A while back, I got quite a few Kindle First books. And I mean, a while back. Paul Pen’s The Light of the Fireflies was one of these books, newly translated into English by Simon Bruni. I really wanted to take some time to get some of my ebooks read and decided to give this one a go. I was not disappointed.
This novel is about a family of unnamed characters, only known by their position in the family (Dad, Mom, Grandma, etc.) and the secrets they’ve kept for years. It is about a young boy who has never known anything but the dark of his basement, the only natural light coming from a small hole in the ceiling. The boy lives with his family, all of them burned due to a fire they don’t talk about and no one ever leaves. His entire world is comprised of his family and his books, books on insects and kid spies. Of course he knows things like how everyone hates his sister and that there’s something wrong with his brother but he has never known anything different. The Boy, as he is called, knows the family has secrets but he has no idea how to uncover them, he is young and naive and they often lie to him anyway. The only truth lies in his jar of fireflies.
The Light of the Fireflies asks which is more important: family or honesty. The Boy doesn’t know the secrets but we as readers discover them. The novel is about what the Boy chooses and how he comes to that decision, navigating secrets and lies and half-truths, all with the help of his fireflies. Reckless adults who’ll do horrendous things for the sake of family, the bitterness and hate of his sister…the Boy chooses.
Photo Credit of Paul Pen’s Personal Blog
“There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light.”
The narrative in this novel is imaginative and innovative, the wonders of the Boy’s thoughts as we see him navigate his incredibly suffocating world. And, as you might be able to tell from the quote above, there are wonderful little chestnuts hidden within the lines of Pen’s world. One of my favorite aspects of this novel was when Pen decided to let us see the family before they moved into the basement, a long flashback that clarified a lot of things while still raising some questions. And while the Boy never gets the full picture, we do, and that made me really want to force him into a decision. But, as I said, he is only a small boy, whose family has told him that only family matters. He is struggling to choose, longing to be free, to taste fresh air and yet doesn’t know what that would mean for his family. And while I can say there were some extremely infuriating parts of this novel, even those were fun to read.
My overall rating? 5/5. That doesn’t mean I loved every aspect of the book because goodness knows I didn’t but I loved the prose, the way the characters played with my emotions and the fact that I couldn’t seem to put it down from the moment I picked it up.
This book had me on an emotional roller coaster and I’m glad I get to finally check it off my TBR. I love reading books in translation, and grateful to the translators who so masterfully captured the beauty Paul Pen intended.
What’s your favorite translated book? Oh, and don’t forget to follow this blog if your don’t already. I would greatly appreciate it and you would be kept up to date on all my word nerdy posts. And share this post with another book lover!