It happened at Darwin’s on Mass Ave, about halfway between Central Square and MIT, its few tables, as always, all occupied. She went to the counter and ordered her tea anyway: Maybe a chair would make itself available as she waited. Maybe someone would leave.
No one left.
But there was an open stool, she saw, at a small table where a man sat alone and absorbed by something on his computer screen. Adopting the hipster rudeness of Cambridge’s cafes, she pulled up the stool opposite him without so much as saying hello, and settled at the edge of the table available to her. She put her cup down on her right, took her things out of her bag, and began grading papers.
A few minutes later, she saw the man’s hand reach for her cup, his eyes still fixed on his screen. She spoke: “Uh, sorry? This is my cup.”
“Ah, excusez-moi,” he replied. Suddenly, he was looking deep into her eyes—an abrupt departure from the perfect inattention of just a few seconds earlier. His reply in a shared mother tongue appealed to her immediately: now here was a man who avoided the heavy-handed Ah! Mais vous êtes française, she thought; here was a man who got straight to the point. She decided he was original. She decided—somewhat hastily, she had to concede—he was smart.
They passed the next hour in silence, but this brief exchange was enough for her to conceive of the table they shared as common space; so, when she had to leave, she said, “Goodbye,” stiff in her cordiality. He nodded with a shy smile, looked at his watch, and got up to leave, too. Walking out of the café, he held the door open and ushered her through it.
“Jonas,” he said.
She was delighted.
They walked in the same direction, toward Harvard Square, their initial exchange having resolved itself into long minutes spent in wordless parallel. She decided to renew the dialogue:
“Have you been in the U.S. long?” she asked, using the formal vous.
Jonas smiled. “We can be on familiar terms, you know,” he said.
She hesitated—this was a classic French dilemma. He was a tall man, with medium-length hair and deep eyes. There was a certain lunar beauty in his facial features, which made his age rather difficult to estimate. He could’ve been twenty-five or forty-five. This youthfulness was a certain sign he was an academic; he had the look of an eternal student-lecturer.
Their conversation didn’t take the common turn it would have with just about anyone else. It seemed like it would, but it didn’t. First, he said, “You remind me of someone.”
“But you don’t know me,” she snapped, amused.
“I just mean your face,” he said.
“Ah! Well then maybe we’ve met before.”
“That’s impossible,” he said. “The person you look like died before I was born.”
The sentence fell on both of them like lead rain. As they walked up Cambridge’s main artery, now silent, she considered how to respond to this—to what seemed, then, like pretty much the worst seduction enterprise imaginable. She remained speechless.
“She was my grandmother,” he added quickly. “She died in Auschwitz.”
When she asked him what he was doing in Boston, he told her he was sleeping, mostly. Recovering. In this, the land of hyper-productivity, where people don’t sleep at all… she relished his answer.
Jonas was an astrophysicist. His brilliant career could be summed up in a few, prestigiously rhyming words: Polytechnicien, Normalien, Oxfordian, Heidelbergian and, most recently, Harvardian. He was a Parisian, too, and a bit of a musician. In fact, as of a few weeks ago, he’d held a highly prized research position at MIT. Dazzling.
And what was he working on now? On a link between the Big Bang theory and the role of black holes in the formation of galaxies, of course. She, the literary girl who boasted of having passed her scientific examinations with flying colors and having taken mathematics courses in preparatory courses for entry to France’s grandes écoles never understood much about it, but she’d always had a highly anxiety-producing fascination with the idea of black holes—celestial objects so dense that nothing can penetrate them and nothing can escape. So she attentively listened to him talk about what she saw as a kind of cosmic prison of devastating—but also, according to Jonas’ research, creative—force.
Jonas was the only son of parents who were, themselves, scientists—parents who carried the Holocaust on their backs, surviving children stripped of everything: that is, of their parents. All died during the Second World War. All of them: both of Jonas’ maternal grandparents, as well as his paternal grandmother, (to whom she, the girl from the café, looked physically similar, according to Jonas,)—all of them, exterminated.
When Jonas told her this story, she thought, for a few seconds, that his paternal grandfather was lucky to have escaped. He may have been: he just wasn’t lucky otherwise. After surviving the camps, the death marches, the transfer to and from Auschwitz, he was run over by a truck in a newly-liberated German street. His weakened body couldn’t withstand the shock. There should be a new term, she thought, to describe the supreme injustice of being subject to misfortune the minute one’s no longer subject to extermination.
