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'Indignez-vous !' : The essay that's shaking France up
A political essay written by a 93-year-old former resistance hero Stéphane Hessel is smashing all publishing records in France. This 30-page best-seller, entitled 'Indignez-vous' ('Cry out'), calls on readers – and especially youths - to be outraged about the state of modern society.
600,000 copies have been sold - eight times more copies than the second most popular book, a Goncourt prize-winning novel by Michel Houellebecq «La carte et le territoire» - and publishers predict it will reach a million. The French book world has been taken by storm by this unlikely publishing sensation, on sale for an uncommonly cheap 3 Euros, and translations are even underway for the Italian and other European markets.
So why is this book such a success ?
A Resistance hero's cry for insurrection.
The unexpected success of the book is mostly down to Hessel's charisma and his life story. Hessel was a German Jew, born in Berlin in 1917 and emigrated to France aged seven. During the Nazi occupation of France, Hessel, who was active in the resistance, joined General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French organisation in London. But when he returned to France in 1944, he was captured, tortured and sent to two different concentration camps in Germany, both of which he managed to escape from (the first one by managing to take the identity of a prisoner who had just died). After the war, he helped to draft the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, becoming one of the most famous French advocates for Human Rights around the world. It undoubtedly gives Hessel's book a real credibility, especially when he argues that French people should re-embrace the values of the French resistance. This is why Hessel's genuine call for peaceful and non-violent insurrection has been such a success.
A political manifesto.
The success of the book could be an important straw in the wind as France enters a political cycle leading to the presidential elections of May 2012. Hessel denounces, among other things, the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, France's shocking treatment of its illegal immigrants, the need to re-establish a free press, protecting the environment, the plight of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the French welfare system. Rejecting the "insolent, selfish" power of money and markets and defending the social "values of modern democracy", Hessel's book could be considered as the first real ideological project for the Socialist Party in preparation for the 2012 presidential elections. Hessel has already announced he will be supporting the head of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry.
The essay also contains a lengthy denunciation of Israeli government policies, especially in the Gaza Strip, and harshly condemns the country's military operations. Hessel's stances on this polemical issues – whose father was a German Jew - have stirred up huge controversy, as he has been accused by French Jewish organisations of "anti-semitism".
In the vein of Zola 'J'accuse', 'Indignez-vous' sounds like a call for a collective realisation. And it is quite a breath of fresh air to see that a book written by a 93-year-old man, which contains no sex, no jokes, and deals with all modern stakes, can be a publishing phenomenon.