“Boris, 1985”: Douna Loup towards the unknown

The writer Douna Loup, in Geneva, in December 2022.

“Boris, 1985”, by Douna Loup, Zoé, 160 p., €17, digital €11.

There is in any writing process a sort of blind quest: like a search whose ultimate purpose we do not know, and which means that sometimes, we simply find. What ? A pattern, a shape, a book… and yourself, perhaps. Douna Loup, born in 1982, is still young, but she embodies this research quite exemplarily, through her already rich and particularly varied bibliography: from the exaltation of the novel which revealed her, Doorway (Mercure de France, 2010), experimenting with Deploy (Zoé, 2019) and its seven modular booklets in the style of One Hundred Trillion Poemsby Raymond Queneau (Gallimard, 1961), it seems to have multiplied narrative attempts before arriving today at Boris, 1985. The title has the air of an epitaph, which above all announces a kind of odyssey that is both intimate and historical, with its share of unbreakable mystery and absolute necessity.

Boris is Douna Loup’s great-uncle, and he is a sort of enigmatic, distant hero in her family, in whom she knew she would one day have to be interested, as if by some sort of fatality. Born in the USSR in 1945, this man, whose charisma we guess, turned out to be a gifted but fragile scientist, going through a difficult youth in a country that did not like Jews, and where he loved mathematics more than anything. Being of numbers and loneliness, accustomed to long walks in the wildest possible spaces, he mysteriously disappeared in 1985 in Chile, on the outskirts of the Andes, during one of his expeditions. Thirty-four years later, his great-niece takes over the investigation, and reopens the file of the sinister German sect of the Coloniawho thrived under the Pinochet regime and may have had something to do with the mathematician’s demise.

No primer

The book thus follows the dual journey of the narrator in America and of Boris from his Russian childhood, in the anti-Semitic atmosphere of the USSR at the time, which prevented him from considering the brilliant career to which he could naturally pretend, until his exile in the United States, via Austria and Rome, then this moment of rocking towards the unknown, his lost destiny, like an unbearable aporia: his disappearance. The originality of the story is not to try to unify this material in the smooth beauty of a style: if there is an “I”, it is first of all the one who collects the hypotheses, records the testimonies, s Questions about the meaning of the retained present, moves emotionally to the “you” of the absent, almost to an elegiac poem, as in a logbook or an improvised travel diary. No preparation, the simple voice of a writer who finds in the footsteps of her great-uncle the history of a century, between the Soviet Union of the 1960s and the Chile of Pinochet, without trying to deduce too many conclusions general, without being sure of the meaning of all this.

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