The Boy Outside
de Jeanine Cummins
Translated from English (United States) by Christine Auché
Philippe Rey, 448 p., 23 €
Some books have the talent to give a touching and rich voice to children. That of Christy, an 11-year-old Irish Traveler in 1959, arouses a huge crush. He has just lost his grandfather with whom he had a benevolent and complicit relationship. Grand-Pa was a much-loved figure in their nomadic community traveling the countryside in horse-drawn caravans. Asked for his talents as a healer on their steps, Stephen Hurley had made Christy his assistant.
Like this time when this poet with feet anchored in the ground had dragged his 7-year-old grandson to a mare about to give birth to two foals – a situation which should have resulted in the death of the three horses. Since then, Christy feels that she has one essential point in common with Jack, the weakest of the surviving horses, given by the farmer convinced that he would not last long: both killed their mother when they came into the world.
Crushed by the grief caused by the disappearance of his grandfather, the boy does not accept the idea of leaving him in a cemetery before continuing on the road. His family has yet to leave. She has been looking for months for a village that would accept their small group long enough to prepare for communion for Christy and her cousin.
Ode to freedom
In an intimate and fascinating way, Jeanine Cummins depicts the twilight of nomadic life, made more difficult by the decline of their activities (the tin worked by Christy’s father is replaced by plastic) and by the more virulent rejection of those that sedentary people contemptuously call the ” thinkers ». By subtly combining oral style and poetic language, delicacy and powerful evocations, the writer immerses herself in the daily life and thoughts of Christy, who is terribly endearing.
Lively and sensitive, he wonders about what differentiates him from the “people on the inside” and about his mother, of whom he knows nothing but their coexistence on earth for seven minutes. Perhaps sent by his grandfather after his disappearance, a newspaper clipping could help him lift a corner of the veil, he thinks. Joyful ode to the freedom of travellers, The Boy Outside also evokes the heartbreak of Christy tormented by an ardent desire to learn at school. A poignant novel, overflowing with charm and intelligence, just like its young hero.
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