the story of adrian silencio

Eléonore Pourriat

(JC Lattès, 406 pages, 2019)


Cléo’s family history is full of unspoken secrets. For most of her life, she witnessed the emotional toll they took on her relatives. And she herself has not been spared. Now in her late thirties, and about to leave Paris behind and tackle a new life in New York, Cléo is seized by the need to discover her roots and lift the weight of family taboos. On her journey across the Atlantic, she brings along a leather satchel that belonged to her grandfather, Adrián Silencio, a musician and a refugee from Francisco Franco’s regime. The satchel, filled with papers accumulated throughout Adrián’s lifetime, provide the starting point for an investigation that consumes, and deeply transforms, Cléo’s life.

Black-and-white photographs, birth certificates, letters, press clippings . . . Cléo examines them one by one to reconstitute the puzzle of Adrián’s life. Eventually she unearths the Spanish roots of her family tree. She knows that Adrián arrived in Paris in the late 1930s as a trumpeter in tango orchestras touring war-torn Europe, that he met her grandmother, Viviane, while performing in a popular dance hall, that they raised three children, and that they loved each other as much as they fought. She knew that he never returned to his native land, yet never renounced his Spanish nationality. But who was he before he became the patriarch of a French family? Where was he during the somber years of the Spanish Civil War? Why did he never marry Viviane, who suffered bitterly her entire life from the illegitimacy of their relationship?

Pourriat follows Cléo through the twists and turns of her solitary quest, the moments of discouragement but also of joy and elation, the doubts and guilt that at times take hold of her as she discovers a past that not everyone is keen on knowing. Through her research, she measures the extent of Adrián’s sacrifice, and how his commitment to his French family and protestation of the Franco regime left deep wounds in those he abandoned on the other side of the border. With effusive enthusiasm, Cléo hopes to reconcile the two lineages that Adrián left behind.

The Story of Adrián Silencio is a journey of investigation, an intimate family saga, and a reflection on exile, loss, and love. Pourriat offers us a poignant and eloquently written debut novel imbued with the consoling power of words.

Éléonore Pourriat is an actress, a scriptwriter, and a director. In 2010 she directed Oppressive Majority, a short satirical film about a world run by women that went viral on YouTube. She then developed a similar concept in a feature film, I’m Not an Easy ManThe Story of Adrián Silencio is her first novel, inspired by her own family history.