‘And There Was Light’ by Jaques Lusseyran

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★★★★

This autobiography is absolutely spell-binding! The events it describes, the people included seem so incredible that at times I absolutely forgot that I was not reading a novel but an account of real and terrible events that took place in France during the WW2. Lusseyran was a real man, who went through incredible events and survived. In this book, he explains how he as a blind person became a key resistance leader and avoided death in the concentration camps. It is heartwarming and terrible at the same time.

Jaques describes himself as one of those children that are constantly running. Never sitting still and never pausing in their exploration of the world around them. He was like this when he could see, but also retained these qualities after he lost his sight aged eight. After going blind he developed a new method of exploring the world, a new way of approaching his surroundings. He describes the world as still filled with light, but a light only he could see. And he eloquently explains how his blindness gave him a new sense.

‘I was not light myself, I knew that, but I bathed in it as an element which blindness had suddenly brought much closer. I could feel light rising, spreading, resting on objects, giving them form, then leaving them’.

Due to two resourceful and loving parents, he received the best education available in Paris at the time, a political awareness and the bravery to go out in the world and accomplish whatever he wanted to do. Throughout his childhood, there were always friends who ensured he was included in the same games of all the other children. Especially the boy Jean became so close to Jaques that the two could almost read each other’s minds. When France is occupied by Germany, Jaques and his freinds become determined to do something to fight for their home country. Despite their age (they are between sixteen and twenty), they build a resistance movement that numbered 600 young men and women, distributed illigal papers and helped transport POWs to Spain. They were active for years before they were caught.

Jaques does not describe the details of Buchenwald, the concentration camp he was sent to. He states other authors have done it will in other works and he does not have the heart for it. What he describes are the people there, his fellow prisoners. Some went mad in their desperation, hunger and fear. Others rose to the occasion and helped their fellow prisoners. It is a miracle that Jaques survived, for most of the abled bodied men perished in that camp, and as a blind person Jaques could not prevent others from stealing his food.

There is no truth about the inhuman, any more than there is truth about death; at any rate not on our side, among us as mortal men.

Lusseyran, Jacques. And There Was Light: The Extraordinary Memoir of a Blind Hero of the French Resistance in World War II . New World Library. Kindle Edition.

If there was one aspect of his life that I wish Lusseyran had explored further, it was his relationship with his parents and little brother. He does not go into detail about how his arrestation impacted them, or even much about the family’s dynamic. His parents are depicted as pretty saintly, doing everything right after their son loses his sight. Their lack of dimensionality might be due to them being alive when Jaques wrote the book in the 50s. I would also have my reservations about publicly discuss the inner workings of my family to the world, so I get it.

It is a short book, well-written and worth any reader’s time

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