“That’s life,” said Jonas, by which he apparently meant life is simply prey stalked by death. A black hole on earth. Inexorable. Devastating.
Jonas left Europe in early 2016, just a few weeks before they met. Officially, he’d accepted the job at MIT—a fast-paced job in an ultra-competitive environment. But what really made him decide to leave was his insomnia. He’d admitted that paradox to her: he’d taken a job in this sleep-thwarting place in order to rest.
Jonas had stopped sleeping back in 2012 when, in France, children were executed at close range because they were Jewish.
A terroristic black hole. An Islamist black hole. A Jihadist-Salafist-Extremist-Fundamentalist—myriad terms existed to describe this new Amalek, to describe its colossal violence. A killer of Jews. A killer of Jewish children. Children. Children like any other, like all others, children who laughed at the same jokes, were frightened of the same dark, who loved the same and who cried the same. Children at school, one their parents had picked for them.
Jonas had sunk into the insomnia of how: how can one kill children? How could he? How could this 20 year-old assassin not recognize in them his own brothers and sisters, his own cousins, his own potential children? How could he annihilate childhood—the commonest form of our common humanity? How, today, can a man in France—be his blood hot or cold—aim his weapon at a little boy crawling beside the dead bodies of his father and brother and pull the trigger? How could he look through his gun’s sites at the ponytail of a schoolgirl and do the same? How?
When you kill children, you kill their parents. When you kill parents, you kill their children.
For Jonas, those massacred children at the Jewish school in Toulouse were his parents, killed a second time. They were his parents as children.
Levinas wrote that insomnia is, “the impossibility of tearing apart the invasive, inevitable, anonymous rustle of existence,” and it was in this way Jonas found himself transfigured: he was an embodied Levinasian concept, trapped in an unbearable life he couldn’t abandon even for a few hours, like an unrelieved sentry, duty-bound to indefinite vigilance. He was in danger of being crushed by the weight of the present—of long hours of unremitting, excruciating consciousness.
Jonas’ ordeal wasn’t the result of Heideggerian angst. If anything, it was the opposite: It was of something which lived, which continued to live, a kind of anti-Semitic beast which fed on Jewish children.
In the violence of the early 21st Century, Jonas heard a dark echo of the violence of the 20th Century. He never articulated this, though. He never said what kept him from sleep. To be snared by silence—this was his legacy, inherited from his parents: an open wound from the diaspora of ashes. This isn’t to say he remained silent when something upset him—quite the opposite: It may have been the only time he grew truly angry. The migrants, for example, the European refugee crisis: he was incensed by the deaths, the nameless drowned in the Mediterranean, the camps for “rejected refugees” as he called them. Memories accreted in his mind, outrage upon outrage, and at the bottom of all, his grandparents: His grandparents who’d sought refuge and found death, gassed, consumed by a Nazi black hole.
So after 2015—which, in France, saw the twinned triumphs of anti-humanism and antisemitism, a grim apotheosis—Jonas, face bloodless from lack of sleep, sought soporific refuge in the United States. The November 2016 election had yet to take place there; and Jonas spent the few months of refuge which preceded it mostly in bed. She’d call him, sometimes, in the middle of the day to offer him a tea break, which also meant waking him up. She remembered Schopenhauer’s assertion that “animals of great intelligence”—geniuses, then, like Jonas—“sleep long and deep.”
“Maybe he’s depressed,” said Lena, a friend to whom she’d explained Jonas’ hypersomnia. “Anyway, it reminds me of that play by Tawfiq Al-Hakim, The Cave of Dreams, the one that inspired Cossery.” (Lena was, then, researching Laziness in the Fertile Valley, a novel by the Egyptian writer Albert Cossery.) “You know,” she continued, “I might have mentioned it to you, but the play’s based on the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus—about the young Christians who fall asleep in a cave for 300 years. They were fleeing the persecution of a pagan emperor.” Consequently, she began to think of sleep as a form of metaphysical resistance to the terror now roaring through France and elsewhere. Jonas: Sleeper of the Resistance?
And Jonas seemed so happy to be able to sleep, too. “I’m not on the wrong side of history anymore!” he joked, his register faux-heroic. He often quoted a line of Cioran’s by which he felt particularly implicated: “The tyrant remains awake.” (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Franco, Petain, Mobutu, Khomeini, Pol Pot and Pinochet—these tyrants did, anyway: All were famous insomniacs.) “And now we’ve got that autocrat Trump Tweeting at five in the morning,” Jonas added, emboldened, who again had assumed a worried air.
