1937. Anthony has 17 years old. With his best friend Charles, whom he knows from college, the young man aspires to do great things. “We were at the age where nothing is impossible, where one believes that he is invested of a destiny otherwise higher than those, so ordinary, that we saw each other then,” writes Anthony. The high school happens when a day of the month of August, after having celebrated the first part of the bachelor’s degree, the two friends meet a young woman by the name of Severine. It is love at first sight. The trio becomes inseparable and dream of mountains and marvels. But the war broke out. Too early. Too fast. In the summer of 1939, while rocking. Charles, Antoine and Séverine must leave. For better and for worse… Christian Signol sign with The Summer of our twenty years, a novel upsetting that combines thoughts and emotions.
LE FIGARO. – You seem to drag many biographical elements in your book. Play as you the main character, Antoine?
Christian SIGNOL. – It is not I who am in this book, but my father. It looks a lot like the character of Antoine. At least, he would have looked like if he had remained in the Dordogne when he was his age, 20 years. In fact, he attended the same high school that Anthony, one of La Boétie, in Sarlat. He has also participated in the same resistance network. But this did no past in the same area -it went in the Quercy where he met my mother – or at the same time. I imagined the life that could have been hers, from a few elements of its past.
My father has often told his story. And especially that of its past resistant. One day, when he was summoned to the barracks of Cahors, an Alsatian challenged: “do You really want to go to Germany?” My father responded “no” and the man from Alsace has then told: “This night, at 11 am, going over the wall and join me.” My father has done what he said, not knowing what he was really on the other side. There might have been in the Gestapo or the French police, but it has not stopped. And in reality, the Alsatian was a recruiter in the bush!
You’re telling the story of a love triangle. A friendship almost fraternal, and a love story that the First world War will tear. Why have you chosen to write on this subject “already seen”?
This is a very interesting topic for a novelist! I had a director in Lafon, who told me: “A novelist must tell of the problems of sentimental or problems of the Great war.” There, he had everything! You know, novelists are sponges, they draw a little bit around what they need. This theme is known, one is reminded of Jules and Gilles at the cinema, for example. But it is different…
Including the tragic ending…
This is true. But I did like the tom Thumb, I sowed pebbles throughout my book. I have warned the reader of the end with these verses of Apollinaire: “We do not, we will see more on land / Scent of time sprig of heather / And remember that I’m waiting for you.” In reality, I wrote this book in memory of my father, but I’ve also done for this purpose, and in particular this sentence: “I have decided to precede them in death to the host for always.” I have not thought of Romeo and Juliet in the writing. Maybe it was in my memory? I don’t know. But it is this formula that justifies the book.
“What we are witnessing today, including the rise of right-wing movements in the european countries, reminds us a little of what it was in the 1930s”
history of The summer of our twenty years is also that of a lightning strike. Do you believe it?
In this kind of time, season, holiday period, yes I believe in it. There is something of destiny in there. Moreover, when the grandparents of Antoine ask Charles and Antoine, they are lost after this “coup de foudre”, Charles answered: “No! Today, we found ourselves in”. I believe in destiny, in particular in historical period strong. And more particularly, in time of war.
You like yet Camus. An author who said that the destiny belongs to us…
This is true. I read it during my teens with jean Giono. But you know, when the war breaks out, it is the fate of all the young people of the time to participate. They become collaborators, resistant, passive… regardless of their choice, they act. I think they were all overwhelmed at the time by fate, by misfortune. Even those who have escaped from the STO. Many have suffered the situation.
The Summer of our twenty years is not a book about despair. Antoine, Charles and Séverine guess the fatality. They precede, therefore, the refuse. Charles will fight it. Tragically. But all lives are not subject to such a fate! Except, perhaps, in a historical period serious…
do you Think that we are in a historic period grave?
What we are witnessing today, including the rise of right-wing movements in the european countries, reminds us a little of what it was in the 1930s. I have not experienced, but I have the impression that there is this climate of worrying that goes up…
Your book is also a reflection on the time. First a question about the love and the time. Has changed with the years?
Yes, but it is not the only one. Friendship, life… Everything changes. It is true that in 20 years, it still has some form of innocence, a faith in life. But, in fact, everything darkens a little with time. The tragedies of life, we weaken, and it often yields to the facility… Do not give up, however, to despair. Especially not for twenty years. I think that we need to stay strong. For as long as possible.
“I write the history of the French families”
time is also a sensation in your book. In particular by the descriptions of nature.
The true comfort of life is, according to me, in nature. I always think of the phrase of jean Giono: “The earth does not belong to those who have it, but those who contemplate it.” The world sensitive, natural, living, call it what you want, it is the consolation of life. But it is forgotten today. There are more city dwellers than rural. Michel Onfray has this sentence, to me, are very just: “The city has killed the sky.” When I come to Paris, for example, I don’t see the stars.
You are describing finally, the nostalgia of a lost time…
It comes from actn. I have had the chance to live among simple people. The people with whom I’ve been happy. I’m so relived in my novels. In reality, I’m writing the history of French families. And this vision of my characters must reassure my readers, who are people nostalgic. They must find, recognize. The area lost childhood, of nature… They are also looking.
My books are books written. So in effect, there is a nostalgia that emanates from it. One in particular, of a lost paradise. I am a writer of consolation, but not a writer of happiness sad! Life is worth living. I try to be epicurean. And even if it is difficult to be so, because we live in a world of speed and not in the present moment, I try to slow down. Living particularly far from Paris.
How much time did you take to write this book?
Giono said: “My book is finished, I only have to write it down.” As for me, I get to write when my book is finished in my head. I can wear it for two or three years in my thoughts before writing the paper. This is the case of The summer of our twenty years , which I finished two years ago. But I had thought about for seven or eight years. At one point I click and I write. I put myself back to the window, closed, I look at my desk, my shelf of books and I begins. When we write the past, it is necessary to write in a bubble, out of the contemporary world. I don’t want influences, of pollution from the outside. Therefore, no music. Or unless before the write. Vivaldi, for example.