Bataille, Christophe 1971-
BATAILLE, Christophe 1971-
PERSONAL: Born October 14, 1971, in Versailles, France; son of Alain and Edith Bataille; married Maguelone Fallot, September 14, 1996. Ethnicity: "French." Religion: Christian.
ADDRESSES: Home—19-21 rue Dumoncel, 75014 Paris, France. Office—Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, 61 rue des Saints-Pères, 75006 Paris, France; fax: 01-42-226-418. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Fiction writer. Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, Paris, France, member of editorial staff.
AWARDS, HONORS: Winner of the Prix du Premier Roman, 1993, for Annam, 1993.
Annam (novel), Arlea (Paris, France), 1993, translation by Richard Howard published as Annam, New Directions (New York, NY), 1996.
Absinthe (novel), Arlea (Paris, France), 1994, translation by Richard Howard published as Absinthe, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1999.
Le Maitre des Heures, Arlea (Paris, France), 1997.
Vive l'enfer (fiction), Éditions Grasset at Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1999.
J'envie la Félicité des Bêtes, Éditions Grasset at Fasquelle (Paris, France), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Christophe Bataille's first novel, Annam, published when he was only twenty-one, received the prestigious French Prix du Premier Roman (first novel prize) in 1993, establishing him as an important writer. In the United States, where it was published three years later in a translation by poet Richard Howard, it also met with literary acclaim.
The novel dramatizes key elements of one of France's earliest official involvements with Vietnam, more than fifty years in advance of its colonization of Saigon. In 1787 the emperor of Vietnam, a boy of seven named Canh, travels to France to beg Louis XVI for help in the form of soldiers and missionaries. The French king denies Canh's request for aid, and before long both Canh and Louis XVI are dead: Canh from pneumonia and Louis guillotined, along with many other members of the French aristocracy, in the bloody French Revolution. Although Canh's plea for help falls on deaf ears within the French court, it has been heard by a retired bishop who is inspired to spread the teachings of Christ among the Vietnamese. Two ships embark to Vietnam in 1789, loaded not only with Dominican missionaries, but with soldiers whose objective it is to aid Prince Regent Nguyen Anh, an expatriate now living in Siam, in his bid to regain leadership of his homeland.
Those missionaries who survive the voyage and the diseases of the jungle fulfill their purpose of claiming souls, while at the same time establishing parishes, constructing dikes, and teaching the French language to the natives. Back in France the revolution takes heads and reconfigures French government, law, and history to the cry of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!"— with little attention toward this small Vietnamese mission. France's effort to support Nguyen Anh's return to power (and their support for the missionaries) dwindles and dies. When Nguyen Anh finally comes to power through his own efforts in 1800, he decides to take revenge on the French for betraying their original alliance. He orders that all the French Dominican monks and nuns be put to death. Only one monk and one nun escape murder, protected by the remoteness of the tiny mountain enclave they inhabit with its Vietnamese villagers. Gradually, their distance from the land and church that sent them and from other Christian clergy results in the weakening of their religious vows until they become much like the villagers they had once sought to convert.
The reception of the English translation of Bataille's novel echoed the enthusiasm the book met in its original French version. A Publishers Weekly contributor applauded both the writer and the excellent translation. Bataille's Annam, the reviewer commented, is "built around short sentences [and] achieves a cumulative lyricism that poignantly captures the unfulfilled promise and tragedy of the period of colonial history it depicts." In a similarly appreciative response, Ray Olson, writing for Booklist, noted the novel's "elegant" minimalism and its resultant emotional depth. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews described the novel as "skillfully understated" and the translation "beautiful." A number of reviewers pointed out that Bataille published the acclaimed novel at the young age of twenty-one.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 1996, Ray Olson, review of Annam, p. 218.
Chicago Review, spring, 2000, Ihor Junyk, review of Absinthe, p. 109.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1996, review of Annam, p. 1095.
Publishers Weekly, August 5, 1996, review of Annam, p. 432.