“The Wife” by Anne-Sophie Subilia: From doing nothing to having the courage to act

In her latest novel, the Vaud writer Anne-Sophie Subilia immerses us in the everyday life of the wife of a humanitarian delegate in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s and touches on the space that remains on the edges of melancholy, boredom and waiting.

The action begins in the heart of the Middle East, in the city of Gaza, recovering from the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The aftermath is clearly visible: charred tanks, power outages, bottlenecks, a teenager’s corpse holding a rock – so many clues to a scratched region and the sad consequences to come.

Vivian Desarzens was sent on a humanitarian mission by the Red Cross and is responsible for reporting on living conditions in the region’s prisons. He comes there accompanied by his wife Piper, whose every move and outfit we will follow, between evenings with other expats at the Beach Club, walks on the beach, sightseeing and shopping at the market.

A character choice that may surprise, since Anne-Sophie Subilia does not directly recreate what the region holds in terms of history, suffering and struggles, opting instead for the point of view of a privileged woman languishing in her domestic function and seeking the usefulness of his presence.

The delegate’s wife has no special mission. She accompanies. She has no responsibility for surgeries, adrenaline, or fatigue. She has neither the satisfaction nor the levity nor the raw contact of the work. She can relax when she wants. Is it comfortable? She can only be proud of the other who tells her how it was in prisons and complicated encounters.

Anne-Sophie Subilia, “The Wife”

Piper’s point of view

For Anne-Sophie Subilia, this character of Piper was obvious: “She is the one who touches me. This extremely complicated and uncomfortable role also puts her in the front row. It’s very porous compared to a lot of things that are going to happen. (…) Intuitively, she will understand a certain number of events and make connections between them,” the author explains to RTS.

And the writer adds: “I found it very important to give a voice to those who are always there, who are in the shadows, in the doorway. And I found this attitude, almost like a filter, more interesting; with perceptions that aren’t quite right, but it questions.” A questioning, whispered straight into the invading sands, that isn’t of intellect or history lessons, but of connection, emotion, and intuition, that will slowly awaken in Piper the “courage to act.” who she misses so much.

Essential Encounters

These are also the encounters that will make Piper give up her passivity: that with the old gardener Hadj, who breathes life into his garden and has no news of his brother, who is imprisoned in an unknown place. The one with little Naïma, who lives in huts on the beach, is soon threatened with demolition. Those with a baby left in the hospital, or those with the Palestinian psychiatrist Mona, voluntarily and dedicatedly.

“Piper will be anything but indifferent to these people,” explains Anne-Sophie Subilia. Connections are made (…), beings who will honor you with a visit and a meeting. This connectedness inevitably drives action. “

Through writing, I wanted to enter this journey to the other and experience how the other comes to mobilize us.

Anne Sophie Subilia

A path to another, which will also lead to tension in the couple: as a discreet witness to her husband’s everyday life, Piper will quickly perceive the limitations of humanitarian work, which she will try to overcome herself at her own expense.

Charlotte Frostard

Anne-Sophie Subilia, “The Woman”, Zoé Editions. The book is selected for the Prix Femina, the Prix Femina des Lycéens and the Prix Médicis 2022.

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