In his tenth novel, Bastard child, the French writer and journalist Sorj Chalandon reveals the incredible story that his father preferred to keep silent all his life.
Si on a lu Fathers profession, which has also recently been adapted for cinema by Jean-Pierre Améris, we know how toxic the father of French journalist and writer Sorj Chalandon was. And again, the word is weak. Because in addition to being fundamentally mean, violent, unfair and paranoid, the man has spent his life lying, especially to his son.
Over the years, he made him believe that he was a secret agent, fighter pilot, professional singer, judo teacher or secret adviser to General de Gaulle. Not to mention the many feats of arms he would have achieved during the Second World War.
However, the year of his 10 years, Sorj Chalandon will be deeply marked by three sentences, all coming from the mouth of his paternal grandfather. The first, “Your father in the war, he was on the wrong side”; the second, “Your father, I saw him dressed in German at Place Bellecour …”; and the last, perhaps the worst of all, “You’re a bastard’s child.”
But why ?
Sorj Chalandon had to wait almost 60 years to know the end of the story. “At the first confinement, it turns out that my brother got rid of old things and that, deep in an old house, he had my father’s criminal record,” he explains from his Parisian home. He wanted to throw it away, but I took it right away. It drives me crazy to think that my brother had had it since the 80s! ”
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at Editions Grasset
at Editions Grasset
The file that changes everything
It is therefore thanks to this old record that Sorj Chalandon will learn that his father was tried and imprisoned in Lille in 1944-1945. This is sure to amaze him, his father having always claimed that he had fought in the Battle of Berlin and valiantly defended Hitler’s bunker until May 2, 1945. “With just one sheet, I discovered that what he told me was wrong, ”continues Sorj Chalandon. So I wanted to know more, and for that, I contacted the Departmental Archives of the North. The woman who answered me assured me that there was a file on my father. She had read it, and I felt embarrassed. So I asked him if I should have a beer before I read it too. She replied that two would be better …
Once his father’s file was in hand, Sorj Chalandon opened, printed and filed each document by date (minutes, interrogations, letters, etc.). But without reading anything. At least not yet. “I was terrified,” he says. One year in prison, for a collaborator, was not a lot in France. At the time, justice did not go into detail and tens of thousands of collaborators were shot. So I didn’t know at all what I was going to come across. But I thought to myself that if my father had been just an idle kid seduced by Nazi boots, doing one last book on him would be pointless. ”
An incredible journey
Surprised, the reality has surpassed all the fictions that his father could have imagined when he was still alive. “In four years, he has worn five different uniforms and deserted four times,” says Sorj Chalandon. Between 1940 and 1943, Jean Chalandon was indeed a regular soldier in the 5th infantry regiment and soldier of the Tricolor Legion of Pétain before joining the NSKK, a paramilitary formation of the National Socialist Party of German Workers. But condemned to death by the SS, he managed to escape and join the Resistance in northern France. The cherry ? In 1943, he also wore the uniform of the United States Army Rangers.
“What I don’t understand is why he didn’t tell me all this,” says Sorj Chalandon. It’s bigger than any made-up story and I don’t think in the whole world another man has worn five uniforms. So I wanted to make a novel out of it. I couldn’t play with the facts, because they are sacred. On the other hand, I decided to locate the discovery of my father’s file in 1987. At the time, the newspaper Release had sent me to Lyon to cover the trial of Nazi criminal Klaus Barbie and my father, who was from Lyon, attended as well. One will therefore be judged by France, and the other will be confronted by his son. “