2 February 2024

Danish writer Jens Christian Grondahl, in Paris, in 2019.

“The days are like grass” (Dage som græs), by Jens Christian Grondahl, translated from Danish by Alain Gnaedig, Gallimard, “From around the world”, 352 p., €24, digital €17.

Nobody makes history, said Boris Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago (Gallimard, 1958). We don’t make history, because “we do not see it, any more than we see the grass grow”. This sentence, one thinks of it when closing the new book by the Danish writer Jens Christian Grondahl, Days are like grass. Not only because of the echo returned by the title. But above all because of what connects the two authors sixty years apart: the same perception organic of existence. For Grondahl, life is a phenomenon that has its own laws, its own chances, so that the will, the ideas, the projects that man builds have no hold over it: “He barely manages to feel his pulse beating intuitively. »

In this collection of six long short stories, each of great density, the author of Virginiaof Four days in March or even of What is my joy (all at Gallimard, 2004, 2011 and 2018) depicts the most varied subjects: the disarray of parents whose teenage son is passionately involved in the pro-emigration struggle (“Villa Ada”); the torments of a judge who decides to indict his own daughter’s stepfather (“Wintering in Summer”); the narrator’s meeting with an actress, idol of his youth, years after his decline (“Edith Wengler”); the vertigo of a pastor who must choose between love and faith (“Farewell”); or even the bond which is woven, at the liberation of the country, between a Danish teenager and a German prisoner of his age (“The days are like grass”). So many stories that have nothing “big events”but which are not either of these “little incidents of everyday life” since each is likely to deviate the trajectory of the character it involves.

“Nothing had happened as she had thought”, we read about Edith Wengler. This remark could apply to all the protagonists: nothing ever goes as planned with Jens Christian Grondahl. However, the latter shows us, if no one is master of his destiny, if no one “makes history”, the question of choice, paradoxically, remains no less crucial for all. These are decisions that do not necessarily alter the objective course of things, but which remain essential to safeguard the inner truths of each one.

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