El colgajo (Philippe Lançon), the reconstruction of a life

How does a survivor of a terrorist attack live day to day? How does a survivor of a terrorist attack look at the world, how does he or she look at the world, how has he or she experienced the horror and survived? Can he or she teach us anything? Has he or she learned anything? The writer and journalist Philippe Lançon had the misfortune to be present on 7 January 2015 in the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo when the attack took place in which several of his colleagues died and he was seriously injured. In El colgajo, the writer draws a masterful diary of grief in which he portrays his new life after that fateful morning in an intimate and sincere way.

El colgajo: the story of Philippe Lançon

El colgajo

El colgajo is not just any story. It is the story of a survivor. It is the story of the new life that Philippe Lançon has to face after the terrorist attack on the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. An instant that changed everything.

A splendid work, the novel is full of cultural references. Numerous references to literary, musical and cinematographic works are scattered throughout its pages, through which the protagonist elaborates complex reflections. For the author finds solace in literature, film and music. In fact, a book always accompanies him as he waits for surgery in the operating theatre.

With magnificent, profound and emotive prose, the protagonist reflects on life, death and suffering while he shares his time with friends, family, partners, ex-partners and work colleagues. The protagonist does not shy away from the cruelty of the event he has lived through, but El colgajo is not a dark work. On the contrary, it is a tremendously luminous novel, in which the author does not show resentment or reproach, nor does he try to victimise or lecture us.

Review and curiosities

Raw and captivating, honest and brave, El colgajo succeeds in accompanying the reader on the long, hard road to recovery, to the reconstruction of the protagonist, both physically and emotionally. The story of who he could have been and will no longer be due to a deeply traumatic experience. A profound reflection on the human condition, on the passing of time, on the people we were and the people we will be. Beautiful, complex but absolutely recommendable.

Philippe Lançon has had to undergo almost twenty surgeries to reconstruct his jaw. If there is one outstanding character in this work, it is that of his surgeon. The members of the medical staff are defined by the author as angels who will help him to achieve a new face. Their presence is continuous throughout the work, punctuating every thought, every reflection. Lançon, perhaps because he cannot do otherwise, dwells on hospital life, on its daily life and pays attention to its nurses, its surgeons, its anesthesiologists. Lançon also shows us how a pathology, a trauma, can affect not only the sufferer but also those closest to him, who are sometimes unable to understand how the patient feels.

About the author Philippe Lançon

Philippe Lançon (Vanves, 1963) is a writer and journalist. A regular contributor to the culture pages of Libération and columnist for Charlie Hebdo, he has received the Hennessy Prize for Literary Journalism (2011) and the Jean-Luc Lagardère Prize for Journalist of the Year (2013), and was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2015). He is the author of the books Les Îles ( 2011) and L’Élan ( 2013), among others. In 2018, El colgajo won the Femina and Roger Caillois prizes and the Prix Spécial Renaudot.

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