by Camille Bouchard
Valentin n’a que quatorze ans, et pourtant il n’a qu’une idée en tête: prouver à son père, Benjamin, qui a fait les quatre cents coups partout dans le monde, qu’il est assez brave et assez valeureux pour se battre à ses côtés. En mentant sur son âge, il parvient à s’enrôler dans la Légion étrangère et rejoint les troupes dépêchées à Diên Biên Phu, en Indochine française.
Originally written in French
Number of pages: 144
Recommended FSL Programs and Grades
Grade 9 (Immersion)
Grade 10 (Extended, Immersion)
Grade 11 (Extended)
Grade 12 (Extended)
Author: Québécois (white)
Characters: half Mexican, half Polish
Setting: French Indochina
Notes from a teacher-reader
Camille Bouchard is a white male author born in Québec. He spent many years travelling through East Asia.
Indochina in the year 1954. The book takes place during the last months of the First Indochina War where the French were trying to continue their hold on the region, fought against by Việt Minh opponents. The book describes the war as a war between the ideals of capitalism (i.e. Westernism) and communism (what Việt Minh supported).
As explained in the first chapter of the novel, the main character is a 15 year old boy who is half Mexican, half Polish. His father highly supports wars and sees himself as a fighter, and they travelled many times in the world to support different causes. At the start of the book, the family lives in France and the father goes off to fight in the First Indochina War; the son soon follows suit to try and impress his father. He joins a troop of non-French men who are fighting to support France: some of his companions are from Maghreb and Algeria.
This novel borders on A2/B1 level. There are some passages where the language is harder because it uses war-specific terminology, which most students won't have. There are some footnotes to explain some terms, but most would need to be looked up. It is a very fast-paced novel, very high action, and perfect for any students interested in history and the lesser-told stories about it. There are open critiques of war and why they are even fighting the war (e.g. the father asks whose place it is to try and impose ideals on another nation), which would be great for broader classroom conversations about war and colonialism. It's also a great launching point for other discussions on, for example, who writes history and why wars like this aren't mentioned when we are taught world history (it was taboo to speak about this war in France until the 2000s). I would highly recommend this novel, and perhaps the rest of the series "Le siècle des malheurs" (although I have not read any others in the series - this is novel 2) for any Grade 10 History class or even grade 8 French Immersion classes for self-study on world history!! Even a classroom library or having it in the school's library would be a great addition.
Feel free to contact the teacher-reader, Amanda Cloutier, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about this novel.