A Month of French Authors/Un Mois d’Auteurs Français

Last year and the year before, I’ve bumped into one or two challenging letters of the alphabet. Today is no exception. Neither my French friend nor I have found a female contemporary French author for the letter I.

So unless you come up with a name in the comments below, Jean-Claude Izzo will go solo for the lettre du jour. But you are in luck because he was a great French writer and man.

Born in Marseille in 1945 from an Italian bartender and a Spanish seamstress, Jean-Claude Izzo had just left trade school (fitter turner milling) when he had to fulfill the mandatory French military service. Opposed to the draft, he went on hunger strike and was sent to Djibouti for discipline. Back to France, he enlisted with the Communist Party, became a pacifist activist, and also a journalist.

In 1978 he quit everything, the Party, his job, his wife, and would return to journalism after a few rough years. He had already started to write, mostly poems, but had a very small readership.

It’s in 1995 at the age of fifty that Izzo published Total Kheops, the first book from a trilogy. This crime fiction first novel, set against the backdrop of inner city Marseille, takes its title from a song by IAM, a Marseille-based band of rappers. Total Kheops met unexpected immediate success and Chourmo and Solea, the two following novels in the series Marseilles Trilogy (its English title) became instant best sellers as well. Izzo admitted being surprised by his sudden popularity that stole other beloved crime fiction authors’ popularity.

I think there is only one reason behind his readers’ enthusiasm: the guy who passed away in 2000 wrote with his guts. Rebel until his death, activist to the core, aware that communism could not work but enraged by the deepening injustice between people, Izzo didn’t need to write activist novels. His writing is generous, sensual, excessive, and sad too, reflecting the raw and violent unfairness of life.

I feel so lucky that my French friend already blogged about him in the past. On her post she also wrote about Marcel Pagnol, the marvelous French author from the area, although Pagnol was born in Aubagne and not in Marseille.

I wish you all could read French and follow the links my friend added to her post. Some of them lead to Izzo’s blog, created and maintained by his son, others to literary hikes in this gorgeous area of France. One of them is about a trail going from Marseille to Aubagne. It is a territory that I don’t know as well as my native Normandy, but as I read I felt as if I walked next to young Marcel and his little brother along these sunny southern France pedestrian paths.


Jean-Claude Izzo c’est Marseille. Nul ne peut mieux l’évoquer que l’auteur de la fameuse trilogie qu’il a située à Marseille avec ses cités en toile de fond.

Extrait “Total Khéops:”

“Marseille n’est pas une ville pour touristes. Il n’y a rien à voir.

Sa beauté ne se photographie pas. Elle se partage.

Ici, faut prendre partie. Se passionner. Être pour, être contre. Être violemment.

Alors seulement ce qui est à voir se donne à voir.

Et là trop tard, on est en plein drame. Un drame antique où le héros c’est la mort.

À Marseille, même pour perdre il faut savoir se battre.”

Mon amie bloggeuse qui m’a plus qu’aidée à compiler la liste d’auteurs et auteures pour ce challenge est une fan d’Izzo. Son écriture est sombre, m’a t-elle dit, mais dans sa trilogie, il y a des moments de grâce, des scènes de repas partagés magiques. Et puis, a t-elle ajouté, j’ai vécu trois années pas faciles – à Marseille et je comprends si bien ce qu’il dit et décrit.

Je partage ce sentiment. Un endroit familier quand il est décrit de façon authentique peut être bouleversant à lire.

Je vous recommande de lire son billet à propos de Jean-Claude Izzo, de Marseille, et aussi de Marcel Pagnol.

J’ai eu une envie terrible de marcher sur les chemins ensoleillés entre Marseille et Aubagne, la ville natale du grand Pagnol, un territoire que je ne connais que de manière litéraire. Mais décrit par des talents tel que Izzo ou Pagnol, j’ai toujours eu la sensation d’y être invitée, le temps d’un livre.

Ma partenaire pour ce challenge a ajouté que l’adaptation télévisée de la trilogie de Izzo n’a pas plu aux vrais fans de ses romans. Alain Delon jouait le rôle du commissaire Fabio Montale. L’avez-vous vue ?

Ici, aux US, j’ai pu voir la série Marseille, également située dans cette ville à tant de facettes, avec Depardieu et Benoît Magimel dans les rôles principaux. Ce que j’ai aimé le plus? Le générique musical. Mais je viens de découvrir que la série a été écrite par Dan Frank, le héro de la lettre D.


Extrait de “Chourmo:”

“Si on a du cœur, m’expliqua un jour mon père, on ne peut rien perdre où qu’on aille. On ne peut que trouver.”

Extrait de “Solea:”

“Moi, je crois qu’on passe son temps à se perdre, et quand on se trouve, c’est trop tard.”

