Excerpt of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
(Page 4 of 4)
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Therefore, I am headed slowly toward the date of June sixteenth and I'm not
afraid. A few regrets, maybe. But the world, in its present state, is no place
for princesses. Having said that, simply because you've made plans to die
doesn't mean you have to vegetate like some rotting piece of cabbage. Quite the
contrary. The main thing isn't about dying or how old you are when you die, it's
what you are doing the moment you die. In Taniguchi the heroes die while
climbing Mount Everest. Since I haven't the slightest chance of taking a stab at
K2 or the Grandes Jorasses before June sixteenth, my own personal Everest will
be an intellectual endeavor. I have set as my goal to have the greatest number
possible of profound thoughts, and to write them down in this notebook: even if
nothing has any meaning, the mind, at least, can give it a shot, don't you
think? But since I have this big Japanese thing, I've added one requirement:
these profound thoughts have to be formulated like a little Japanese poem:
either a haiku (three verses) or a tanka (five verses).
My favorite haiku is by Basho.
The fisherman's hut
Mixed with little shrimp
Now that's no goldfish bowl, is it, that's what I call poetry!
But in the world I live in there is less poetry than in a Japanese
fisherman's hut. And do you think it is normal for four people to live in
fifteen hundred square feet when tons of other people, perhaps some poètes
maudits among them, don't even have a decent place to live and are crammed
together fifteen or twenty in seventy square feet? When, this summer, I heard on
the news that some Africans had died because a fire had started in the stairway
of their rundown tenement, I had an idea. Those Africans have the goldfish bowl
right there in front of them, all day long they can't escape through
storytelling. But my parents and Colombe are convinced they're swimming in the
ocean just because they live in their fifteen hundred square feet with their
piles of furniture and paintings.
So, on June sixteenth I intend to refresh their pea-brain memories: I'm going
to set fire to the apartment (with the barbecue lighter). Don't get me wrong,
I'm not a criminal: I'll do it when there's no one around (the sixteenth of June
is a Saturday and on Saturday Colombe goes to see Tibère, Maman is at yoga, Papa
is at his club and as for me, I stay home), I'll evacuate the cats through the
window and I'll call the fire department early enough so that there won't be any
victims. And then I'll go off quietly to Grandma's with my pills, to sleep. With
no more apartment and no more daughter, maybe they'll give some thought to all
those dead Africans, don't you suppose?
Excerpted from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel
Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson. Excerpted by permission
of Europa Editions. All rights reserved.