- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (September 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0452272971
- ISBN-13: 978-0452272972
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 83 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,181,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Very Long Engagement Paperback – September 1, 1994
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January 1917: five French soldiers are marched to their own front lines where they will be tossed out into no man's land with their hands tied behind their backs and left for the Germans to shoot. They were, in civilian life, variously a pimp, a mechanic, a farmer, a carpenter, and a fisherman; now they are condemned because each had sought to leave the war by shooting himself in the hand. Taken to a godforsaken trench nicknamed Bingo Crépuscule, the five are reluctantly sent out into the darkness; days later, five bodies are recovered and the families are notified, merely, that the men died in the line of duty.
August 1919: Mathilde Donnay receives a letter from a dying man. In it, the former soldier tells her that he met her beloved fiancé, the fisherman Manech, shortly before he died. Mathilde goes to meet Sergeant Daniel Esperanza at his hospital and there hears the story of the execution. She also receives a package with a photograph of the men and copies of their last letters. As Mathilde reads and rereads the letters and goes over Esperanza's tale, she begins to suspect that perhaps the story didn't end quite so neatly. And so begins her very long investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of five condemned prisoners--one of whom, at least, might not really be dead.
In Mathilde Donnay, Sebastien Japrisot has created one of the most compelling and delightful heroines in modern fiction. Though confined to a wheelchair since childhood, "Mathilde has other lives, varied and quite beautiful ones." She paints, cares for her pets, enjoys a rich fantasy life, and is relentless in her search for the truth about Manech's death. But she is by no means the only vibrant personality leaping off Japrisot's pages. This author has a remarkable ability to draw even minor characters in three dimensions with economy and wit. Take Mathilde's mother, for instance, caught in mid-card game: "At bridge, manille, bezique, Mama is a dirty rotten swine. Not only is she an ace with the pasteboards, but she throws her opponents off their mettle by insulting or making fun of them." And even the characters we meet only through other people's memories--the condemned men--are so fully realized that you find yourself torn over which one you hope may have survived. As Mathilde comes ever closer to solving the mystery of what happened at Bingo Crépuscule that January morning in 1917, Sebastien Japrisot proves himself a master storyteller and A Very Long Engagement a near perfect novel. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
In 1917, a crippled young French woman searches for her fiance who was left to die on the front lines of WWI.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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That truism didn't exactly hold for A Very Long Engagement. I actually saw the movie first (didn't know there was a novel at the time), and I loved it. I watched it twice and immediately recommended it to my friends. About a year later, then, I happened upon the book and picked up a free copy. I doubted that I'd ever read it, but one rainy day, I picked it up. Before that day was over I was finished.
The movie does follow the novel very closely, but I was still swept away. The mystery is so complex, and yet tight and logical. Once you're grabbed by it, you must follow it through to the end. The characters, especially Mathilde and Manech (who we've gotten to know through memory), are so engaging.
Mainly though, it's just so hopeful. I think that's what got me each time I've experienced the story, the romantic notion that no matter how absurd and confused and sorrowful and illogical this life can seem, perhaps truth and love at least have a fighting chance.
I think everyone needs to be told that sort of story every once in a while. This one does it awfully well.
One of these men's fiancée, a young girl who can't walk since age 3, receives information that makes her suspect his boyfriend might have gotten away alive. So she embarks in a painful, long and often frustrating ordeal to find out the truth.
Along the way, I got to really love Matti. She's kinda spoiled and obstinate, but she is a wonderful person, full of true love. Other characters are equally appealing, and the story of Manech and his infortunate companions at war is revealed bit by it, through confusing memories and even contradictory pieces of information.
We discover a terrible but beautiful story through what Clausewitz called "the fog of war". And this story is about courage, nobility, cruelty, loyalty, friendship and, above all, true love.
Absolutely recommended, it is a novel that will easily remain in your memory.