Once upon a time there was a young vindicator

"Boy with a black rooster" (Junge mit schwarzem Hahn), by Stefanie vor Schulte, translated from German by Nicolas Véron, Héloïse d'Ormesson, 208 p., €19, digital €14.

There are wolves prowling and spirits howling in the night, dark horsemen and jester-like executioners, gray witches and a cruel princess. But there are also girls with a big heart, a boy with an angel face and a black rooster who can talk. Novel ? Fables? Tale? No matter the category: Black cock boyby Stefanie vor Schulte, is a marvelous story in both the modern and medieval sense of the term, rightly honored in the spring at the Festival du premier roman de Chambéry.

The incarnation of the devil

Everything could start with: "Once upon a time..." We are in a distant era, where wars left their lot of corpses in the swamps and forests, while the plague invaded the cities. But no long description is there to set the scene more solidly for this legendary Middle Ages, and the action focuses from the start on a boy named Martin. When he was 3 years old, his father, in a fit of madness, killed his wife and children with axes, except Martin, who grew up with a rooster that never leaves him. Banished from the village, “cut for hunger and the cold”Martin lives in a cabin away from everyone, both hated and feared by the inhabitants, who see in this black rooster the incarnation of the devil.

“There is something quite incongruous about this boy who has nothing but owes nothing to anyone, infinitely more worthy of respect than these prepotents who bend laws and rules according to their mood, and are so pleased with themselves themselves and their evil life that it is obscene. » One day, taking advantage of the presence of a painter who has come to paint the altarpiece in the church, Martin leaves the village and witnesses a scene as strange as it is appalling which will never cease to haunt his days and nights: while he walks on the path in the company of a young peasant woman, a black rider arrives at full gallop and seizes the child that the woman holds in her arms, before disappearing behind the hills. It was then that Martin first heard of the legend of the black horseman. From now on, he will never stop trying to find where these children are taken.

Seriousness, inventiveness, humor

It could be a novel of formation like we find many and at all times in German-language literature, but the imagination of Stefanie vor Schulte, born in Hanover, in 1974, gives a rare flamboyance to this story, where mix seriousness, inventiveness, humor and also sometimes a form of absurdity à la Kafka, without the story ever giving the impression of going all over the place. The author never loses sight of the mission of her hero, who finds the missing children, but this mission is more of an impulse than an assimilated and reasoned duty. It is a destiny. Martin, haunted by the father figure, is only 11 years old and possesses no supernatural powers, except for having a rooster that can speak – but only when necessary. We are rather in the vein of the picaresque novel à la Grimmelshausen (1621-1676, author of Adventures of Simplicissimus), with all the richness of the Baroque, less the weight of digressions.

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