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Agota Kristof: La preuve (The Proof)

This book takes off where Le grand cahier (The Notebook) left off. The new regime, clearly a communist one, has taken over. Claus has now crossed the frontier, leaving Lucas on his own. On his own, Lucas becomes somewhat of a different person. First he takes in Yasmine and her son. Yasmine’s son was fathered by her father and he is now in prison for his crime. The son, Mathias, is deformed but Lucas looks after him as though he is his own brother. He helps out the priest who now has no income as there is no use for priests in the new regime. He befriends Peter, who is the local Party secretary but who is gay, which is also proscribed by the new regime. He is friendly with Victor, the owner of the bookstore, who is unable to find any worthwhile books as they are all banned. Victor sends him to the library, where he meets Clara, the librarian, who no longer has any customers but spends her time weeding out banned books (and, as we discover, taking some for herself.)

Yasmine disappears, allegedly to the capital but, as we discover at the end, probably murdered, maybe by Lucas. Clara, still bitter over the execution of her husband, for which the regime subsequently apologises, also goes to the capital but returns at the end. Lucas continues to bring up Mathias, with some difficulty, particularly as Mathias is viciously bullied at school and refuses to defend himself. Lucas eventually buys Victor’s bookstore. Victor goes back to the country to live with his unmarried sister and write the book he always meant to write. He fails to do so, continuing his drinking habit and eventually murdering his sister, for which he is hanged, despite the intervention of Peter. Mathias dies and Lucas continues on for a bit but then he, too, disappears. His twin brother, Claus, who had crossed the frontier at the end of Le grand cahier (The Notebook), turns up, though we are left in some doubt as to whether it is Claus or Lucas returned. Right at the end, we have an official statement to the effect that none of the main characters ever seems to have existed, in other words if you are not officially recognised you do not exist.

As with Le grand cahier (The Notebook), this book is bleak, both about the effects of war and about the effects of communism on people, particularly children. There are a lot of victims in this book – intellectuals, priests, gays, the innocent, the working man and woman – but Kristof seems to have most concern, most affection for children, in particular, in this case, the handicapped child, a double victim, through no fault of his own. She does not blame the two parents – Yasmine and her father – indeed she seems rather sympathetic to their love which seems to have been initiated, at least in part, by Yasmine, but she does feel sympathy for Mathias whose life is one of suffering. However, her message is quite simple – everybody suffers under the effects of war and the effects of a totalitarian regime. There are no winners, only losers.

Publishing history

First published 1988 by Editions du Seuil
First English translation in 1991 by Weidenfeld
Translated by David Watson