Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: "You Will Not Have My Hate" by Antoine Leiris

"So, no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. That is what you want, but to respond to your hate with anger would be to yield to the same ignorance that made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to see my fellow citizens through suspicious eyes, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have failed. I will not change."

I, like so many people across the world, was riveted to my television the night of November 13, 2015, as we learned of the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, particularly the massacre at the Bataclan Theater, which left 90 concert-goers dead and countless more injured. Among those killed was Hélène Muyal-Leiris, a young wife and mother who was attending the concert with a friend.

Three days after his wife's murder, Antoine Leiris wrote a letter to her killers, which he subsequently published on Facebook. He let them, and the world, know that while he had every right to be angry, to hate the terrorists for taking his wife from him and his young son, he wouldn't allow them the luxury of his hate. His post went viral, and Leiris became an inspiration not only to others who lost people in the Paris attacks, but to anyone struggling with a senseless loss at the hands of another. This new role became as much a burden at times as it did an honor.

"Since then, I have been lost: I don't know where I'm going, I don't know how to get there. You can't really count on me...I think about all the others who have written to me. I want to tell them that I feel dwarfed by my own words. Even if I try to convince myself that they are mine, I don't know if I will live up to them. From one day to the next, I might drown."

You Will Not Have My Hate is a short, powerful account of the days and weeks following Hélène's murder. It is raw, emotional, and utterly mesmerizing how Leiris was able to find the strength he needed to face raising his young son alone, handling the rituals alone which he and his wife once performed together. It is also a portrait of a love story and a testament to a woman who left her indelible mark on two lives, although one never really had the chance to know her.

I thought this was beautifully written, emotional without being maudlin, fiercely courageous, and, as you'd imagine, totally moving. But beyond that, I found this really inspirational, both as an account of overcoming a sudden loss and a paean to finding strength and resolve at a time when you have every right not to.

Between this and Paul Kalanithi's exceptional When Breath Becomes Air (see my review), I've found two books to turn to when life's challenges may seem insurmountable. Because if these two men could find the strength to soldier on, I know I will be, too.

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