In Our Strange Gardens
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Michel has a story to tell. It's about his father, an exquisitely common man whose very ordinariness is a source of grave embarrassment for the boy. It's also the story told to him by his uncle, who shared a family secret with the child in the flickering black and white images of a Sunday matinee.
Years before, in the bitter years of World War II, during the Nazi occupation of France, two brothers found themselves at the mercy of a German guard following an explosive act of resistance. Thrown into a deep pit with a small group of terrified prisoners, the men are told that one of them will die by dawn to serve as an example for the others. It's up to the prisoners to propose who will be sacrificed. But in the middle of the night, the guard returns with an extraordinary proposition of his own.
A novel of revelation, innocence and ignorance, of the power of language and the strength and complexity of family, In Our Strange Gardens is a fable of nuance and power, a mesmerizing addition to the literature of war.
Michel Quint was born in France in 1949. He wrote for the theatre and for radio, before turning to thriller writing. In 1989 Quint was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for his novel Billard à l'étage. In Our Strange Gardens is based on his own father's life.
- Why is the narrator so shamed by his father's moonlighting as a clown? Why are his mother and sister less embarrassed? How much of his discomfort is typical of an adolescent's need to rebel, to separate himself from his parents?
- Andre has more than one reason for being a clown. Discuss the possibly therapeutic aspects of his hobbywhat are the feelings he can vent in this role that are buried in his more mundane life as a schoolteacher? And how is it also an ongoing act of penitance?
- Why is it that Gaston tells the narrator about his wartime experiences after they watch the film "The Bridge"?
- Discuss the transformation in the narrator's feelings toward Gaston and Nicole. Initially, he is embarassed by their affection and their poverty. What causes him to shift from disdain to compassion?
- How do Nicole and her first husband transform the lives of Andre and Gaston? What do they learn about the true nature of heroism and does it disqualify their own act of revolution?
- Discuss the narrator's journey toward understanding bravery and honor. What does the German guard teach the prisoners? How is it defined by the narrator at the novella's end?
- What role does compassion play in shaping a hero? In shaping the narrator's journey to adulthood?
- Why does the narrator attend the trial of a Frenchman, Maurice Papon, as a clown?
- In time, the narrator comes to understand the implications of his father's lifelong devotion to being a clown, a sacre, and takes the mantle upon himself. Why?
- In the aftermath of The World Trade Center attacks, Quint's parable of the transitory and unpredictable nature of good and evil seems particularly compelling. How are the central themes of heroism and compassion in the novella relevant to the recent world events?