Kurdish women fighters in Syria ©Patrice Franceschi.
“I was entering the unknown”… This sentence, on page 104 of Patrice Franceschi’s new novel, could be the title, so much it is a question, in this book, of seizing the reader, and of taking him where the implacable reality obliges you to live in the truth, the one that we sometimes grope for… The world is rough and tragic, especially when this truth is obscured by the fog of war. Patrice Franceschi knows it, who has been walking the lands of misery, despair and conflict for many decades, and reads, like a saving discipline, the ancient Stoics.
The contemporary poet Jean-Pierre Simeon wrote, in “Objection of the poem”: “…cultivate the thickness of the shadows, the rough density of the enigma, and do justice to the opacity of the world…”. This is what Patrice Franceschi does, in his own way, in this tragic and yet exhilarating story, which is played out mainly in the maquis and mountains where Kurdish fighters – those who have fought in terrible conditions against the Daesh jihadists and Turkish auxiliaries – take refuge before the next battle. The plot of the story is simple: a Western journalist, Rachel Casanaova, decides, upon discovering a dual and singular grave in a cemetery in Kobane, the city where the “Kurdish Stalingrad” that saw the Kurdish fighters of Rojava, in northeastern Syria, repel Daesh assaults at the cost of horrific sacrifice and destruction was played out in 2014 for 135 days, to tell the story of the journey and heartbreaking end of two “Yapajas,” Tekoshin and Gulistan. The Yapajas (YPJ) are the female fighters of the “People’s Protection Units” (YPG or “Yapagués”) of the Kurds of Rojava, an area administered autonomously by them, under the authority of the PYD (“Democratic Union Party”, a Syrian Kurdish political party. Patrice Franceschi, a humanitarian who has experienced most of the great calamities since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, explorer, navigator and writer, has long been committed to the Kurds, and particularly, for the last ten years, to those of Rojava, attacked by the Daesh jihadists as well as by Turkey, and fighting without respite for their survival. One feels that he wanted, through this novel, to act (writing is also acting, and Patrice Franceschi says of himself “that he fights with sword and pen”) so that this struggle of Rojava for its freedom does not sink into oblivion.
The Western countries, quite happy that the Kurdish fighters participated decisively in the loss by Daesh of its territory, have moved on, and have not prevented Turkey from invading and “cleaning” part of Rojava… We sometimes forget, in the name of Realpolitik, those who were our allies… But the author, by gradually revealing, through the voice of the journalist whose investigation we follow, the mystery of the commitment and death of Tekochin the Kurd and Gulistan the Yezidi, true “sisters in arms”, pursues a more universal purpose.
By “putting us in the shoes of the other” as he had already done in a previous novel “Un capitaine sans importance” published in 2009, which recounted the war waged in Afghanistan by the Red Army from the point of view of a Soviet officer, Patrice Franceschi makes us share both physically and spiritually the total fight (in the sense that it involves life in its entirety, without turning back) of two warriors of Rojava, and leads us to question ourselves on what makes a life have meaning.
The title of the novel is inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo “Ultime Verba” which speaks of greatness and self-sacrifice. This is Patrice Franceschi’s big concern. How, in an era where the precautionary principle reigns, where comfort and security are the supreme values, can we achieve an authentic and free life, make the world a better place through a commitment that goes beyond the horizon of our own destiny, and this by accepting the risks, by accepting that the trials “expose us as we are in ourselves”? How can we “break the lock that always prevents existence from reaching its fullness, and this at the risk of losing ourselves? It seemed to me, after reading the book, that there were two essential answers. The first is that of the responsibility of our acts; Tekochine the Kurd “refuses to grant the least importance to material objects in order to better worry at each moment about the consequences of her acts”.
The second is our attitude towards death: “All the misfortune of men comes from their fear of death. If we drive away this fear, happiness returns”… Tolstoi does not say anything else, in “War and Peace” when he writes “Man is good for nothing as long as he fears death. Everything belongs to the one who is not afraid of it”.
This story by Patrice Franceschi, for whom “perhaps there is no dignity except in combat”, is basically the novelistic counterpart of his “Ethics of the modern samurai”, published in 2019, which was intended to be a manual of combat and exigency for a mediocre era. The novelist’s pen also knows how to abandon the fight to share a suspended moment, as on page 172: “… and everywhere the coolness showed itself the ally of silence so that the flow of time seems the business of another world “… When literature experiences the world…
Writer and humanitarian
Patrice Franceschi, writer and humanitarian : Corsican adventurer, political philosopher, and French writer – Goncourt Prize for short stories 2015 – Patrice Franceschi is also an aviator and sailor. He has always divided his life between writing and adventure. He has multiplied his land, air and sea expeditions throughout the world. He has also led numerous humanitarian missions in war-torn countries, from Bosnia to Somalia, lived among the indigenous peoples of the most remote regions, Papuans, Indians, Pygmies, Nilotics, and has spent many years in the ranks of the Afghan resistance fighting the Soviet army. He has also been an active supporter of the Kurds of Syria on the ground since the beginning of their fight against the Islamic State. His novels, stories, poetry or essays are inseparable from a committed, free and tumultuous existence where he tries to “exhaust the field of the possible”. A reserve officer, he also belongs to the prestigious group of naval writers.
The heroism of the Kurdish women’s battalions fighting against Daech was waiting for its great novel. Here it is.
A Western journalist believes she can investigate with impunity the magnificent destiny of two legendary figures, Tekochin and Gulistan, in order to tell the story of the purity of their cause, the inflexibility of their struggle, and the exceptional circumstances of their deaths in the rubble of a besieged city in ancient Mesopotamia.
But access to the first circle of the clandestine leaders of that war is deserved, and perhaps the truth hidden behind so many incomplete and contradictory accounts can only be revealed by losing oneself in turn: his investigation gradually becomes an initiatory journey, an ascent of the river of memory, a hymn to a freedom whose meaning we have lost by ceasing to be willing to pay the price.
In a landscape of sand and light, S’il n’en reste qu’une is the story of these women confronted with what can be incandescent in the human condition.