(JC Lattès, 288 pages, 2018)
Black Butterflies is the story of middle-aged Caroline, who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis comes as a frightening surprise, in the figurative form of hundreds of black butterflies that flutter around her as she sleeps, and that scare her as she wakes up to them in the morning.
Divorced and with two near-adult sons, Caroline has an on-again, off-again lover, but she is scared to tell her loved ones about her diagnosis. She doesn’t know how they will react, and she does not want to inconvenience them with her illness. Although her cancer is surprising, Caroline wonders if it is the result of treatment she received for Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a nineteen-year-old—if her past illness has come back to haunt her, albeit in a different form.
Despite the seriousness of her condition, Caroline remains calm and relatively good-humored. She distracts herself by reading her late father’s notebooks, from which she gleans important information about her family history. She discovers things about her father’s family and friends that she never knew, which contribute not only to her relationships with her late parents and ancestors, but also to her own understanding of self. These discoveries—in addition to the people she meets during her hospitalization—contribute to her ability to fight her illness and its brutal monotony.
Based on the author’s experience with her own cancer, Black Butterflies gives a quirky and original testimony on sickness, explores how sick people fit in our society and how they affect the lives of those around them, and ultimately shows what one can learn from oneself and others through illness.
Caroline Gutmann works in the publishing industry and has written several books, including Le syndrome Nerval, Le testament du Dr Lamaze (published in English by St. Martin’s Press), and Secret de Robert le diable.