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A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien…

A Very Long Engagement (1991)

by Sébastien Japrisot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (21)  French (3)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
En el frío invierno de 1917, cinco soldados franceses, heridos y maniatados, caminan hacia un destino trágico en un desolado rincón del frente. Matilde sabe, en el fondo de su corazón, que su amado Manech sigue vivo, a pesar del telegrama que anunciaba que había caído en combate junto a tantos otros de sus camaradas. Una certeza que se mezcla con el horror y la indignación cuando, una vez acabada la guerra, un sargento moribundo le cuenta la verdad sobre la última vez en que vio a su novio: Manech y otros cuatro soldados, acusados de herirse a sí mismos para escapar del frente, fueron atados y abandonados en tierra de nadie. A partir de ese momento, Matilde emprende la búsqueda de la verdad. A lo largo de los años, armada de un coraje inquebrantable, irá escudriñando las vidas de aquel puñado de hombres entregados a la muerte. Descubrirá historias de amor, de culpa, de abandono, con el trasfondo siempre de la locura colectiva que llevó a los hombres a cometer las peores atrocidades en nombre de la patria. Una conmovedora historia de amor a través del tiempo, envuelta en un apasionante misterio que se va desvelando poco a poco, dejando al descubierto una tupida red de ilusiones, amor y desdicha
  Haijavivi | Jun 2, 2019 |
My friend Ed also suggested this one a few years back. I recall the circumstances of acquiring it more thna the novel itself. It is interesting that the protagonist's disability is much evident in the book than the film adaptation. I suppose Miramax determined that we weren't prepared for Amelie in My Left Foot. That was harsh, wasn't it? ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
A romance novel set in France during the First World War. A French soldier disappears on the Western Front. Mathilde, the woman who loves him, refuses to give up until she finds him. Every man needs a Mathilde in his life....makes it worth living.
  bowlees | Mar 9, 2016 |
Sebastian Japrisot's novel "A Very Long Engagement," first published in France in 1991 as "Un long divan he de fiancailles," manages to be an unconventional love story, an unconventional war story and an unconventional detective story all at the same time. It succeeds admirably as all three.

As a love story it is unconventional because the two lovers, except in flashbacks, do not come together until the end of the story. The story takes place soon after the close of the Great War, so the war, too, is described in letters and reminiscences and letters. The detective story is unconventional because the detective is a young woman, Mathilde Donnay, who was told her fiancé, Manech, died in the war. She has never believed that, so now, the war over, she begins to investigate what really happened in the French trench known as Bingo Crepuscule.

It seems Manech, whom she has loved since childhood, was one of five men condemned to die for self-mutilation. Instead of facing a firing squad, however, they were forced into No Man's Land between the French and German armies. All five are reported dead, their bodies recovered and buried. Still Mathilde maintains hope and hunts down survivors from the trench to try to keep that hope alive. That she was crippled in a childhood accident and confined to a wheelchair perhaps leads her not to easily give up on the one man who loved her, as well as giving her the time to write all those letters and to dig out the truth in all the different versions she hears.

I watched, for maybe the sixth time, the Jean-Pierre Jeunet film based on the novel on the same day I finished the book. He changed a few minor details. Mathilde had polio and can still walk in the movie. She is an orphan in the film, not in the novel. She speaks with the character Tina Lombardi in the movie, not in the book. Still Jeunet stays amazingly true to the story and, in my view, improves on it. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Aug 14, 2015 |
Although ultimately a fairly depressing subject, it was a fairly compelling book. I wasn't sure if I liked it but I'm glad I read it and I found it hard to put down. The only big failing was I found the Mathilde character very unlikable and I think that was not the goal.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sébastien Japrisotprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coverdale, LindaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keating, IsabelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metsch, FritzDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.
"I only wish I had such eyes," the King
remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to
see nobody. And at that distance, too!
Why, it's as much as I can do to see real
people, by this light."
Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking-Glass
First words
One upon a time, there were five French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that's the way of the world.
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Original title, Un long dimanche de fiançailles
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Book description
Set during and after the First World War, A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a young woman's search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having officially been reported as "killed in the line of duty." Unable to walk since childhood, fearless Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest as she scours the country for information about five wounded French soldiers who were brutally abandoned by their own troops. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War.


In January 1917, five wounded French soldiers, their hands bound behind them, are brought to the front at Picardy by their own troops, forced into no-man's land between the French and German armies, and left to die in the cross fire. Their brutal punishment has been hushed up for more than two years when Mathilde Donnay, unable to walk since childhood, begins a relentless quest to find out whether her fiancé, officially "killed in the line of duty," might still be alive.

Tipped off by a letter from a dying soldier, the shrewd, sardonic, and wonderfully imaginative Mathilde scours the country for information about the men. As she carries her search to its end, an elaborate web of deception and coincidence emerges, and Mathilde comes to an understanding of the horrors, and the acts of kindness, brought about by the war.

Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312424582, Paperback)

January 1917: five French soldiers are marched to their own front lines where they will be tossed out into no man's land with their hands tied behind their backs and left for the Germans to shoot. They were, in civilian life, variously a pimp, a mechanic, a farmer, a carpenter, and a fisherman; now they are condemned because each had sought to leave the war by shooting himself in the hand. Taken to a godforsaken trench nicknamed Bingo Crépuscule, the five are reluctantly sent out into the darkness; days later, five bodies are recovered and the families are notified, merely, that the men died in the line of duty.

August 1919: Mathilde Donnay receives a letter from a dying man. In it, the former soldier tells her that he met her beloved fiancé, the fisherman Manech, shortly before he died. Mathilde goes to meet Sergeant Daniel Esperanza at his hospital and there hears the story of the execution. She also receives a package with a photograph of the men and copies of their last letters. As Mathilde reads and rereads the letters and goes over Esperanza's tale, she begins to suspect that perhaps the story didn't end quite so neatly. And so begins her very long investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of five condemned prisoners--one of whom, at least, might not really be dead.

In Mathilde Donnay, Sebastien Japrisot has created one of the most compelling and delightful heroines in modern fiction. Though confined to a wheelchair since childhood, "Mathilde has other lives, varied and quite beautiful ones." She paints, cares for her pets, enjoys a rich fantasy life, and is relentless in her search for the truth about Manech's death. But she is by no means the only vibrant personality leaping off Japrisot's pages. This author has a remarkable ability to draw even minor characters in three dimensions with economy and wit. Take Mathilde's mother, for instance, caught in mid-card game: "At bridge, manille, bezique, Mama is a dirty rotten swine. Not only is she an ace with the pasteboards, but she throws her opponents off their mettle by insulting or making fun of them." And even the characters we meet only through other people's memories--the condemned men--are so fully realized that you find yourself torn over which one you hope may have survived. As Mathilde comes ever closer to solving the mystery of what happened at Bingo Crépuscule that January morning in 1917, Sebastien Japrisot proves himself a master storyteller and A Very Long Engagement a near perfect novel. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:05 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A runaway bestseller in France, this stunning novel about love and war has been compared to War and Peace by the Los Angeles Times. Cinematic in sweep and emotional impact, the novel is both an absorbing mystery and a playful study of the different ways one story can be told.… (more)

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