Denis Lachaud is a multitalented French actor, playwright, and novelist. One of his previous novels for young adult readers, “I am Learning German” from Les éditions Actes Sud in 1998, investigated how, for a French boy of German extraction whose parents refused to discuss the Second World War, learning an ancestral language could be a cultural and emotional revelation.
In August of this year Actes Sud published Lachaud’s latest novel, “I am Learning Hebrew”, a sensitively insightful story of a 17-year-old French boy living in Tel Aviv, where his father, a banker, has been transferred after stints in Berlin, Oslo, and other world capitals. The boy, Frédéric Queloz, is a half-Arthur Rimbaud, half-Holden Caulfield who decides that teaching himself Hebrew will “reorganize” his thinking. He notes structural details of the Hebrew language compared to French, such as the lack of conditional or subjunctive phrases “I would like to” or “I should like to” with Hebrew mandating the more direct “I want to.” This directness strikes Frédéric’s Swiss-born father as rude, whereas his Parisian mother “knows how to step on other people’s feet too.”