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12Feb

Life, After by Antoine Leiris review – embracing the now

Six years after the Bataclan attack in which his wife was killed, Leiris writes a deft study of memory and rage

On 13 November 2015, Islamist gunmen opened fire on concertgoers at the Bataclan theatre in Paris, killing 90 people. Among the victims was Hélène Muyal-Leiris, who was survived by her husband Antoine Leiris and their 19-month-old son Melvil. Three days later Leiris, a journalist, addressed his wife’s killers in a Facebook post, declaring: “I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know … I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you”. This wasn’t just a bereaved man’s cri de coeur, it was a pre-emptive protest against a far right that would try to leverage France’s grief for its nationalist agenda. Leiris’s post went viral, was adopted as a liberal rallying cry, and was followed in 2016 by You Will Not Have My Hate, a slim memoir which quickly became an international bestseller.

Now, six years later, comes a kind of sequel. Whereas the first book zoomed in, recounting how Leiris and Melvil survived the 12 days after the attack, the second pans back. Life, After covers four years, describing how they build a life together “like two escapees from the ordinary world”. Seeking a fresh start, Leiris moves them from a historic street in Montmartre to a sixth-floor new-build apartment in the 16th arrondissement. “I am embracing the now,” he tells us in his brisk present tense, lucidly translated by Sam Taylor: “the immediate, the convenient, the practical, the ephemeral, the washable, the soundproofed”.

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