Sep 29, 2011

L'analphabète (The Illiterate)

I've just finished reading Agota Kristof’s "L'analphabète", which means "the illiterate" (I can't read French, so I read the Japanese translation "文盲".)

Agota Kristof was born in the countryside of Hungary in 1935 (between World War I and World War II). The place where and the time when she was born made her life harsh.

After World War I Hungary became independent from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In World War II Hungary fought with Nazi Germany and after the war Hungary came under the control of the Soviet Union. The destiny of Hungary and Agota Kristof was full of sufferings.

When the Hungarian rising happened in 1956, she escaped from Hungary to Swiss. At that time she could only speak Hungarian and she began to learn French while working at a small factory in the countryside.

In 1986 her first novel "Le Grand Cahier (the Notebook)", which was written in French, was published and was highly regarded. I don't know how she had lived in these 30 years.

She wrote in the end of "L'analphabète" as follows. (I wasn't able to obtain English translation of this novel, so I translated it from Japanese translation.)

I know that I will never be able to write in French as well as native French authors, but I will try to write the best thing that I can write.

I have not chosen this language. The destiny happened to impose this language on me by chance.

I cannot avoid writing in French. This is a challenge.

Yes, it is a challenge of an "analphabète".


I'm really lucky that I don't have to escape from Japan, but if I want to communicate with people overseas, I have to use English. In fact I don't have any other choices, much like how Agota had to use French to express her own thoughts.

I'm also an "analphabète" of English but I try to connect to the world through "English".


  1. For a long time in Europe, lots of non-speakers would travel from the poorer countries to the richer countries. they also migrated to escape wars, famine or religious fanaticism. This is a key part of European history and maybe why there is a lot of cultural, social and genetic diversity in several European countries. For a long time, most of the immigrants were illiterate, but that is decreasing substantially now. Not to the same extent, but still you can still find in the world many immigrant communities which do not speak the language of the place where they are living. I remember visiting NY and in a specific neighbourhood I only spoke Spanish (no need to know English). In a part of Newark in New Jersey I can only speak Portuguese, no need to speak english...migrations are a very interesting theme and important as well in the world history.

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I need to use only Japanese everyday life in Japan, but in the internet I can make my world much wider by using English.

    I'm not an emigrant living in a small community but from the view of the world Japan itself is a kind of small community. I'm trying to get out of this small community using English.

  3. Dear Yagian,
    It is a wise thing that you are doing. I am trying to do the same, Lisbon, Portugal is a small spot in this world and the horinzons need to be expanded. The more one knows the more one understands one another, and the better one learns about the world!

    Actually, I am happy that when I am abroad even in countries where there are tons of Portuguese emmigrants, that I can continue to communicate in any other language other than Portuguese. When in Rome, at least one should try to speak Roman.

  4. Although I didn't have experience of living abroad, I guess that I'll feel confident, if there is Japanese community, where I can speak Japanese.