Soon, Jonas’ insomnia returned, worse than before, as a white supremacist America revealed itself to be everywhere, and to have been there all along: on campuses, in protests, in speech and in gesture, as swastikas and other ever-more-hateful graffiti on buildings. And then there was Pittsburgh.
In October of 2018, when Jonas was averaging several sleepless nights weekly, the murders at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue made things worse still. What had happened there, in James Madison country, and what could happen again, was unbearable, especially for Jonas. It was a kind of Russian doll attack, targeting Jews, Jews who helped immigrants—it had targeted the HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization with the motto, “Welcome the stranger; protect the refugee,”—and, therefore, all who sought refuge, a group with whom Jews felt special affinity. The attacker sought to reject the other, the vulnerable with the brutality of the assault rifle. He sought to attack the Jew, and, within, the Latino, and, within, the Syrian.
She often tried to bring some levity to Jonas’ life—to play the jester for someone more somber than she. Some of their conversations made him laugh. For example, she’d often tell him about her tempestuous love affairs, her simultaneous entanglements with a man in France for whose family she wasn’t Jewish enough and a man in the U.S. (they’d decided to nickname him ‘the self-hating Jew,’) for whom she was too Jewish. He always gave his opinion, though he was far from an expert on relationships: He always seemed to find himself caught in affairs as intense as they were brief. He’d had a girlfriend who was a researcher in theoretical mathematics, whose family had fled the ‘civil war’ in Algeria—dark years during which horror was seamlessly assimilated into the landscape of daily life: a girl with beautiful green eyes who’d lost her entire family, save for her sister, in a series of increasingly sordid murders. She was part of the liberal Algerian elite, a favorite target of Islamists; and it seemed possible Jonas had chosen her because she too could understand the agony of familial loss. Anyway, it didn’t last. Nor did his affair with another girl, half-Afghan and half-Kyrgyz, her face asymmetrical, her figure lanky, her job somehow even geekier than that of the Algerian: She worked in network security, and her affect was that of the incarnate antithesis of all the joy on Earth.
Jonas only let go once. It was during Passover, and that year, like every year, she tried to get in the holiday spirit by learning to cook a new dish, or by reading about various rituals which she often found amusing and always found instructive. These rituals, practiced by Americans and various international Bostonians with a lightness which suited her—her vaguely Jewish mother was decidedly secular; her Christian father a staunch atheist. Jonas, meanwhile, had a definitely less playful relationship with his religion, which his father had been keen to pass on to him, despite his mother’s relative indifference. He was never enthusiastic about celebrating anything: He simply preferred not to. She had to insist he accompany her to her Argentine friends’ home for the Seder. She’d offered to prepare haroset, the mixture of ground dried fruits which represents the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt.
When Jonas saw her dish, what began as a wide smile turned quickly into a peal of laughter. “But what is this astronomical quantity? And the plate—”
She had, indeed, adopted the Mediterranean excessiveness of proportion and, since she had only small dishes available—totally insufficient for the mountain of haroset she’d produced—she’d opted for a very, very large decorative plate given to her by a Lebanese cousin. It was meant to be hung on the wall, but she’d found it to be hideous and had hastily put it away in a cupboard, but still, it could work as a serving vessel in a pinch. The trouble was all the Maronite religious motifs. They were discreet, but they were there, all along the edges—icons of St. Charbel, things like that. Jonas’ eye was immediately drawn to them.
“Oh, good,” he said. “We’ll be able to feed the whole tribe with this, the haroset of Marseilles Catholics.”
“And it’s going to be especially good, too. I’ve added some apple, banana, and lemon juice to the dates and nuts. It’ll mean less stodgy!”
It was at this dinner that Jonas met Marko. Marko was a photojournalist who’d come to Cambridge through CAST, the Center for Art Science and Technology at MIT, and until recently, he’d traveled to the four corners of the earth for work. Now he had a new boyfriend in Boston, and this forced him to spend more time in a city he found to be a vast realm of boredom. The only thing Marko really enjoyed were occasional, surreal encounters with the scholars of Cambridge—the brilliant scientists of MIT in particular. Logically enough, he immediately took to Jonas. He adored him. Literally. They chatted for most of the evening, and Marko even manage to convince Jonas to allow him to report on his work at the world’s largest astronomical observatories. The evening went wonderfully.
