Written by Michele Halberstadt
In La Petite, the renowned French writer and film producer Michèle Halberstadt vividly recounts the painful events that surrounded the death of her beloved grandfather, which led to a suicide attempt when she was twelve years old. Michèle’s mother favored her older sister, her father was emotionally remote, her teachers dismissive, and her peers a foreign species. Her grandfather alone had given her an image of herself that she could embrace. After he died, there seemed to be nothing left for her. One day she decided that she’d had enough of life. The pills in the bathroom were within reach and the temptation of falling asleep forever was irresistible.
La Petite is neither grim nor sentimental. Halberstadt, the recipient of both the Legion d’Honneur and the Ordre du Mérite, France’s two most prestigious awards, has perfectly captured the emotions of the little girl she once was. Everywoman will recognize something of herself in this moving story about adolescent grief, solitude, and awakening.
Category: Biography & Autobiography - Personal Memoirs
“[A] touching glimpse of a young life nearly lost and then redeemed…[A] brief but powerful memoir…A haunting story with a triumphant conclusion.” –Kirkus
“It’s blunt, poignant, and exactly what adults should read in a time when adolescent’s and teen’s voices need to be heard. It doesn’t matter that [Halberstadt's] story is based in her childhood, or that she’s French. This is a story that many people can relate to, and her problems then are just as relevant now.” –Examiner
"This is a big little book that illustrates, elegantly, the preciousness of life and emotions without once falling into greeting-card territory." –Library Journal
Michèle Halberstadt is a journalist, author, and producer of such films as Mr. Ibrahim, Farewell My Concubine, and Murderous Maids, which she also cowrote. Her previous novels include The Pianist in the Dark, which won the Drouot Literary Prize and was short-listed for the Lilas literary prize in France.
Linda Coverdale has translated more than sixty books. A Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, she has won the 2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the 2006 Scott Moncrieff Prize, and the 1997 and 2008 French-American Foundation Translation Prize. She was a finalist for the 2008 French-American Foundation Translation Prize for Life Laid Bare (Other Press, 2007).
In his bedroom was a low chest with five drawers, and the bottom one was reserved for me. I could arrive unexpectedly, yet find a surprise hidden there every time. A gift, a handkerchief, a lollipop, it didn’t matter. That was a promise he’d made me and he never once broke it. That permanently restocked drawer represented the infallible proof of his love for me. He did not treat me like a granddaughter, like a little girl. He considered me a person with whom to share and exchange things to read, points of view, essential discoveries.
For example, when I was six, one day when the two of us were having lunch in his kitchen, he placed before me a white plate bearing a regal chèvre cendré. He knew that I hated cheese in general and this kind in particular, because to me goat cheese tasted like soap, but he was immensely fond of chèvre cendré, therefore it was impossible that his granddaughter should not share this predilection. So he uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux, placed a bit of chèvre on a small piece of still warm toast lightly spread with salted butter, and explained to me precisely how the flavor of the cheese would be accentuated by the wine’s acidity. His blue-footed wineglass clinked mine to celebrate my first tasting as a connoisseur, in the certainty that from then on, just as we shared a straight nose, drooping eyelids, and the inveterate habit of constantly humming, his favorite cheese would also be mine.
He was facetious, imperious. He understood everything and I could tell him frightening secrets he would never have thought to make fun of. He was not judgmental, never reproving, and aside from lapses in good manners, about which he was intransigent, he was quick to forgive. Mockery was his usual tack, repartee his besetting sin, generosity his Achilles’ heel. His humor made the world cozier, his tenderness cushioned my days. Nothing could ever happen to me as long as he was there, and I had never envisaged a life without him as its center.