Alain Farah, breaking the cycle

It is a “family novel” in the shape of a big sweet cocktail, where illness, friendship and mourning mix, the heart of Brother André and The Lord of the Rings, the true recipe of the foul, a stormy childhood lived in the Little Lebanon of Montreal. And real love and death stories. Eight years later Why Bologna, Alain Farah appears once again where we did not expect him. Meet.

A real big novel of more than 500 pages. An intimate epic made up of tears and laughter, cries and controlled slips. If Alain Farah – or one of his many avatars – is still in command, this time it is no longer as a UFO pilot, but rather as a simple passenger.

A passenger spinning around, like the readers, during a crazy day that makes us travel, in an indelicate cycle, through time and space. “It’s a more accessible book than the previous ones,” admits Alain Farah, 42, giving the impression of continuing, by telephone, a conversation started eight years earlier, just before the release of Why Bologna (Le Quartanier).

A book with which he believed in 2013 to have found some sort of system, something he could do again, like a magician. An impression, he says, that hit hard against his ethics as a writer. “It’s paradoxical and I’m not going to make friends by saying it, but I really believe that we don’t need another book,” he says. After Why Bologna, I got down to work trying to do something else and I asked myself, “What would be the hardest or the most unlikely for me? What would hurt me? ” And the idea came to me to see what it would be like to make, in quotes, a real novel. “

A thousand secrets, a thousand dangers is a day in the life of a man (Alain Farah), a literature madman who publishes, according to his cousin Édouard, a mechanic, “novels that no one reads except three-four weirdos “. The day of his marriage, July 7, 2007, passed through the chopper of fiction (anyway), while any resemblance to reality is perhaps not always the result of chance.

Son of Egyptian immigrants of Christian Lebanese origin, the 28-year-old man who is about to marry the woman of his life (met thanks to his best friend, Myriam, who died of breast cancer in 2015), is since adolescence, like his father before him, has a serious autoimmune disease.

Birth, divorce, war between his parents, first love sentence, marriage, A thousand secrets, a thousand dangers is a sentimental education which takes place for the most part between 1996 and 2007. The title refers to the only book present in the house during his childhood, his mother’s Reader’s Digest medical dictionary, Your body: a thousand secrets, a thousand dangers.

Extract from “A thousand secrets, a thousand dangers”

Frontal nudity

Eight years without publishing is a long time, admits Alain Farah. What feed the feeling of insecurity in this very anxious who, like many people affected by the disease, has long been inhabited by a strong sense of urgency.

Matamore nO 29 (Le Quartanier, 2008), her first novel, was a complex machine for exploring possibilities, through which everything simple became complicated (or perhaps the other way around). We hadn’t seen anything yet. Why Bologna, his second novel, had crowned him as a sort of leader of the Quebec literary avant-garde, Doctor from complex narrative games.

Always funny, in perfect mastery, it is in a way an Alain Farah more daring than ever who presents himself to us, but less show-off, putting the pedal soft on the swagger and the bluster.

Professor at McGill University, where he has been teaching contemporary French literature and creative writing since 2009, his spicy chronicles on the show The more the merrier the more we lit since 2011 have earned him a certain love rating from the audience of the Première Chaîne de Radio-Canada.

“Things are head-on this time, because they are no longer encrypted, and I’m no longer in a form of avoidance from what I didn’t want to talk about. Like illness, my parents’ divorce, and above all, above all, above all, my relationship to my identity, being the son of immigrants. “

“But it is not when we understand more that we have solved the mysteries, hastens to add Alain Farah. And despite everything, I hope that there is some mystery in this book, even if it is more frontal. What scares me a little is that the elaboration is not perceived. This is the reason why, he explains, he hesitated for a long time to make this book, fearing an easy reading of the type: off the masks, Alain Farah tells his life and reveals everything. “Good luck,” he laughs to those who will be tempted to take this shortcut.

The fact remains that among the encrypted references, we find at the heart of the novel a wink supported by Ulysse, the masterpiece by James Joyce, an account of a character’s wanderings through Dublin on June 16, 1904 – and the green color of the cover is a tribute to the Irish writer. A book that Alain Farah admits to having read three times, and which he has already said has changed his life. “Stephen Dedalus, it’s me,” he says most seriously, while paying his debt to Joyce.

A day in the life of Youssef Charbel Safi Farah

In A thousand secrets, a thousand dangers, arrived at his wedding at Saint Joseph’s Oratory in his cousin’s tow truck, belted in a rental tuxedo in front of the altar, it is a stunned Alain Farah who will discover that his real name is… Youssef Charbel Safi Farah. For Yolande, her mother, this is just a detail: “There are a lot of people who don’t know their real name. Everyone has an Arabic name and a French name! “

It feels a bit like a sort of coming out middle eastern. “It took me a lot of years to realize that I had bleached myself, that in a sense my whole life had been a business of white washing, like my father who, in his own path, had the cunning or the reflex to always identify with the spaces of power. And it was really while doing this book that I realized that, because a lot of the memories that came up were related to some form of shame. Shame, in particular, of not being able to claim the same things as the kids he attended in the private Catholic college where he did his high school.

But Arabity, whether it is a source of shame or pride, can also be used in the novel as a pretext for much more “serious” reflections, in particular when the two cousins ​​are obstinate about the recipe for the real foul (a dish from North Africa and the Middle East made with broad beans).

It took me a lot of years to realize that I had bleached myself, that in a way my whole life had been a business of white washing.

Outsmart fate – what in Arabic is called the mektoub -, keep the “evil eye” at a distance, put a damper on religion and superstitions, push evil geniuses back into their vials for good. Break the cycle of curses. With a lot of love and vitality – and a little psychoanalysis – break the cycle of beliefs, violence, disease. Put a name on family atavisms to perhaps neutralize them better.

Through A thousand secrets, a thousand dangersabove all, Alain Farah claims the need to invent a form and a destiny, to write his own book. A novel of the origins, yes, but also the origins of the novel (an allusion well assumed to the essayist Marthe Robert), he sees this third novel as a book of emancipation, in the broadest sense possible.

Rich and heavy questions, in short, enshrined in a novel as moving as it is hectic, traversed from beginning to end – we can’t change ourselves – by a solid sense of humor.

Alain Farah sees it as a form of courtesy to his reader. “Self-mockery,” he explains, “is the release of pathos, the ability for me to recognize that it’s not that bad, and that anyway, we’re going to die in the end. It’s a way for me to say to the reader, “I’m with you, I don’t really believe in any of this.” Even if that doesn’t take away the pain or the ridicule. In a way, I feel like the book ends up producing health. “

A thousand secrets, a thousand dangers

Alain Farah, Le Quartanier, Montreal, 2021, 512 pages

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