Back Up

Written by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (trans.) Paul Colize
Review by Ann Chamberlin

One by one, in one short week in March 1967, the four members of a British rock band based in Berlin die violent but seemingly unrelated and accidental deaths. Over forty years later, an old, homeless man with no ID is struck down by a car near Brussels’ Midi railway station. His injuries leave him with locked-in syndrome, able to communicate only (sometimes) by blinking. The connections weave a net that goes through the CIA’s experiment with LSD during the Vietnam War.

My protest that a historical novel should not take place during the lifetime of the reader, not to mention the author, must be as brief and unobtrusive as possible. This book by a Belgian novelist is a wonderful thriller. After a bit of confusion at the beginning, when smartphones appear in the chapter after the one that had fixed us so firmly in the ´60s, I was willing to follow the intricate plot anywhere. The unknown patient blinking his way with agonizing slowness through letters and consonants on a chart is a masterful creation of suspense without car chase or impossible swings over high-rise buildings. The music, the drug trips that leave witnesses wondering if what they have seen are mere hallucinations, the evocation of a time when young people with high hopes and high ideals shared a common culture from London across the continent to Vienna, and the Montreux jazz fest standing in opposition to warmongering nation states—these things are so beautifully, heroically evoked that I have no qualms about recommending this book to anyone.