But as always, with Jonas, his air of appealing mystery gradually, almost imperceptibly, ebbed away and was replaced by an air of pervasive melancholy. It was like an invisible chasm he carried around with him—a chasm which reopened the minute he approached a feeling even close to happiness.
On the way home, Jonas suggested a nightcap at his place, which she accepted without hesitation, more for the music, which he always turned on as soon as he walked through the door, than for the drink. They were both music lovers, with similar, very eclectic taste—everything from the jazz of Lester Young to the pop of U2 to Georges Brassens, from Schubert’s Impromptus to Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos to the duets of Vanessa Paradis and Etienne Daho, or France Gall and Michel Berger. They also liked MC Solaar, Bob Dylan, Femi Kuti, Debussy,and Astor Piazzolla, and they even had a shared affection, (unconfessed, in their anti-Sarkozist circles,) for the melodies of Carla Bruni. They had, like so many others, found a common language in music, which they’d decided to honor with a subscription to the Boston Symphony. That evening Jonas, without so much as removing his jacket, immediately turned on the speakers. Given his increasingly somber mood, she expected him to play Alexis Weissenberg’s rendition of “BWV543,” as he liked to refer to it—Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor, which completely transported them every time they listened—or possibly something by a Russian Romantic; Rimsky-Korsakov, maybe. He chose another one of their favorites, though, Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings in E major, B.52, which—being in a major key, but having a totally minor chorus—always struck her as singularly lifelike. He had something to tell her. She could feel it.
The announcement, when it came, was indeed brutal, though not as brutal as the revelation which followed it. Jonas had accepted a position at Caltech, a direct competitor to MIT, where he would be working in collaboration with NASA, at a lab he admired. But she didn’t hear that. All she could hear is that he was moving further and further west, further and further away from Europe. After Pittsburgh, did he think California would be some kind of existential shelter?
She felt sad about Jonas’ upcoming departure, and her eyes wandered to the coffee table next to the couch. There was a small pile of photos there that looked quite old, and to distract herself, she somewhat indiscreetly asked Jonas to look at them. They were mainly portraits of his parents and of him when he was younger, but there were also two photos of a young couple from another era, and she was shocked by the woman’s face: They looked almost exactly alike—the same high, Russian cheekbones, the same almond-shaped eyes, the same oval face, fair skin, faintly vexed expression. Jonas hadn’t exaggerated: Here was the paternal grandmother he’d mentioned at their first meeting.
They briefly discussed the family history—his father, who was five years old when his parents disappeared, and his consequently hidden-then-truncated childhood. Then, naturally enough, she asked if he had any photos of his maternal grandparents. In an instant, everything changed.
“No, my mother didn’t have any parents,” he said. And this was what he meant: His mother didn’t have any parents at all. From the beginning, she’d had no parents. From the moment she was born.
“She was born in death,” Jonas said. “Her father was exterminated before she was born, her mother probably a few days after.” And then time bent, dilated: she could no longer listen. Words floated past, separate, discrete entities, beyond any possibly morphological distinction—sounds, just sounds: ‘hidden,’ ‘doctors,’ ‘experiments,’ ‘nurse,’ ‘change of policy in May of 1943,’ ‘saved by Aryan appearance,’ ‘naturalization program,’ ‘adoptions,’ ‘second family,’ ‘Germany,’ ‘third family,’ ‘France,’ ‘Jews.’
She went home, disassociated.
After the long passage through a temporal fog of crying, exhaustion, and more crying due to her exhaustion, she opened her computer and frantically began to read every article she could find which involved the search terms ‘concentration camps’ and ‘babies.’ Her small apartment was populated with patient signifiers that took the form of her furniture, the objects around her whose force now was more like meteorites. The armchair had been transformed into Bergen-Belsen, the chairs around the table to Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Freiberg, the oven in the kitchen embodied the hell of babies burned alive, the sink the fate of drowned babies who their mothers heard choking under the hands of Nazi nurses, her vest on the couch became the paltry scraps of cloth collected from prisoners to form swaddling clothes for the lone baby not stillborn, the books in her library contained the suppressed cries of the babies who couldn’t cry to survive, couldn’t cry at all, who weighed less than four pounds due to the malnutrition of their starving mothers. These cries remained inside them—these incredible, inaudible cries whose silence sometimes saved them from discovery, and what discovery surely meant.
She read, completely appalled, the stories of those few babies who’d made it to adulthood, the ten-or-so survivors born in the camps, whose testimonies became the only possible words of her night: the absolute verb in comparison to which all other human expression was insufficient. Their mothers had survived; their fathers rarely had. But Jonas’ mother had been entirely alone in the world. She was born in the den of human horror, without an umbilical cord linking her to the parental world.
