Michel Tournier (1924)
"Le Roi des Aulnes/ The Ogre" (1970)
is a picaresque, psychological, heroicomic and historical novel, whose big taciturn protagonist is both a pedophiliac and a traitor, an unlikely hero.
Abel, who runs a car-repair shop,starts a diary after being dumped by his Jewish girlfriend for being an "ogre" at sex and realizing that he can naturally write with his left hand. Abel is convinced of being as old as the universe itself and equipped with supernatural powers.
In a religious boarding school he liked the rejects of history.He masochistically enjoyed being bullied by Pelsenaire.He speculates that man was created hermaphrodite and only later his entire femininity was offloaded to a different body, the woman.
Marriage is then an unnatural act, trying to rejoin what God had separated for a purpose. Nestor, the fat son of the janitor and a role model for Abel, died of suffocation in the cellar: he used to keep a diary and write with his left hand. Nestor had protected Abel and showered him with favors causing the envy of the other boys.
Abel retells the fire incident that killed Nestor. Later he was expelled from the boarding school for being too dumb and became a car mechanic. Abel grew up as big as Nestor and feels that he is a sort of reincarnation of Nestor. He also feels that he is equipped with some sort of evil superpowers that control events in the world.
This is the eve of World War II. The newspapers are full with the trial of a German named Weidmann accused of killing seven people. He was born the same day as Abel, and is exactly the same size. Abel photographs children at school and falls in love with one of them,Martine. She lets him drive her home every day and keeps it secret. A huge crowd assembles to watch the execution of Weidmann. Abel's friends point out that Weidmann looks a lot like Abel, and Abel throws up when the head rolls down.
World War II begins.
One day Abel drops off Martineas usual and then hears her screaming. He runs to her help only to be accused by her of having raped her. Abel is sentenced to jail but saved by the war: he is released because he is going to be drafted and sent to the front.
Abel finds himself in an odd telegraphy unit in charge of creating an old-fashioned carrier pigeon facility. He is in charge of pigeon requisition and excels at handling the animals. His favoriteis a silver pigeon raised by a dead geneticist and bequeathed with other monstruosities to his loving widow.
When the Germans arrive, his commander takes Abel and the pigeons to an expedition and, not finding food anywhere, eats some of the birds. The commander then dictates a vainglorious message to Abel to be delivered by the last surviving pigeon but Abel instead writes down a different message that simply explains how to care for the pigeons.
Abel is eventually captured by the Germans and gladly accepts to be deported , despite a chance to escape with fellow prisoners.
He works hard in the concentration camp, and, given enough freedom, discovers an abandoned log cabin in thenearby woods. He realizes that he can spend the whole night there without being noticed missing at the camp. He fantasizes that this is the mythical Canada foretold to him by Nestor.
He even makes a fire every night, catches rabbits like a trapper, cooks and eats, indifferent to the danger that the guards may see the smoke. He befriends a blind elk. Meanwhile the other prisoners of war get more and more desperate, some even committing suicide.
Abel is eventually discovered by a forest rangerwho,however, respects him and even formally hires him as his assistant, just when Hitler has moved his headquarters nearby to launch the Russian campaign.
A lengthy detour describes how Abel, silent and obedient, ends up serving the second most important poiltician in the country at his vast hunting reserve and how he witnesses some comic and ominous incidents.
When the Germans lose the battle of Stalingrad, and the government resorts to drafting ten-year old children, Abel asks to be transferred to the Baltic fortress where the Nazis are training the children.
Hitler's Germany is disintegrating and Abel is assigned to hunt animals and provide food. Soon he even helps the fort recruit children, mixing duty and pedophilia. He gets promoted by the commander general and uses his new powers to recruit forcefully two mirror twins who fascinate him, Haro and Hajo.
His reputation spreads in all the towns of the countryside and parents are terrified of the ogre who steals their children to send them to war. Another precious prey is Lothar, a white-haired boy.
The commander general befriends Abel, who reads obscure symbols in the old man's passion for the ancient history of the knights of Prussia. Following the assassination attempt on Hitler, the Prussian democracy gets decimated by political purges, and the general is taken away, leaving Abel de facto in charge of the concentration camp turned into a kindergarten.
Abel utterly enjoys the sight and smell of the children, and organizes their lives around the most grotesque details (like when he shaves their heads and then has a mattress and pillowmade out of the hair).
The Russians are approaching and thousands of refugees aremoving west. Abel watches them taciturn from his secluded castle, even witnessing French prisoners pass by on foot, barely feeling any shame for being taken for a German.
His children are annihilated by the war but Abel saves a wounded Jewish boy, Ephrahim,and this boy becomes his new mission in life, especially since the boy reads a biblical meaning in their encounter.
Thus Abel finally learns of the extermination camps. The Russians attack and finish the castle, killing the surviving children who refuse to surrender (as they were trained to do). Abel changes clothesto his old French prisoner uniform, loads Ephrahim on his shoulders and escapes in time.
Ephrahim has to lead him because Abel lost his glasses and can't see anymore. Abel walks into a swamp and starts sinking. (Maybe the biblical angel simply led him to death anyway instead of the promised land).
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