Disturbance: Surviving Charlie Hebdo, by Philippe Lançon

Author: Philippe Lançon. Review by Anne M Jones

‘This book is firmly non-religious, and yet there are moments of universal spirituality...' | Photo: Book cover of Disturbance: Surviving Charlie Hebdo, by Philippe Lançon

This riveting book, which I discovered by accident in a secondhand bookshop, transcended the rest of my lockdown book pile. Philippe Lançon is the journalist who ‘played dead’ when terrorists burst into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015. This account is a story of personal survival from grossly disfiguring injuries, as well as an informative close-up of the genius within the medical world that repaired him. It is also a sharing of the variety of mental states that occurred within a massively traumatised man, in between erudite philosophical discussions of French classical literature, art and music – in particular Bach’s ‘Well-tempered clavier’. Religious or sentimental it firmly is not, and yet there are moments of universal spirituality that can be found elsewhere in writings that have an avowedly-spiritual purpose. The writing also contains incidental memories from childhood. My own work was in childhood development – and is now preoccupied by concepts of ‘resilience’ among refugees – and I gained a picture of a secure, contented, affection-held boyhood. These experiences undoubtedly helped build the strengths that saw the author through recovery (I hope he will forgive my taking this psychological interest because he states emphatically that he is not interested in psychology). So the book ranges across a wide area of interests. It is an extremely important and valuable contribution to our understanding of life from a number of different perspectives.

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