Something dug into her that night, and the next day, and the next night as well—something indescribable, a kind of buzzing gulf that kept her awake. At first she thought the rustling came from the inextinguishable cries of all those dead babies; but the deeper she sank into asthenia and delirium of exhaustion, the clearer she saw: what was screaming with pain inside her was the very idea of a mother without a mother, an absolute baby-mother, being cut off. An “absolute” mother, not sovereign like hers, but devoid of ancestry. Jonas’ baby-mother, this being who carried the twilight of the world from birth, appeared more and more clearly to her, in the obscure thickness of her rookie mind, as a spectral allegory, the forbidden ruin of the annihilating gesture.
After two days, she was weakening, but she still couldn’t sleep. She wandered from space to space in her two-room apartment, moving her body with difficulty from the table to the bed, from the bed to the couch, from the couch to the window, from the chair to the sink, and then regularly settling in front of her bookshelves. At one point, her eyes fell on The Book of My Mother and, instinctively, she opened it to reread the first sentences Albert Cohen wrote in it:
Each man is alone and no one cares a rap for anyone and our sorrows are a deserted island. Yet why should I not seek comfort tonight as the sounds of the street fade away, seek comfort tonight in words? Oh, poor lost creature who sits at his table seeking comfort in words, at his table with the phone off the hook for he fears the outside, and at night with the phone off the hook he feels like a king, safe from the outside, so soon spiteful, gratuitously spiteful.
There was a restorative beauty in these words; she felt jolted, pushed out of her torpor and, from there, out of her apartment. She had rediscovered intersubjectivity thanks to the intervention of someone else who would deliver her from her insomnia—from her condition as a hostage of being. This other was her friend, Yoav, her favorite of the bunch of crazy Israelis she’d fallen in with during her weekends in New York.
“Hey, Frenchie,” he wrote, “Want to come to NY for the weekend? Oded’s organizing a big psychedelic party for Helen’s birthday.”
Jonas called her that same day, following those sleepless forty-eight hours.
“Are you OK?” he asked, feeling her voice waver and break from lack of sleep.
“I’ve been better,” she said, “but I’m fine,” and went on to invoke insomnia related to great work stress.
“I’m going to New York this weekend. It’ll take my mind off things.”
“I’ll go with you. It’ll be a nice souvenir for me to take to the West Coast.” His cheerfulness surprised her, but she was happy to hear it, if slightly apprehensive about seeing him again.
Between brunch in the West Village, a walk on the High Line, a visit to the Whitney, a drink in Cobble Hill, and dinner with Yoav’s gang with whom they were to spend the evening, Saturday was a joyous day, even for Jonas. She’d slept for two hours during the trip down, and felt sufficiently invigorated to enter the hallucinatory world of a night with Yoav & Co. A psychedelic evening, he’d said, in a warehouse in Chelsea or the Meatpacking District—one of those enormous warehouses which were no longer used for commerce: not since the insane gentrification of lower Manhattan. Drugs abounded: cocaine, MDMA, ketamine, speed…she and Jonas were probably the only two nerds among the group who stuck with alcohol. All the same, she loved the fairytale aesthetic of these parties.
Jonas had noticed that she was looking at Yoav with a certain ardor. He and his sunny good looks were unavoidable—his transnational humor, witty retorts, and human warmth couldn’t help but charm her.
“He likes you,” Jonas whispered to her, as if to encourage her to engage with him.
“Jonas, he’s on molly. He’d seduce anything with a pulse right now.”
“Sure, but I could see the way he listened to you during dinner—the way he listened to you, the attention he paid you, the way he’d look at you when your eyes were elsewhere.”
“Even so, it wouldn’t work. So handsome, not nearly nerdy enough—all wrong.”
Jonas laughed, amused. But there was a strange detachment to his laughter; and Jonas seemed, despite his movements, even more passive than a mere spectator: an extinguished flame. Though desire was everywhere here, was moving from one body to another, current-like, to the frantic rhythm of trance music, in Jonas, it was absent. It was as if he’d withdrawn completely from the libidinal game that intruded everywhere, even in refusals, in avoidances.
Sitting in a corner, next to Jonas, she finally fell asleep.
The next night, on the way back to Boston, he said to her, “Your friends are quite the party animals,” and she thought she heard a hint of contempt in his voice. Or maybe it was the barely emerging and already fading jealousy of one who cannot be happy, but whose spleen is too all-consuming to allow true acrimony to emerge.
