Anna Langfus's Les Bagages de sable (trans. as The Lost Shore) won the Prix Goncourt in 1962, which made her only the fourth female winner since the first Goncourt in 1903. A female writer – Elsa Triolet – became the first female Goncourt winner in 1944: yes, all the winners from 1903 to 1943 were men. There have been 116 Prix Goncourt since its creation – but only 12 of them have been women. Furthermore, of the ten members of the Goncourt jury, only thee are women, and the (at present male) jury leader is allowed to have two votes in case of a five-five final choice. Women, the perception seems to be, just can't write as well as men.
Anna Langfus's Les Bagages de sable is a tale of the post-traumatic stress disorder – with obvious autobiographical elements – of the young Polish woman Maria, who family was killed during the war. (Anna Langfus is of Polish origin and writes French as a second language, her family was killed during World War II, she was tortured but was freed at the end of the war.)
The book is written as a kind of dreamscape, with Maria imagining or perhaps hallucinating her family, incapable of telling her story to those who haven't lived through what she has lived, only on one occasion speaking of a small part of her ordeal to a Polish survivor. In Paris at the beginning, passing people she meets on park benches have no idea of her internal suffering, which of course remains internal.
Eventually she meets an old man (Michel Caron) with a dog and grows to like him because he seems genuine and he doesn't ask questions. Unknown to her at the time, the old man, who has fallen in love with her, takes her to the south where a friend has left him his basic home for an apparent indefinite time.
Maria knows that she is mature far beyond her years, and tries to break free from the stranglehold that her terrifying past has on her, but although she has many ways of finding defence mechanisms to stave off pain, she keeps falling back into the abyss.
This is an immensely powerful novel which deserves to be far better known than it is. My secondhand copy, apart from the first few pages, was uncut since 1962: it almost seems a crime to have it and not to read this desvastating novel. Also, clumsily, the back cover miss-spells the old man's name s 'Carron'.