French Author Adrien Bosc's "Constellation" Pays Homage to the Anonymous
This article is part of a series of profiles of ten Francophone authors who have been long-listed for the Albertine Prize, a reader’s choice award launched this year by the Albertine bookshop in New York. Albertine booksellers selected ten of the best French novels translated into English in the past year; US-based readers can vote between March 16 and April 30th on the Albertine site here.
Adrien Bosc is one of those precocious bibliophiles who, at 31, has already been running a publishing company for 6 years. His éditions du sous-sol publishes books and two magazines, one of which, Feuilleton, specializes in translated fiction and narrative non-fiction. Bosc’s award-winning debut novel, Constellation, published in France in 2014 and two years later in English, translated by Willard Wood, is a combination of the two—a fictionalized account of a real event:
On the night of October 27-28th, 1949, a new Air France airplane, a Lockheed Constellation, heading for New York, crashed while attempting to land on an island in the Azores. There were no survivors.
The four enormous Wright engines of Lockheed Constellation F-BAZN are droning. The propellers and blades have been inspected, and the eleven crew members line up in front of the plane. The big, beautiful four-engine aircraft, its aluminum fuselage perched on its outsized undercarriage, looks like a wading bird.
Part of the reason why the crash was given so much attention at the time was that there were two passengers on board who were particularly famous—one was the musical prodigy, French violinist and Ravel specialist, Ginette Neveu, who was traveling to the US for a series of concerts, accompanied by her brother, who was a pianist. The second passenger was the world famous boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was to fight Jake LaMotta in a rematch. But first, he was going to visit his lover, Edith Piaf, who was singing in New York. She had asked Cerdan to take the plane rather than the boat because it was faster.
Both Cerdan’s suitcase, which was subsequently sold at an auction, and a piece of one of Ginette Neveu’s violins was found near the crash site.
Bosc said he discovered the news event by chance, when he heard about the piece of Neveu's violin in an interview with the great violin maker, Etienne Vatelot, who was originally supposed to accompany Ginette Neveu on the ill-fated flight, but decided to take the boat instead.
The notions of destiny, chance and coincidence were what fascinated Bosc as well as his desire to research the other passengers and raise them out of anonymity. He traveled to the Azores as part of his research, and compiled information on the 48 passengers, which included five Basque sheepherders who had contracts to work on American farms. The result is a thorough account of the lives of the passengers with an unadulterated nostalgia of the epoch.
“I wanted to pay homage to these passengers and shine a light on their individuality,” said Bosc in an interview, adding that rather than the collective grave that had been attributed to the passengers, he wanted them each to have their own grave, and that it wasn’t just “the shiniest star in the constellation that was to sparkle in this book.”