Image Credit: Vintage Publishing, 2016
The thirteenth of this month will mark four years since the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. A series of co-ordinated attacks which began with three suicide bombers striking outside the Stade de France during a football match, and was followed by several mass shootings and a suicide bombing at cafes and restaurants across the city. All before finally culminating at the Bataclan Theatre where gunmen carried out another mass shooting and took hostages during an Eagles of Death Metal concert. ISIL would later claim responsibility for these attacks, saying they were orchestrated in retaliation of the French airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq.
Killing 130 people and injuring 413 others, one of the 90 fatalities from the Bataclan Theatre shooting was 35-year-old Hélène Muyal-Leiris, whose husband Antoine Leiris wrote a Facebook post three days after her death which went viral overnight. In the post, Leiris addressed those who had killed his wife and so many others, assuring that their mission to leave the people of Paris frightened and suspicious would be unsuccessful. He wrote ‘you will not have my hate’ and speaking of his 17-month year old son ‘you will not have his hate either’. This powerful declaration would later become the title of his first book published a year after the attacks in 2016.
You Will Not Have My Hate is a relatively short book at only 99 Pages and is one I have read many times. Originally written in Leiris’ first language French, this book was translated into English by Sam Taylor and chronicles the days following Leiris’ wife Hélène’s death starting the night of the attack and ending the day after her funeral. Suddenly finding himself alone with a 17-month-old, in the middle of a media storm and trying to come to terms with what is likely to be one of the greatest grievances of his life, this memoir offer's a rare insight into this man's life just after it has been alter so completely and irreversibly.
Reading the story of this one week in this one person’s life, always gets me thinking of just how many people are missed out of statistics. How when death counts and injury counts are quoted just like they were at the beginning of this review, they really get nowhere near to covering the number of people actually affected.
Reading how this one family is torn apart by tragedy overnight and knowing that this baby will never see his mother again and will probably grow to only remember her from the photographs he’s shown and the stories he’s told. This one story contains so much heartbreak and yet in the end it is just that - one story.
And so what if we took all this heartbreak from reading of just this one week in this baby and his father’s lives and multiplied it by enough to make their lifetimes? What if we multiplied that to cover not just two lives but the lives of all the families and friends of the 543 people killed or injured in the 2015 Paris attacks. What happens if we multiply this to cover every terrorist attack, every injustice across the globe where blood in spilt and lives are taken and what would we end up with then?
If the story of this one man and his child, in this one week, can break my heart each and every time I read it, what would happen if we could zoom out far enough to see everyone’s stories. My heart would probably turn from rubble to dust and still my sorrow wouldn’t change anything for those whose lives are taken each year or for those who are left behind.
This is a book about grief and pain, but what it is not, is a book about wallowing. Trying to comprehend the complete destruction attacks such as those in Paris bring to people across society is virtually impossible and in many ways, fruitless. It is important to understand the effects of such events and that is what this book offers so beautifully – a brief insight in to the lives of one family. But our sadness and our sympathy does not change the past for anyone and will not change the future either.
This book, at it's core, is about the resilience of the human spirit. It shows how brutally unfair life can be, how unimaginable pain can be suffered and how we as humans can still find the strength from somewhere to get up in the morning. A strength and a spirit that brings some kind of hope where there seems to be very little - a hope that is of far more value than our sympathies.