There is a key scene in Yasmina Reza’s new novel “Serge” right on the first 20 pages of the book. After their mother’s funeral, the Popper siblings and their relatives and a few friends sat together in a cafe.

Granddaughter Josephine mocks the fact that her grandmother was cremated as a Jew, “after all her family has been through.” And she announces that she “will go to Osvitz this year”.

Absurd exaggerations

Joséphine’s father, the main character of the novel Serge, gets carried away: “Osvitz!! Like the French Goys! First learn to pronounce it correctly. Auschwitz! Ausschschwitz!” repeatedly absurdly exaggerated, which, in addition to various sensitivities and issues, also deals with how the second and third generations approach the family history shaped by the Holocaust, a history of which the Popper family is equally silent on Jewish identity. : no bar mitzvah for the sons, last family reunion with the mother for the Epiphany cake.

One cannot claim to have asked many questions of his parents, says Serge during the family trip to Auschwitz, to which Josephine was joined by her father Serge, her uncle and first-person narrator Jean and her aunt Nana. They knew that the mother’s family came from Hungary and that almost all of the members had been murdered in Auschwitz. Did the parents impose silence or did they wait for the questions?

Pointed observations

The family members also differ in how they treat the former death camp, long turned into a tourist attraction and where people now walk around in shorts and colorful T-shirts: Nana is upset and shocked after seeing the gas chamber, Serge is sweating in his good suit, but gives himself up Indifferent, Josephine continues to take pictures, as if the camera was helping to create a distance with the place and its history.

Jean reflects on the visit to the grave of the unknown Hungarian relatives, whom he and his siblings had never heard of: “But it was our family, they died because they were Jews, they had lived the fate of this people whose heritage we have borne, and in a world intoxicated by the word “commemoration”, it seemed dishonorable to have nothing to do with it.”

Sometimes exaggerated and full of comedy, sometimes thoughtful and sharply observed, Reza’s family scenes are between alienation, silence and the search for a connecting element. Whether it’s about identity or coping with old age and illness, her own finitude and the search for what’s left – in this book, Reza shows that she masters both high and low tones. calm tones.

Yasmina Reza: Serge, Hanser Verlag, 206 pages, 22 euros, ISBN 978-3-446-27292-7 (dpa)