Passage of the Emigrants, by Jacques Chauviré


Pupil of the Nation, whose father died on the field of honor in 1915 – the very year of his birth near Lyon – Jacques Chauviré was brought up by a courageous mother and, following the example of his older brother, obtained his doctor’s degree in medicine. After his mobilization in 39-40, he reopened a medical practice in 1942 in Neuville-sur-Saône (which he left in 1981), devoting his free time to reading and then to writing in this place near Lyon, a countryside where factories are beginning to set up (” In the evening, I took notes on my few patients, very medical notes, but, very quickly, I tended to extend these notes to a trait of character, a gesture… quiet pleasure, but not essential… d a writer in spite of himself. I am a doctor and it seems to me that I could not have done anything else.“).

In addition to his function as a general practitioner, he practiced as an occupational physician and as a geriatrician. Weaving a very strong link between these practices and that of writing, the novelist expresses the revolt of the humanist doctor concerned about the suffering of a patient confronted with the absurdity of existence.

It is therefore not surprising that it is to Albert Camus that he addresses for his opinion a text which will inaugurate a long correspondence testifying to a rich and deep relationship between the Nobel Prize winner and the man who was his friend and confidant until his death. death in 1960. It is thanks to Camus that Jacques Chauviré will publish with Gallimard, in 1958, his first novel “Partage de la soif” where he narrates with sobriety and efficiency the journey and the intimate questions of an occupational doctor torn between a factory boss and his workers, painting a realistic picture of the proletariat of his time.

Gallimard will publish until 1980 his novels mixing the themes dear to Chauviré: Passers-by, Earth and War, The Winter Confession ,Passage of emigrantsandSeagulls on the Saône . Between 1985 and 2006, short stories appeared with other publishers, as well as a short autobiographical novel of timeless delicacy, “Elisa”, in which, two years before his death, an 88-year-old Jacques Chauviré rekindles his first childhood love. five years for an eighteen year old girl.

In his second book,Passers-by — published in 1961 — we find a Desportes still young, but already desperate, who continues to face “the tragedy of each one”, the physical and psychic evils that he fights with rage and anguish in the face of death, a life sadder than beautiful, in the heavy daily life enlightened by the gift of self.
The last part of the trilogy was published in 1977, then republished by Le Dilettante in 2003:Passage of emigrantsis a particularly moving work based on the experience of the author, who transformed the hospice for the dying and marginalized in Albigny (Lyon region) into a hospital center and retirement home.

The story, altogether banal, of an elderly couple — Joseph and Maria Montagard — whom a loving son (?) convinced to leave their farm to be cared for in a specialized residence, is told with sensitivity and sharpness from the pen of Jacques Chauviré; the apparent simplicity of his style highlights his in-depth analysis of revealing facts and behaviors truthfully put into situation, the many protagonists seeming to be described on the spot, as if unmasked.

In this “residence” flanked by a dilapidated hospice, it is Doctor Desportes who, accompanied by loyal collaborators, lavishes – to the best of the allocated means – care that he feels is insufficient, even unsuitable: how to treat loneliness, decrepitude , the forfeiture leading inevitably to a daily observed death? He who wants “old people to stay in their usual homes if possible” sees them disintegrate over time, which passes slowly in boredom, according to micro-events. A strong endearing personality, Joseph works as a gardener, tends efficiently to the workshop, but will weaken in the face of the progression of the disease which affects his wife, whose death will leave him totally distraught: those who were “clinging to life” are also plagued by “the slow disembodiment of beings”, migrating from one part of the establishment to another in an inexorable decline.

Double of the novelist tormented by his acute awareness of an implacable death, Doctor Desportes knows that he only wins battles. He fights with lucidity, without concession in the face of sordid arrangements with indifference — even wickedness and lack of compassion —, petty cowardice, revolting stupidity… We nevertheless feel that he is aware of the malaise of the fearful, the hesitant, morally resigning, because feeling “consubstantial in discomfort“.

Symbol of a world in motion that residents no longer understand and from which they feel excluded, the neighboring town is changing at a sustained pace, holidaymakers flock to the new seaside resort: “We are too old to bear what they prepare for us.“It is with intensity, but also a strange serenity despite the series of assumed bereavements and sorrows, that a Montagard experiences his decline (“Every body prepares its own downfall. Death is just an unrecognized suicide. “).

Jacques Chauviré will take up this theme which was close to his heart in two short stories of dark tone published by Le Dilettante in 1990 in the collection entitled “End of days”, denouncing the cruel living conditions in certain residences housing the elderly. On reading this admirable novel, one can only subscribe to the opinion expressed by Philippe Claudel about Jacques Chauviré: “I admire his watery simplicity, the softly human balm that oozes from each of his sentences.»

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