Amelie Nothombe does it for me once again; I loved this book. It’s my third Nothombe book, after Fear and Trembling and Le Sabotage Amoureux. Again this is an “autobiographical fiction” novel, as one can hardly trust Nothombe that she truly recounting her experiences and memories from infancy…
Nothombe was born in Kobe, Japan, while her father was serving as the Belgian consul there. The family lived in a small village, Shukugawa, and the story begins with the birth of Amelie. Only she wasn’t Amelie yet; she was only a tube. A tube that thought of itself as God. This God did nothing but eat, digest and excrete its food (hence the “tube”) but as far as it was concerned, the tube was happy with its existence. Its parents and doctors, on the other hand, were at a loss. This tube did not develop as a normal child and up until the age of two, it is basically a vegetable and indeed it does not have a name. It is named “the plant” by its parents.
But then everything changes. Suddenly “the plant” starts to cry and protest and from a baby that needed nothing but cleaning and feeding, it becomes an insufferable nightmare. Day and night it cries and cries, and its parents no longer know what to do. They miss the days of “the plant”.
The turning point in the life of the tube comes with the visit of her grandmother from Belgium (the visit is somewhat delayed due to the visitor’s sartorial needs in preparation for the trip to the east). The grandmother enters the room where the tube is protesting, produces a piece of white chocolate (which the tube accepts after some hesitation), and the transformation occurs. The sweet taste releases the identity of the baby, and Nothombe switches to writing in the first person. Amelie is finally “born”.
I will stop here. But the story just begins, with many wonderful and dramatic events in the infant’s life unfolding at a fast and spellbinding pace. It’s a small book, but it succeeds where many a mightier book fail: a captivating story that is both amusing and dramatic.