“The profession of dying”, nobility of friendship in a land of combat

The Craft of Dying

by Jean-René Van der Plaetsen

Grasset, 272 p., € 19

After Nostalgia for honor (Interallie prize in 2017), in the figure of his grandfather, General Jean Crépin, Companion of the Liberation and hero of the 2e DB, Jean-René Van der Plaetsen publishes a second novel also devoted to a soldier. But the field of operation, this time, is Lebanon in the spring of 1985, after the IDF withdrew from the south of the country. As for the hero, it is the commander of the outpost of Ras-el-Bayada: Colonel Belleface, 58, who joined the Army of South Lebanon (SLA).

This adventurer of Polish origin, a survivor of the Treblinka camp, served in the Foreign Legion in Indochina before joining the Israeli army with which he fought all the wars in the Hebrew state. In Ras-el-Bayada, the days pass slowly, but the ten Lebanese militiamen must remain on permanent alert to watch the road and the sea, through which Palestinian commandos can disembark.

When they take their turn in the shelter next to the barrier, these fighters know that a catastrophe can happen at any time. Like with The Tartar Desert by Dino Buzzati (1940), the reader trembles at an announced drama, guessing that fate will shatter this confined camera. He is also eager to discover the history of Belleface, “Both Jewish and Arab”, as he says.

The sparkling sea and the sun-crushed land

He who had no children befriended Favrier, a young French peacekeeper who could be his son. Belleface wishes to pass on his experience and knowledge to him, and he knows that this requires example and generosity. For his part, fascinated and intrigued by the “old man”, Favrier gradually manages to get him to speak, guessing that behind his strength and his wisdom hides a painful secret.

Jean-René Van der Plaetsen also knows how to describe the sea that sparkles and the land crushed by the sun that Favrier contemplates when he thinks of one of his classmates from Parisian high school, a Lebanese Maronite who knew how to praise him the charms and the perils of his country. . “In France, you cannot imagine what is going on here because you do not know what the Palestinians or the Shiites of Hezbollah are capable of”, he had told her, without Favrier being able to answer. “Hezbollah is just a taste of what lies ahead. We are there to protect the borders of the Western world while waiting for our people to open their eyes ”, Belleface confides to him, as if in echo.

Over the course of the novel, the enigma of Belleface’s life will unfold, inspired by a true story, told to the author by his grandfather who heard it on his return from the Indochina war. As for Favrier the Catholic, if he knows that this region is the cradle of the three revealed religions and that he is looking for traces of them – like the biblical verses that dot this novel – he will not find any. other than his, forever etched in the sand of the enclave.


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