Since her husband Sam has died, Ann Arbor professor Maxine Sayers feels lonely. She fully dedicates her life to her Institute of Future Studies where she researches the effects of technology on the people knowing that, eventually, her small world might be closed down as they do not produce anything commercially useful. When her son Zach quits his Silicon Valley job without a warning and vanishes without any further notice and her mother’s health deteriorates, she feels quite depressed. But things become even worse when a series of bomb attacks by the so-called “Technobomber” remind her of incidents of the past: might her son be involved in these terrorist doings? When his former MIT professor is seriously hurt, she knows that she has to find him and she has the bad feeling that she knows who is behind it all.
When reading Eileen Pollack’s novel, I was immediately reminded of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski who bears a lot of resemblance to one of the main characters in the novel. The author might be inspired by these events, yet, they are not the main and only focus in the book. Pollack writes about family bonds, about the loss of a beloved person, technology, feminism and chauvinism in the academic world, and, first and foremost, about the question of how we want to live and what is important for us. Once I started, I was totally immersed and read the book in just one sitting which is also due to the fact that towards the end, it becomes a suspenseful crime novel.
Even though most of the issues addressed in the novel are interesting and provide some food for thought, Maxine’s teaching was the one that stimulated my pondering most. Especially the scenes of her classroom where she discusses the impact of technology and questions about how far we are willing to following technological advances are superb. Unfortunately, this topic is a bit abandoned for the Technobomber plot line which also has some fascinating psychological aspects to offer but was a bit weaker in my opinion.
A rather unusual combination of campus and crime novel that provides not only much to think about but also a lot of suspense.
Friday, 13th November 2015. Antoine is at home with his son while his wife went to a concert. The rather slow evening is interrupted around 10:30 by a number of text messages asking him if he is ok. At first, Antoine wonders about these texts, but then he turns on TV and sees what is happening in his hometown Paris: a group of terrorists attacks the football stadium where the national team fights against the Germans and there have been shootings in town. Also in the Bataclan theatre – the club his wife went to enjoy herself. Antoine calls her repeatedly. No answer. The next morning, he checks on all hospitals. No one knows her there. Then he has to accept the fatal truth: she is among the victims. The following days, he lives like having mist in front of his eyes and not seeing clear. He does not really understand what is happening, he tries to keep up the normal rhythm for their son Melvil, and he is looking for an adequate answer to the all but simple question „How are you?“.
„You will not have my hate“ was Antoine Leiris‘ immediate reaction to the events in Paris last November. In the evenings he sat down in front of his computer and noted down what came to his mind. It is not a fictional story; it does not offer any answers or explanations. It is the immediate reaction to a world in turmoil, a world that cannot be understood, a world which does not exist anymore. It was not meant to be published, it was a way of letting out what was inside Antoine and as such it is a very personal report on how he felt and what he experienced in the first days after the events.
Antoine became known through an open letter to the terrorists posted on Facebook and was shared thousands of times. He refuses to show the expected reaction; he does not want to grant the attackers the fame they look for. He managed to express a very new and different kind of feeling towards those people who drove the country into mourning again. He misses his wife, he does not know what the future will be like without her, how his son will finally cope with the new circumstances, but he definitely will not give up, but live on. And in this way, he expresses what other cannot say by do also feel.
Why do we read these kinds of texts, dairies from the author’s hardest moment in life? I think it is useful to understand the feelings of the people affected, to get a more concrete and personal point of view and to make the event less something that we see on TV but more a real thing, something that happens to people and whose lives will be changed forever. Antoine Leiris‘ documentation is especially striking because it is not only an adult who is affected but also a young boy who cannot yet full understand the situation. Additionally, he does neither embellish nor aggravate since he does not analyse but inly document, which provides an immediate impression on what this day meant for him. A closer look and insight is hardly possible.