Louis, Edouard. “Who Killed My Father”, translated from the French by Lorin Stein, New Directions, 2019.
Remembering His Father and the Working Class
This bracing new nonfiction book by the young superstar Édouard Louis is a new literary superstar who dares to point his finger at the French class system as well as write a beautifully tender love letter to his father.
“Who Killed My Father” tears into into France’s long neglect of the working class and its overt contempt for the poor, accusing the complacent French—at the minimum—of negligent homicide. Writer Edouard Louis goes to visit the ugly gray town of his childhood to see his dying father who at barely fifty years old can hardly walk or breathe. He tells him, “You belong to the category of humans whom politics consigns to an early death.” Along with these harsh denunciations are tender passages of a love between father and son that had once been damaged by shame, poverty and homophobia. Father and son are reconciled by tenderness even as the state is killing off his father. Louis goes after the French system but turns to his long-alienated father with open arms: this passionate combination makes a heartbreaking book.
This is a short book but what it makes up in length it packs with emotion. It was written as a one-sided conversation between Louis and his father and is, in fact, a love letter from Louis to a man who is imprisoned by poverty and the dictates of expected masculine behavior. This is an unconventional approach for a polemic essay, moving away from dry, detached and verbose academic format based as it is on emotional links. It deals with raw psychological and social tropes that mold individuals despite themselves.
Written in simple, almost child-like language and infused with raw tenderness, Louis explores the forces underpinning toxic masculinity, from shame to economic pressures and ends with a cry of impotent rage and a call for political engagement and revolution. Louis’ voice is passionate and urgent in how he writes about class and sexuality in relation to his personal experiences. He has gained a global audience since the English publication of his debut novel in 2017. Now, at the age of 26, he’s published his third book. “Who Killed My Father” is categorized as a ‘memoir/essay’ and his inspiration for writing it is based on recent visits to his father who is only in his 50s but severely physically debilitated. He asks throughout the book what brought his father to this point, but he begins with the premise that his father is condemned to “the category of humans whom politics has doomed to an early death.” Through emotionally-charged reflections in three parts which crisscross over time Louis considers who he deems responsible. It does seem, however, that he is more fueled by anger than complex reasoning.
Despite the hardships between father and son, the book seems to serve as a reconciliation and is very cathartic.
Like I said, this is also a very political book. Louis denounces how various governments have had a negative impact on the health and well-being of his working-class father. The current government apparently enjoyed his writings and Louis thought they were using it without understanding his criticism of liberalism and their contempt of the working class.