A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot

“Once upon a time, there were five French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that’s the way of the world.
The first soldier, who in his youth had been a cheerful, adventurous lad, wore around his neck an identification tag marked 2124, the number assigned to him at a recruiting office in the department of Seine. On his feet were boots taken from a dead German, boots that sank into the mud trench after trench as he plodded through the godforsaken maze leading to the front lines…”

Five wounded French soldiers are reported “killed in the line of duty,” however; things are not quite what they seem.  A no man’s land between the French and German armies, a mystery, a cover up, an irrepressible girl, a lost boy, a fearless “Eskimo,” humor, joy, love, heartbreak… believe me when I say, this novel has something for everyone.  I began and ended this lovely book on the same day.  The iron-willed, prickly Mathilde Donnay (along with Scarlett O’Hara) is one of my all-time favorite literary heroines.

From the Publisher

Set during and after the First World War,A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a young woman’s search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having officially been reported as “killed in the line of duty.” Unable to walk since childhood, fearless Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest as she scours the country for information about five wounded French soldiers who were brutally abandoned by their own troops. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War. Picador


Book Club Ideas for A Very Long Engagement

Decorations

Mathilde ranks as one of my all-time favorite literary heroines!

Mathilde is a talented artist who “paints a great deal, to forget sad things.”  Mathilde paints large canvases of flowers, and grows roses, rhododendrons, and camellias at the Villa MMM.  However, when choosing a flower for decoration, my first choice is the sunflower, which holds much significance for Mathilde.

I have a very old black box which holds my own family’s World War I keepsakes, and I set this out to represent Mathilde’s mahogany box.

“…that’s the way of the world.”

WWI Memorandum 919 from Headquarters Nineteenth Division American Expeditionary Forces, France, 15 November 1918

Music

A Very Long Engagement [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

Book Club Menu for A Very Long Engagement

Manech and Mathilde met as children and fell in love in  Capbreton, in the Landes department of Aquitane in southwest France.   I wasn’t very familiar with Capbreton or the Landes department of France, but I did hope to get a Landes menu together.  Luckily, I found two amazing cookbooks featuring regional foods in France and used recipes from each for my Landes menu.  The thought of preparing French food can be quite intimidating, but the country recipes in both these cookbooks are easy to follow and not at all difficult.   If you love cookbooks, want to broaden your cooking experience, or just prepare a fabulous meal, I recommend both  The Cooking of Southwest France : Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine by Paula Wolfert , and The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan.

Potato, Leek, and White Bean Soup with Fouace Yeast Bread

Chicken with Pine Nuts, Mushrooms, and Country Ham

Les Landes Asparagus Gratinee

Buttery Landes Madeleines with café au lait (coffee with milk)


Book Club Resources

Reviews

Discussion Questions for A Very Long Engagement

  1. What does the mahagony box represent for Mathilde?
  2. Discuss the interesting contrasts and similarities between Mathilde and Tina.
  3. What type of relationship develops between Mathilde and Célestin Poux?
  4. When Mathilde and Manech first meet as children he says to her “You can’t walk?”  What is the reader’s reaction when Manech says these words to Mathilde again?
  5. What information does the final chapter Monday Morning give the reader?

 


The Author and Awards

The French author Sebastien Japrisot, (July 4, 1931 – March 4, 2003) penned seven novels.  His pen name, Sebastien Japrisot, is actually an anagram of his real name Jean-Baptiste Rossi.  He was also a screen writer and a director.

The Movie

The film A Very Long Engagement was directored by Jean-Pierre Jeunet in 2004.
This wonderful movie (I’ve watched it many times) is subtitled in English and available on DVD.