A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptise Andrea (tr. by Sam Taylor) #BookReview #BlogTour



SHORTLISTED FOR THE PRIX JOSEPH KESSEL 2020

SHORTLISTED FOR THE GRAND PRIX DE L’ACADÉMIE FRANÇAISE 2019

SHORTLISTED FOR THE GRAND PRIX DES BLOGUEURS LITTÉRAIRES 2019

Chosen as one of French booksellers’ Top 5 Titles of Autumn 2019 in Livres Hebdo

‘On the mountain, the only monsters are the ones you take with you.’

Stan has been hunting for fossils since the age of six. Now, in the summer of 1954, he hears a story he cannot forget: the skeleton of a huge creature – a veritable dragon – lies deep in an Alpine glacier. And he is determined to find it.

But Stan is no mountaineer. To complete his dangerous expedition, he must call on loyal friend Umberto, who arrives with an eccentric young assistant, and expert guide Gio. Time is short: the four men must descend before the weather turns. As bonds are forged and tested, the hazardous quest for the earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

It's such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptise Andrea (translated by Sam Taylor) today. Many thanks to Isabelle from Gallic Books for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel. The bloggers taking part in the tour have been asked to also write about their own experiences and so this is a rather more personal post than usual, as after my review I discuss that most universal of human experiences - grief.

Stan comes to the mountain in search of a dragon - or to be more precise, a dinosaur. As a Professor of Palaeontology, he can't resist the story a young girl recounts to him, repeating the tale told to her by Leucio, the old concierge of her building who has recently passed away. As a teenager he became lost  and after wandering for three days was forced to take shelter from a storm in a cave at the base of a glacier. He told the building's children that he was protected from the storm by a dragon - an immense skeleton with a surprisingly small head. 
The description immediately suggests to Stan that the teenage Leucio may have stumbled upon an apatosaurus, a diplodocus or just maybe a brontosaurus. The story ignites something in him and though years pass before he is finally able to figure out where Leucio's cave may have been, he hopes that finding his dragon might be the proof that brontosaurus actually existed. More than that, however, it may also mean he is able to find again the little boy within himself who dreamed of becoming a palaeontologist, even when others laughed at him or told him it was impossible.
He is joined on the mountain by his old friend, Umberto who arrives with a keen, if eccentric young assistant, Peter. The palaeontologists are taken into the mountains by expert guide, Gio but this deceptively short novel is about so much more than their quest to find the cave before the snow starts to fall. The narrative seamlessly switches between the present day and Stan's childhood, with his experiences on the mountain sparking memories of his past. The book is divided into the seasons, tracking both the actual progression of year and symbolising the passage of Stan's life. It's a poignant tale of grief and loss as he remembers his mother who died when he was only nine years old, his callous bully of a father and his first dog, Pépin; each playing their part in forming the man who now obsessively follows his dream, even as the snow begins to fall.  
A Hundred Million Years and a Day is a story of anger and loneliness, disappointment and doubt, hope and courage. It's a character-driven novel centred on the fascinating, complicated man at the heart of it but there is tension here as well - in the scenes on the mountain and in the moments where he recalls his confrontations with his father.
The poetic writing is beautifully evocative, vividly capturing not just the physical majesty of the mountains but something of their soul too. Sam Taylor's translation flows smoothly throughout, ensuring nothing of the lyricism of the original is lost. Bittersweet, contemplative and heartening, A Hundred Million Years and a Day is one of those books which didn't take me long to read but will linger long in my memory. 

It was perhaps inevitable that as I read of Stan's losses and his journey to find his dragon, I would be moved to think about my own experiences. My mountains weren't real but I've known what it feels like to be caught up in a terrifying storm of emotions, wondering how I would make it through the day without falling apart. 
Just as Stan's life was shaped in part by his grief, so I know I have been changed by my brother's death by suicide in  August 2012. After the phone call that changed everything, my life was tilted from its axis. I remember those early days with a sharp clarity; crying so hard I couldn't breathe; the endless questions; identifying his body; planning his funeral. Standing next to my other brother in the crematorium, our thumbnails painted black to represent his love of horror, we laughed through our tears when his addict friends opened up cans of Special Brew during the Lord's Prayer and toasted his coffin on its final journey. We'd spent our childhood exploring volcanoes in our garden, sledging down hills with our dog, building sand sculptures of dinosaurs on the beach, and now here I was watching his coffin slide out of view, hearing people telling me what a tragedy it was, how our mother would have been so upset. Another heroin addict dead, another man to add to the suicide statistics.
The months after his death are a blur. We went on holiday to France just after the funeral, it had already been booked and everybody said we needed the break still; I just remember sliding to the floor of the shower, physically unable to stand my grief. Less than a month later, my youngest daughter started school, I took photos but my overriding memory is of having to dig my nails into my palms as I explained what had happened to my other daughter's teacher in case she was asked to write about her summer holidays. I've always read but in those dark weeks books soothed my soul; they kept company through the nights when I was too scared to close my eyes and during the day they were my respite when guilt, anger and grief became too hard to bear. After a few weeks I started writing too, needing a further outlet for the thoughts which threatened to overwhelm me.
Eventually, the pain became less raw and though I was still reading, it was through choice not because I needed to numb the pain I was feeling. I gradually became a book blogger, wanting to write now not as a release but to share my love of books. I didn't just find myself again, I realised that I am able to confront my anxieties, to push myself into situations I might once have avoided. I've made new friends, travelled to book launches and festivals, been interviewed about blogging for my local community radio station and have recently started a weekly review slot on there sharing my book recommendations. I don't know if I'd be where I am if my brother was still here and though I'd give a hundred million years and a day to be able to tell him one last time how much he was and still is, loved, I'm happy with who I am now. I'm not the same person I used to be and his shadow will always accompany me but I'm grateful than the simple act of opening a book when I most needed to escape my own thoughts for a while led me to where I am today. My journey may have been less dramatic than Stan's but not many of us really climb mountains in search of dragons; grief is unique yet universal and I'm grateful that as for so many others, books were there to protect me, comfort me and eventually to shine a light that guided me out of the darkness.

A Hundred Million Years and a Day will be published in the UK by Gallic Books on 11th June 2020 and can be pre-ordered from the publisher's website, Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or help support independent bookstores by ordering directly from one or through purchasing from Hive.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.


About the Author

 ©Vinciane Lebrun-Verguethen

Jean-Baptiste Andrea was born in 1971 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and grew up in Cannes. He is a director and screenwriter. He wrote his first English-language feature film Dead End in 2003, to critical acclaim. His first novel, Ma Reine, was published in France in 2017 and won the Prix du Premier Roman and the Prix Femina des Lycéens. For two years he travelled to more than 50 cities, in France and abroad, meeting readers, booksellers and librarians. Now he is leaving behind the cinema for literature.

About the Translator
Sam Taylor is an author and former correspondent for The Observer. His translations include Laurent Binet's HHhH, Leïla Slimani's Lullaby and Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart, for which he won the French-American Foundation Translation Prize.

Comments

  1. Very moving post. Grief is a mountain, sometimes with no visible peak. Thank you for sharing. X

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