Henri Troyat: “Will a day ever come when there’s no more war, no more lies, no more tragedy!”
From The Encounter (1958)
Translated by Gerard Hopkins
[As] long as there were human beings left alive, the massacre would go on, the patriotic speeches, the blazing houses, the lying announcements, the shooting of hostages, the muckraking newspapers, the cattle trucks packed with deported Jews, the long line of housewives at the doors of empty shops.
“Wait! We’re always waiting!” moaned Elizabeth. “I’m sick of waiting! Will a day ever come when there’s no more war, no more rationing, no more lies, no more curfew, no more tragedy!”
But once the storm has passed, what would become of all these farmers, workmen, shopkeepers, accountants, and mere children to whom disobedience to the laws, lying and slaughter, had been held up as acts of heroism? Would they ever be able to accept a life of hard work after having tasted the doubtful pleasures of fear and vengeance?
To the brink of what abyss was his mind careering? Had he so completely lost all faith in his fellow men that he must call on supernatural aid to build the world anew? Yes, that was the long and short of the matter: mankind would never be able to complete its immense task, which consisted in clearing the ruined cities of their rubbish and rebuilding them, in burying the dead, in throwing the roads wide open, in bringing whole populations back within their own, historic frontiers, in feeding the starving, in teaching resignation to the injured and restoring the love of life to those who were in despair – no, nothing of this could human beings do successfully until the light of charity shone upon their enterprise.
After a brief period of silence, a fresh wave of bombers broke over the city, and the anti-aircraft guns began again their nervous barking in the spasmodic illumination of the darkness…
Down in the street a window splintered. Shell fragments rained down on the roofs…For two hours the world was a confused din of thunder, explosions, and throbbing flashes. When, at last, the noise died down and the searchlights and the flares had been extinguished, Elizabeth wondered what was left of Paris. The silence was complete, unreal, like that of a graveyard. The house had been spared and stood there, solitary, like a tower in the middle of a vast expanse of ruins.
“It’s ghastly!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “I can’t look. Oh, God! What have they done? What have they done?”
Her legs were weak and she felt sick…
Next morning the charwoman arrived early with the bread and a paper. She was in a state of high indignation; the Anglo-Americans had bombed the station of La Chapelle and Montmartre. It was only by a miracle that the Sacré-Coeur had not been hit. People were saying that there had been six hundred killed.
“They don’t even aim, no more, but just drop their stuff at random – just unload their bombs and turn tail. That’s not war, that isn’t – just sheer butchery!”