By Antoine Leiris, translated by Sam Taylor. Penguin Press, 2016. 144 pages. $23/hardcover; $15/paperback; $11.99/eBook.
Antoine Leiris began writing You Will Not Have My Hate (originally published in French as Vous N’Aurez Pas Ma Haine by Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris) in the days after his wife, Hélène, was killed in the November 2015 Paris terror attacks. He takes his audience from the day she was killed to the day after her funeral. It is a period of less than two weeks, but he shares what feels like a full journey through the stages of grief. He describes that he wrote the book to “disgorge all these words that live inside my head.” There is a preciousness to his prose, a care he takes with each word. He lets his audience into his vulnerability, and so we feel connected to Antoine and his son, Melvil, from the first page.
Leiris illustrates to his audience how to live with pain without succumbing to the release of anger. The book’s origin was a Facebook post he wrote to his wife’s killers that begins with the book’s title, “You will not have my hate.” He continues in the post, “I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. That is what you want, but to respond to your hate with anger would be to yield to the same ignorance that made you what you are.” When he first writes it, he reflects that he hopes to live up to his own words. In the pages that follow, it is clear that the way he lives his life goes well beyond this original sentiment of simply not hating out of spite for those who seek to inflame his rage. Rather, during this period of darkness, he turns ever to the light. He allows himself to be embraced by the love of his community. He dedicates all of his attention to modeling love for his son and appreciating the purity of the love that comes from 17-month-old Melvil. Throughout the book, the reader can feel Leiris willing his healing into existence by intentionally noting the power of the compassion that surrounds him.
For many in the United States, the 2016 election felt like a tragedy. I heard stories of an Irish wake for the country on Inauguration Day and flags flown at half staff. Many people have powerfully shared their stories of grieving on social media, just like Leiris did. We would all be well served to follow his example. Ultimately, Antoine Leiris’s story is a testament to his readers that no matter what tragedy we face, we choose our attitude as we move forward. He describes that he is “prevented from falling by hope.” At one point he gets a letter of appreciation from someone who read his original Facebook post, sharing with him that, although Leiris was the one suffering, he was giving courage to all who read his words. That letter could speak for all of his readers.