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Agota Kristof: Le Troisième mensonge (The Third Lie)

This book takes off where La preuve (The Proof) left off. At least it seems to. Claus, who had returned to his native country at the end of the previous book, is now in prison as his visa has expired. He reminisces about his past life and either he is lying now or was lying in the past for his brother disappears from the story. He admits that he mentioned a brother, but says that the brother was only imaginary. Then the story changes. It seems the story we heard in the first two books was completely erroneous. The twins lived with their parents till the war. Just as the war was starting, their father announced his intention of leaving them to live with another woman. Their mother then produced a gun and killed the father. A ricochet wounded Lucas. Lucas goes to a special centre to help him overcome the effects of the injury while Klaus goes to live with Antonia, his father’s lover, and their daughter, Sarah.

But is this the story? Klaus also leaves the country, as he does in the other books, but this time he helps a stranger who wants to cross the frontier, using him as the lead and, when the stranger is killed by a mine, passes across the frontier. He returns fifty years later to find his brother (as we saw at the end of La preuve (The Proof)), who is living with their mother and is a successful poet and the father of two children. Lucas, however, refuses to recognise Klaus.

The emphasis in the first two novels was on the brutalisation of people, particularly children, by war and totalitarianism. The focus on this novel is clearly on truth and identity. Who are we? Are we what we seem? The groundwork for this had been laid in the previous novels when we saw that one of the effects of the war was to separate families, causes records to be lost and change country boundaries so that it was not at all clear who was what and who was related to whom. This is now taken to its logical extreme but, it is clear, Kristof’s message is that we want to belong – to a family, a country, a village, which is why Klaus returns home and tries to find his family, even if it is not his family. For the people of Eastern Europe (as well, of course, of many other countries), it is still not clear.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Editions du Seuil
First English translation in 1996 by Grove Press
Translated by Marc Romano