cover image Disturbance: Surviving Charlie Hebdo

Disturbance: Surviving Charlie Hebdo

Philippe Lançon, trans. from the French by Steven Rendall. Europa Editions, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-1-60945-556-9

A terrorist atrocity reshapes a victim’s life in this biting memoir. Journalist and novelist Lançon (L’Élan) was wounded in the 2015 attack by two al Qaeda followers that killed 11 of his colleagues at the Paris satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo; one bullet caused a disfiguring jaw injury. The book is anchored by his stark account of the massacre—“My eye turned to the head and saw, through his hair, the brain tissue of this man, this colleague, this friend”—but mostly concerns his medical struggle through many months and surgeries to repair his maimed face. In Rendall’s excellent translation, Lançon’s convalescence is an agonizing comedy of pain and humiliation—his uncontrollable salivation keeps causing his bandages to droop off—that’s fascinated with healing; the tubes and implants invading his body become characters in their own right, along with the long-suffering nurses, the silent policemen guarding his hospital room, and his brusquely humane lead surgeon. Woven throughout are Proustian reveries that mark the divide between past and present: “I’d acquired the habit of devouring cookies in the family kitchen, when my parents were away, walking barefoot on the cold tile floor.” Clear-eyed, endlessly curious, and never sentimental, Lançon’s engrossing saga shows how a writer’s rich powers of observation and reflection bridge a chasm of tragedy. (Nov.)