Prosthetic and palimpsestic play in Agnès Desarthe’s Le remplaçant (2009): Revisiting the Holocaust

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Abstract / Description of output

As its title suggests, the theme of replacement is at the heart of French author Agnès Desarthe’s narrative. Published in 2009, Le remplaçant is ostensibly a portrait of the narrator’s beloved grandfather, ‘papi’, who, we learn, is not in fact a blood relation, but the man who marries her bereaved grandmother after the Second World War, her mother’s father having died in Auschwitz. A portrait also emerges, in parallel, of the eminent Polish Jewish educator and physician, Janusz Korczak (the pen name for Henryk Goldszmit, 1878-1942), whose experiences of, and writing about, the Warsaw ghetto (where he looked after children who had been orphaned, and died with those children), was originally the impetus for the writing of the book. Here, I trace Desarthe’s journey, via the defining moment of her visit to the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum in Israel, described as the catalyst for the book, to the finding of her own voice (and place). Within an analysis of the stories and memories presented in Le remplaçant, and a consideration of the aesthetics of her storytelling, I investigate the pertinence of theories addressing the writing of third-generation narratives of the Shoah, including Marianne Hirsch’s use of ‘postmemory’, Alison Landsberg’s thesis on ‘prosthetic memory’, and various theories on the nature of ‘hauntology’ in the light of Desarthe’s interconnected portraits. In doing so, I aim to navigate the complex dynamics of Le remplaçant to find, via the prosthesis and the palimpsest, a story in which absent figures also play a symbolic role, and in which the narrator explores the re-placement of one story by another: ‘On veut écrire un livre et c’est un autre qui vient’ (68). She presents the emergence of a creative storytelling self via her researching, and the finding of her own voice in a re-placement of self within various histories and stories, in different and unexpected ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-101
JournalFrench Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2019


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