games, permanent complaints from his mother, collective life in the car parks of the seaside resort threatened, deep school boredom, imperious sexual desires and escape on a motorbike under the bombardments.

One can only touch here on all the richness of a text of mad density, which makes so many voices heard in one, tightly knots so many threads, from family neuroses (outlined in the recurrent complaints of his mother) to sinister geopolitical pranks (we should point out in particular the furtive appearances of Bernard Kouchner) passing through a sort of anatomy of collective life, that of the gang of teenagers or that of the refugee community which somehow invents rules and organization in chaos.

So many worlds, in short, that Rohe takes us through, in the nevertheless so restricted space of the seaside resort, restoring with terrible precision what it is to live in war, setting the tone from the first page, with a frozen and poetic humor: “The seaside resort is more dead in the fall than West Beirut on a day of fighting. »

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