Is there a reason to be optimistic? No. There isn’t just one. There are many. The sun scaled my scrap of sky this morning; I am writing this, the open books on the smooth surface of my desk cupping each other like clam shells filled with briny juice and delicate pearls; I have a splendid legacy of authors who came before me, daring to break new ground with their pens, typewriters and keyboards; last and most exciting of all, I am about to make a pilgrimage to France to visit the town where one of my favorite writers, Marguerite Duras, penned some of her most dynamic works. I’ll be staying in the very building (which is now a hotel) in which she had an apartment in Trouville, a town in Normandy sluiced by brisk ocean waters and buffeted by maritime winds.
Largely locked in her apartment at Les Roches Noires for days on end, Duras wrote The Malady of Death among other books. The prolific author penned plays, screenplays and novels; and directed films and theater, culled largely from her own material. One of her biographers, Laure Adler, wrote of her, “She became an excellent administrator of her own talent, constantly recycling Duras.” Le Monde called The Malady of Death “…an extended haiku on the meaning of love…” Duras’ writing was enigmatic in many cases: the film India Song, for example, holds dialogue that rolls along with a hypnotic repletion of the word “yes” spoken by a voice detached from human form. The word continually answers questions spoken by another voice sans body.
One of her best-known works outside of France is The Lover, which is said to be semi-autobiographical and based upon her childhood in Vietnam. In the book she wrote, “The story of my life doesn’t exist. Does not exist. There’s never any center to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it’s not true, there was no one.”
It has taken me years to make this trip happen, the seed of which was planted when I saw the film Cet Amour-Lá by Josée Dayan. The movie is based upon Duras’ years in Trouville when a young man named Yann Andréa Steiner came into her life. The film is a moving tribute to Duras’ appetite for the written word and her drive to get it on the page even when alcohol and cigarettes took their toll on her health. I share this determination to make a mark as a writer and this trip will be my heartfelt homage to her lust for language and determination to make her writing wholly unique.
At the end of The War: A Memoir, Duras wrote, “It’s dark. I can’t see the words I’ve written any more. I can’t see anything except my motionless hand which has stopped writing to you.” She’s one of the brave writers who inspire me to continue working even when self-doubt and feelings of arrogance that what I have to say matters creep in. She’s one of the reasons I have been able to continue posting The Road to Promise, even when I wondered why I would. I can’t wait to breathe in the salty air from that swath of shoreline at the edge of the English Channel. “There are reasons to be optimistic?” “Yes.”