Extrait de “Le soleil des mourants:”

“Dans la rue, l’attente n’était pas un problème. Au contraire. Plus on perdait de temps – à faire la manche, ou pour pouvoir manger, obtenir un papier… -, et mieux c’était. Du temps, Rico et tous les autres, ils en avaient à revendre, et chaque jour, ces paquets d’heures à épuiser, cela faisait beaucoup pour un seul homme.

Mais là… Les heures perdues le seraient à jamais. Elles ne reviendraient plus. Rico avait conscience de cela. Que le temps lui était compté.”

Extrait “Les Marins perdus:”

“On ignore toujours pourquoi et comment, un souvenir vous remonte à la gorge. Ils sont là, c’est tout. Prêts à sauter sur l’occasion. Pour vous tirer vers des mondes perdus. Les souvenirs, quels qu’ils soient, même les plus beaux ou les plus insignifiants, sont ces instants de la vie qu’on a gâchés. Les témoins de nos actes inaboutis. Ils ne ressurgissent que pour tenter de trouver un accomplissement. Ou une explication…”



See you tomorrow with letter J!

A demain pour la lettre J!

Thank you for reading!

Merci de nous lire!

Good luck if you participate to the A to Z Challenge!

Bonne chance si vous participez au Challenge de A à Z!


  1. Everyday I am presenting a restaurant (or two) Evelyne and I recently visited.

    The Ivy Inn restaurant (Charlottesville, Va): This place breathes history as it was built in the early 1700’s and was once part of the Faulkner House) after William Faulkner. We (Evelyne, our son and myself) had dinner there after visiting the Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate. The food was grandiose, very local and seasonal. I would go back to Charlottesville anytime.

    — Evelyne’s husband.

    • Fun to see you introducing restaurants while Evelyne is doing books by French authors. I haven’t been to the Ivy Inn but I have been to Monticello. If I get back there, I’ll check out the restaurant! Question: was there an independent bookstore near by? 🙂 –Curt

      • In fact, we visited the Monticello bookstore, which has an interesting selection of cooking books. I cannot remember if we got one, but I know we purchased the Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, his horticultural diary.! 🙂

      • We would have visited the bookstore as well. I never pass one up. 🙂 I can’t remember if we bought anything, but it likely would have been one of the history books. Peggy would have found the gardening book of interest. –Curt

  2. Izzo sounds like he had a fascinating story Evelyne.

    • He does! I really like the man as much as the writer. Sometimes when we found out about a certain author we admire we found out personal facts that we might not like as much. In his case, I like both. I really think that it shows when people write what they like or are passionate about. Your blog posts about nature and creativity are a good example.

  3. I can identify with Izzo, Evelyne, although not the communist part. Sounds like a very interesting man who led a fascinating life. –Curt

    • I was almost hesitant about mentionning the communist party. I learned that some words in the US are almost bad words 🙂 But it was part of who the author was for a while.
      I’m not either a fan of communism, of course. And Izzo understood that it didn’t work either. But I like the fact that he remained aware of the unbalance between people and fought all his life about it, without being a militant.

      • I was accused of being a communist at Berkeley, Evelyne. It was at the end of the McCarthy era but still worrisome. My Peace Corps assignment was in jeopardy. A roommate told the FBI that I was holding cell block meetings in our apartment. (It related to my involvement in the Free Speech Movement.) And, I might add, one of my best friends, who was in the D-Day invasion and risked his life for America and France, was dishonorably discharged from the army for his communist affiliation. He was like Izzo. It took an act of Congress, instigated by another acquaintance of mine, Bob Matsui, to finally resolve the issue, some 40 years later. –Curt

      • Yes, a worrisome period of time, Curt. Berkeley of all places! And what a shame about your friend.
        Thank you again for your daily visits to this LONG challenge. Glad you read something of interest.

  4. Oh lord. I wish I could read French. I wish I had more time to read. Izzo’s story inspires me to stop worrying about the crap I keep worrying about and instead to keep going. I’m loving this whole A–Z thing!

  5. Wow, j’ai lu avec intérêt ce que vous avez écrit sur M. Izzo. Ce n’est pas une mauvaise chose d’être idéaliste, mais ces idées pourraient être triste comme elles sont si loin de la réalité, n’est-ce pas ? J’aime les extraits que vous avez mis. Nous ne sommes pas encore allés à Marseilles, mais j’ai l’impression qu’on peut y vivre par procuration à travers ses livres.

    Il y a aussi Claude Izner, c’est le pseudonyme utilisé par deux soeurs qui écrivent des romans policiers. Je viens des découvrir parce qu’elles en ont écrit un avec le nom d’une de mes rues A à Z 🙂 Je commence à le lire actuellement!

  6. Merci! The name was SO familiar. Since clicking izzo’s blog, I see I read some of his poems in college, and I do think I would enjoy reading his fiction. Thanks for this particular suggestion. 🙂

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