Monday, 22 February 2016

Nobody's boy, Hector Malot

My childhood version.
The Dutch title translates as:
Alone in the world
When I was little, my parents had a big blue book on their bookshelves with beautiful drawings. 

I loved the story of the young orphan Remi who was sold by his mean stepfather when he was ten years old to a musician, Vitalis, who travelled around with Joli-Coeur the little monkey and the dogs Capi, Dolce and Zerbino. 

Nodoby’s boy is a beautiful story and I read it many times. Only later did I find out this was a world famous French classic, translated into many languages.

The story is probably known: Remi is an orphan and that is why he does not belong to anybody. But fortunately for him he does encounter many people who help him, sometimes for a short while, but often for a longer period of time. 

Vitalis is a good man, but during a cold winter’s night when they could not find shelter, he dies. Gardener Alcuin takes Remi into his family, but when a heavy storm destroys the glasshouses, father Alcuin has to go to prison and his family is split up. 

Remi is back on the streets, but luckily he meets Mattia, a boy he met before and who is really musical. Together they will travel through France to meet up with the members of the Alcuin family, but in the meantime Remi also learns more about his own family.

Of course, Nobody’s boy is a 19th century novel and there are too many coincidences, everybody knows eachother and in a city of millions you always find the one person you needed to see. And if you are really critical you could call the ending way too sentimental. But all this is of course not the point of the novel.
 
Remi, Capi and Joli-Coeur do a play,
while Vitalis does the music
Hector Malot wrote this book to point out the horrible living conditions of the poor in France. That is why Remi is travelling, so he could meet as many different people and their situations as possible. The poor farmers, the people who have to scrape from meal to meal, the travelling musicians, the people suffering under strict and unjust laws, the harsh conditions of the miners, the bitter poverty of the boys living on the streets of Paris and the way orphans were treated.

He did not write Nobody’s boy as a children’s book, but somehow it is seen as one. I read it many times as a child and a while ago I asked my parents if I could borrow it again. 

And again the story would not let go, and this time I also saw how much love Hector Malot used to write this book and how hard he tried to make the characters real. Remi is neither a selfish brat nor a sickly-sweet orphan, he is a real boy and as life-like as can be, and this is the case for most of the characters.
 
Remi and Mattia play at a wedding to make some money
As a child I had to cry every time Vitalis died, and I could not hold my tears this time as well. In just a few scenes Hector Malot manages to give us some idea of the background story of this man, who has such a good heart and who died in such tragic circumstances. I also adored the dog Capi again, and I really want a white poodle now, that I will name Capi J.

When Remi finds his family again and finds where he belongs, you will be relieved, all is well in the last chapter.
A beautiful classic!

Original French title: Sans famille
Published in 1878

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