Summary and book reviews of Brodeck by Phillipe Claudel

Brodeck

A Novel

by Phillipe Claudel

Brodeck
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2009, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in an unnamed time and place, Brodeck blends the familiar and unfamiliar, myth and history into a work of extraordinary power and resonance. Readers of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader and Kafka will be captivated by Brodeck.

Forced into a brutal concentration camp during a great war, Brodeck returns to his village at the war’s end and takes up his old job of writing reports for a governmental bureau. One day a stranger comes to live in the village. His odd manner and habits arouse suspicions: His speech is formal, he takes long, solitary walks, and although he is unfailingly friendly and polite, he reveals nothing about himself. When the stranger produces drawings of the village and its inhabitants that are both unflattering and insightful, the villagers murder him. The authorities who witnessed the killing tell Brodeck to write a report that is essentially a whitewash of the incident.

As Brodeck writes the official account, he sets down his version of the truth in a separate, parallel narrative. In measured, evocative prose, he weaves into the story of the stranger his own painful history and the dark secrets the villagers have fiercely kept hidden.

Set in an unnamed time and place, Brodeck blends the familiar and unfamiliar, myth and history into a work of extraordinary power and resonance. Readers of J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader and Kafka will be captivated by Brodeck.

I

I'm Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.
I insist on that. I want everyone to know.

I had no part in it, and once I learned what had happened, I would have preferred never to mention it again, I would have liked to bind my memory fast and keep it that way, as subdued and still as a weasel in an iron trap.

But the others forced me. "You know how to write," they said. "You've been to the University." I replied that my studies hadn't amounted to much--I hadn't even finished my courses and didn't remember much about them. They didn't want to hear it. "You know how to write, you know about words and how to use them, you know how they can say things. That's what we need. We can't do it ourselves. We'd get into a muddle, but you, you'll say it right, and people will believe you. Besides, you've got the typewriter."

It's very old, the typewriter. Several of its keys are broken, and I have nothing to repair it with. It's capricious. It's worn out. Sometimes, for no apparent ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel is set in an unidentified place and time. Why do you think the author chose to make the setting anonymous? Do you think he had a specific historical event in mind? Was this device effective or not? Can you think of another novel in which this is done?

  2. The first lines of the novel are, "I'm Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it. I insist on that. I want everyone to know." How do you interpret Brodeck's tone? Why is he so adamant about this point? Is it true that he's innocent?

  3. Brodeck takes it upon himself to assign names to the significant events in his life. Kazerskwir, or "the crater," refers to his two years in the death camp and the Ereigniës, or "the thing that happened," refers to the murder at Schloss's Inn. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In the final passage of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a man narrowly escapes starvation by feeding at the breast of a woman whose infant child has died. It is a punishingly beautiful combination of despair and hope with few peers in contemporary fiction. Brodeck, the prescient new novel by French author Phillipe Claudel, culminates in an equally moving but far darker scene that will haunt readers even as the book enchants them... A deep and wide ocean of a story, with transcendent crests and despairing troughs. Get up your courage before you set sail.   (Reviewed by Micah Gell-Redman).

Full Review Members Only (779 words).

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

I admire its hypnotic atmosphere and moral seriousness, but for me the narrative too strongly bears the stamp of its literary antecedents, Kafka above all.

Kirkus Reviews

Consistently involving but ultimately unsatisfying.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Claudel's style is very visual and evocative .... this novel ... is full of terror, horror, and beauty and wonder.

Library Journal

Claudel...offers up an engrossing tale of collective guilt and redemption, smoothly translated by Cullen, that should appeal to those concerned with issues of good and evil.

The Daily Telegraph

I feel nervous describing this extraordinary novel as 'an adult fairy tale', because I'd generally run a mile from any book described in that way. ... Brodeck's Report won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in the original French and John Cullen's English translation is as clear as a mountain stream. It is a modern masterpiece.

The Scotsman

This is a remarkable novel, all the more so because this account of man's inhumanity to man, of coarse and brutal stupidity, of fear and surrender to evil, is nevertheless not without hope. Brodeck survives because, despite all he has experienced, he remains capable of love. It is also beautifully written, and well translated… I mentioned Kafka earlier, and the novel is as compelling as anything he wrote

The Times

[O]riginal, brilliant and disturbing… It is a relentless, uncomfortable book that achieves a beauty of its own through Claudel's deft writing and passionate commitment to truth. Claudel is a novelist of ideas, in the French tradition. He deals skillfully in archetypes and abstractions. His characters and their village are sparsely sketched, just like the De Anderer portraits and landscapes that cause such fatal offense.

Le Parisien

….a meditation upon the hatred of the foreigner, the rejection of difference, the blindness of crowds, group stupidity, collective cowardice. Once again, Philippe Claudel plumbs the black depths of the human heart, with contained fury and deliberate humility….In the end, this is simply very great literature.

Reader Reviews

donna nueva,

the other
An extremely good and well-written book, Brodeck explores the theme of "the other". villagers in an isolated town show their suspicions about a newly arrived person fron"the outside" and how these initial suspicions lead to ...   Read More

Ernie Urvater

Brodeck: a stunning masterpiece
Very good doesn't do this novel justice. It has been called a modern masterpiece by another reviewer, and that is exactly what it is. I read Brodeck in one day--I couldn't put it down. At once chilling and disturbing, it leaves the reader with a ...   Read More

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Kristallnacht
While Philppe Claudel makes no explicit references to any historical event, a number of them clearly influenced his novel. A particularly poignant example comes when Brodeck is forced to flee the city where he attends university because nationalist thugs respond to a popular protest by smashing store fronts and savagely beating anyone who looks like they don't belong. There is an obvious parallel to the infamous events of Kristallnacht, a touchstone in the progression toward the Nazi murder of the Jews.

When Hitler occupied the chancellorship of Germany in 1933, he did so as head of a National Socialist party that shared anti-communist and anti-Semitic rhetoric with a number of other political movements in Europe. ...

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