In La Petite, the renowned French writer and film producer Michele Halberstadt vividly recounts the painful events that surrounded the death of her beloved grandfather when she was twelve years old. Michele's mother favored her older sister, her father was emotionally remote, her teachers dismissive, and her peers a foreign species. Her grandfather alone had given her an image of herself that she could embrace. After he died, there seemed to be nothing left for her. One day she decided that she'd had enough of life. The pills in the bathroom were within reach and the temptation of falling asleep forever was irresistible.
La Petite is neither grim nor sentimental. Halberstadt, the recipient of both the Legion d'Honneur and the Ordre du Merite, France's two most prestigious awards, has perfectly captured the emotions of the little girl she once was. Everywoman will recognize something of herself in this moving story about adolescent grief, solitude, and awakening.
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July 10, 2012
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Excerpt from La Petite by Michele Halberstadt
In his bedroom was a low chest with five drawers, and the bottom one was reserved for me. I could arrive unexpectedly, yet find a surprise hidden there every time. A gift, a handkerchief, a lollipop, it didn't matter. That was a promise he'd made me and he never once broke it. That permanently restocked drawer represented the infallible proof of his love for me. He did not treat me like a granddaughter, like a little girl. He considered me a person with whom to share and exchange things to read, points of view, essential discoveries.
For example, when I was six, one day when the two of us were having lunch in his kitchen, he placed before me a white plate bearing a regal ch?vre cendr?. He knew that I hated cheese in general and this kind in particular, because to me goat cheese tasted like soap, but he was immensely fond of ch?vre cendr?, therefore it was impossible that his granddaughter should not share this predilection. So he uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux, placed a bit of ch?vre on a small piece of still warm toast lightly spread with salted butter, and explained to me precisely how the flavor of the cheese would be accentuated by the wine's acidity. His blue-footed wineglass clinked mine to celebrate my first tasting as a connoisseur, in the certainty that from then on, just as we shared a straight nose, drooping eyelids, and the inveterate habit of constantly humming, his favorite cheese would also be mine.
He was facetious, imperious. He understood everything and I could tell him frightening secrets he would never have thought to make fun of. He was not judgmental, never reproving, and aside from lapses in good manners, about which he was intransigent, he was quick to forgive. Mockery was his usual tack, repartee his besetting sin, generosity his Achilles' heel. His humor made the world cozier, his tenderness cushioned my days. Nothing could ever happen to me as long as he was there, and I had never envisaged a life without him as its center.