(Éditions Zulma, 160 pages, 2018)
*** WINNER OF LE PRIX ORANGE 2018 ***
I wonder where Sarah would be right now. Without a doubt tiptoeing around the room, trying to get ready without waking me. Her feet would brush against the floorboards, caressing the floor flawlessly. I wonder, but I know that Sarah is everywhere. Sarah. I love murmuring her name, wrapping it in my thoughts so I don’t forget its roundness. —Tonight
During Passover (Pesach), the Jewish people celebrate their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Tonight, Salomon will lead his family in Passover Seder. Tonight, he will sit with his daughters, Michelle and Denise, their husbands, Patrick and Pinhas, and Michelle’s children, Samuel and Tania. This evening, he will recount the history of the Jewish people in an ordered fifteen-step feast with set rituals as written in the Haggadah. Tonight, he will once again assume his role as patriarch of the family. But for the first time in fifty years, Salomon must do so without his loving wife, Sarah, recently deceased, at his side.
As he braces himself for the celebration, waiting for Michelle to come prepare the Seder meal, Salomon chronicles his memories of previous Passovers. Through his dreamlike consciousness, Salomon invites us into the intimate history of his home and family: his release from Auschwitz, his first Passover with Sarah, the birth of their daughters, and family feuds incited by Michelle’s temper, his son-in-law’s offhanded insults, or his apathetic grandchildren’s questions. But the memories of his internment in Auschwitz haunt Salomon, invoked by his black Holocaust humor, much to his family and Sarah’s dismay. Tonight, as he has always done, Salomon will try to keep the peace between his family without Sarah’s love and guidance.
In Tonight, Joachim Schnerf re-creates a beautiful and comedic story about family, tradition, loss, and unconditional love. Tender, moving, funny, and magnificently uplifting, Schnerf brings us on a sensitive journey to the intimate heart of family, through the memories of a man approaching the end of his life. “I wanted to write a comedy about Passover and also talk about love,” he says. “I ended up writing a novel about mourning. I wanted to laugh but there I was, ultimately confronting the Holocaust. I was overwhelmed by my characters and their humor. And it’s probably in this paradox that the essence of Jewish humor resides.”
Joachim Schnerf was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1987. After studying literature and publishing in Paris and New York, he launched his career at Éditions Gallimard, before joining Éditions Grasset in 2016 as an editor of foreign literature. He published his first novel, Mon sang à l’étude (Éditions de l’Olivier, 2014). He has also written Publier la littérature française et étrangère (Éditions du Cercle de la Librarie, 2016). Tonight is his second novel.