Despite a $4 fine on my account, I picked up Dawn, Dusk or Night: A Year With Nicolas Sarkozy at the Queens Library earlier tonight. I’m not particularly interested in politics, which is good since Yasmina Reza (the most celebrated playwright in France, I learn from the flap) writes, “I am not looking to write on power or on politics, but rather on politics as a way of being. I’m more interested in watching a man who intends to trump time.” She follows him for one year while he is running for the presidency.
Please note: I always do this. I get really excited about books before I’m even at page 25, so I want other people to get excited, but then the more I read, the less I’m excited, and then I feel bad for plugging something that I returned to the library without bothering to finish.
So far, though, it’s a refreshing read. Reza’s writing is so…efficient and refined. It was translated from French, so it’s fascinating to take in the style. It’s not dumbed down like a lot of American non-fiction (or just plain writing) seems to be. It wasn’t written in hopes of making it onto Oprah’s Book Club. It was written by a woman with a sincere curiosity. Maybe it’s appealing to me so much (so far) because it’s a little choppy, but in a good way, like poetry. She jumps around and you’re greeted on the page by small passages, like the following one, before she returns to something else:
Later, I am talking with my friend Marc in a cafe.
Anyway, you’ll reinvent him. Writers, like tyrants, are capable of bending the world to their will.
Isn’t that beautiful? And provocative. Sometimes she doesn’t use quotation marks, but that just means you have to pay attention. Or, she’ll start writing about Sarkozy in a new setting, talking to a new person, and Reza won’t tell you where or with who right away. In one such passage she waits until the end to reveal that he’s in Barack Obama’s office.
That’s the thing about the way we’re taught to write in America–we’re given these strict rules that are good, in the beginning, but there comes a point where you have to allow freedom. More freedom than the 5-paragraph essay’s Introduction-Body Paragraph-Body Paragraph-Body Paragraph-Conclusion can give you. An American would be instructed to start the paragraph with something like, “Nicolas Sarkozy meets with Senator Barack Obama in his office while they are both in the midst of presidential campaigns.” But Reza stays vague, knowing the effect is so much stronger with this ending:
Looking up, one sees Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, J. F. Kennedy laughing with some black musicians. In the office of the splendid Barack Obama, the idea of America itself is hanging on the walls.
Reza’s writing shows she is that breed of observant that few people are. The kind where you pick up on the tiniest of tiniest details that most people would never consider warrant their attention. Then you make connections between the tiniest of the tiniest to the biggest of the biggest: identity, religion, politics, love, sexuality, the universe, all that. That’s the kind of writer I want to be. Oh, and funny. Because there’s humor in the profound. There’s humor in everything.