You Will Not Have My Hate’

by Antoine Leiris

This moving and courageous memoir covers eleven terrible days in the lives of Antoine Leiris and his 17 month old son Melvil. On the evening of 13th November 2016 Antoine is alone in his Paris flat looking after Melvil while his wife Helene is out at a concert. Suddenly he starts receiving anxious text-messages from friends, but without further explanation. Wondering at the cause of all this concern, he reaches for the TV remote control and the news of the terrorist attack at the Bataclan Theatre unfolds before his appalled and briefly unbelieving eyes. He tries to call Helene on her phone; she doesn’t answer. Antoine drives through the night, visiting with increasing desperation followed by stunned resignation all the hospitals in the city which have taken in the victims of the attack. That night Helene was one of 88 people who had been killed in the Bataclan massacre.

In the days that follow, Antoine experiences extremes of grief for himself and his baby son. He takes us with extraordinary acuity through the practical and emotional staging posts in grieving which he has to endure; the inadequate expressions of sorrow with which his family and friends besiege him, the dire impression of having become an exhibit; the forlorn attempts at providing meals made by the mothers in Melvil’s nursery group, the traumatic meeting with his friend who had been wounded at the concert but who had survived; the viewing of Helene’s body; the funeral arrangements; and finally, the first visit with Melvil to Helene’s grave, an event which brings about a form of catharsis for Antoine and of understanding for his child which would earlier have seemed impossible to accomplish.

Three days after the attack, Antoine posted an open letter to his wife’s killers on Facebook. In it he wrote: ‘On Friday night, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate…that is what you want, but to respond to your hate with anger would be to yield to the same ignorance which made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to see my fellow citizens through suspicious eyes, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have failed. I will not change’. The letter ends thus: ‘…all his life this little boy will defy you by being happy and free. Because you will not have his hate either.’ The letter became a social media phenomenon throughout France and the rest of the world, but more importantly for us, it creates a vivid and profound empathy.

This short book, which has been superbly translated, is a statement of such immediacy, of such emotional force and of such clarity of expression in circumstances which might have been thought beyond the power of adequate description, that it deserves to live long in readers’memories.

Harvill Secker127 pp hardback £10.00

Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Reviewed by Jonathan Stones

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