The day before he left for Caltech, he arranged to meet her at the Harvard Astronomical Observatory on Garden Street. But why there? she wondered. As much as she craved Jonas’ quasi-romantic attention, she also dreaded it. It was the first time she’d looked at the sky through such a telescope, and the immensity of the existential vertigo it made her feel was equal to the immensity of space’s dark beauty.
“Look,” Jonas said, “do you see that? The thing that looks like a little, irregular planet? It’s an asteroid. It’s called Dvořák—named after your composer.” Jonas’ words shimmered. They shone like stars. This asteroid, “(2055) Dvořák” was the transfiguration of their communion, both musical and personal.
As they descended the observatory’s ladder, their bodies brushed against each other. For the first time, Jonas’ hand, holding her back so she wouldn’t fall, seemed also to simply be holding her. Time stood still for a moment. She hesitated. But something prevented her from going further toward him; something: some fear, some gradation of impossibility; something which reminded her immediately of those lines from Rimbaud: “Far from the birds, the flocks, the village women,/What was I drinking, kneeling in this heather,[…]/What could I drink in this young Oise,/Voiceless elms, flowerless grass, overcast sky/[…]God’s wind was throwing icicles at the pools;/Crying, I saw gold—and could not drink.”
She looked at Jonas. She could not kiss him.
In the months that followed, they sent a few emails back and forth. He shared, in no great detail, his impressions of his surroundings—his enthusiasm for the wilderness of the American West, his concern for the climate, the extravagance of wealthy Californians. He spoke, too, of the increasingly frequent antisemitic attacks on campuses by activist groups, student and non-student alike, who campaigned for various minority causes. This time, it wasn’t antisemitism from the alt-right, though: It was from the left.
His insomnia was getting worse.
In January of 2020, Jonas told her he was leaving for a mission to Japan as part of a major Japanese-American space collaboration. He was to stay for a year or two at his convenience.
A few months later, while talking on the phone with the Family Information Center—i.e. her mother—she received a text from Marko: “Holy shit; check your email. I’ll call you as soon as I finish this Zoom meeting.” Her heart raced—attacks? Nuclear war? A comet hurtling toward Earth? What?
Her eyes were both blurred with fear and focused with anxiety. She read two headlines, believed neither. A few words, the same: French researcher. Nobel Prize hopeful physics. Japan. Dead.
And then everything was indistinct. She fainted.
Season in Hell
One day, in the summer of 2020. The height of the pandemic. Lives diminished, straitened, enervating for some. Peaceful for others. The world cracked. Jonas committed suicide. He was 42.
He died by his own hand—the death that had haunted him from the very heart of Europe. The black hole pursued him and swallowed him up.
She listens to the song by Dominique A. and Fredrika Stahl and thinks of Jonas.
“Finally the beast
Will have the last word
It is still strange
To think you’re saved
Finally the men
Always do the right thing
For the summer to die
Finally the regrets
Will not be too much
Finally the day
Will lower the curtain
Finally the stars
Will be extinguished in the rain
Finally the night “
Finally the night. His. Theirs. Europe’s, a Europe that loses something precious. And, of course, Jonas’ parents’. They never had their childhood, and they lost their child. The unspeakable violence of it.
Jonas had once told her about the existence of ‘white holes.’ Unlike black holes, which have a ‘future horizon’—that is, a region which cannot be escaped once an element has entered it—white holes have a ‘past horizon,’ as scientists call it: a region where it is impossible to stay. A place one can only leave, in eternal recurrence.
Mona El Khoury
Translated from the French by Ben Zitsman
|1||Translator’s note: In French, strangers and acquaintances are addressed in the formal second person, (vouvoyer, literally “to address as ‘vous’”) while friends, family, and other intimates are addressed in the familiar second person, (tutoyer, literally “to address as ‘tu’”). Jonas is inviting her to use the familiar form of address.|
|2||Translator’s note: These refer, in order, to Paris’ École Polytechnique and École Normale Supérieure, Oxford University, Germany’s Heidelberg University, and Harvard University—each, more or less, as prestigious as the others.|
|3||Translator’s note: Amalek refers to a tribe whose ancestral lands bordered those of the Israelites, and whose purpose—pursued with monomaniacal tenacity, if the Tanakh/Talmud/Mishnah are any indication—was to eradicate the Jewish people. Their success was limited at best.|