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Simenon around Europe between the two world wars

Europa 33 - Georges Simenon around Europe

The reportages by Georges Simenon, travelling to Europe in 1933, collected by Adelphi in a first edition of 2020. The reportage tell the story of Europe between the two world wars. At that time the National Socialism triumphs in Germany, Eastern peasants dream of progress and in the Soviet Union hunger is a taboo that propaganda hides behind the mirage of the five-year plans.

Poster of Russian Communist propaganda
Poster of Russian Communist propaganda

The Simenon reports, originally written for the French weekly Voilà, founded by the famous publisher Gaston Gallimard, and published between 1933 and 1934. Along with the report are photographs of the same author. Surely, the photos are crude postcards of a Europe in decline. “I want to be a snapshot maker,” writes the author. And it is really a succession of static life scenes that the creator of Commissioner Maigret told with his perfect style. The writing slips decisively, without uncertainty. It is like the ship that travels on the placid waters of the Mediterranean, leading the writer from one port to another, while little by little dreams and contradictions of his time are revealed.

Polish village in the 1930s Reportage Simenon around Europe
Polish village in the 1930s

The “upside down” Europe, as the French see it, by mistakenly assuming their country as a starting point, is turned upside down by the author, shown from a more aim perspective. The periphery becomes the centre, Eastern Europe the starting point. “Europe actually begins on the side of the Urals, from the Caucasus. In that area where it is difficult to say whether or not we are still in Asia,” writes Simenon.

The Belgian writer in Paris - Reportage Simenon around Europe
The Belgian writer in Paris

The author prefers authentic life to glossy postcards, albeit raw, sometimes painful. Along his journey, he meets workers, peasants, emigrants and fixers, ship officers, merchants, noblewomen, and adventurers. In reality, he sleeps in luxury hotels, visits miserable dormitories, entertains himself in elegant nightclubs and squalid brothels. He also interviews Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionary, a fugitive on a Turkish island, enters Russia but gets out of it with difficulty, the dreadful hunger into the eyes. He returns from the trip without answers, nor the presumption of making judgments. “I am neither an economist nor a politician. I simply tried to photograph some aspects of today’s Europe that probably prepare the Europe of tomorrow “, concludes Simenon.

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Author: Giulia Carosi (Italia Straniera)

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