To Become Human Again

A Sun for the Dying by Jean-Claude Izzo

A Sun for the Dying is a heartbreaking story of homelessness in France.  Rico’s story begins with the death of a friend and fellow “down-and-out,” Titi.  Titi’s death by exposure in a train station in Paris greatly affects Rico, and prompts him to flee Paris for his beloved Marseilles, the city containing the only good memories he can conjure.  During his journey, the reader is introduced to a snapshot of the very poor in France.  These people include victims of human trafficking (Mirjana), orphans forced to flee violence in their home countries (Abdou and the Young Strays) as well as the inevitable indifferent criminal (Dede).  Though their origins and stories differ, a similar thread connects them.  Each longs for a human connection that validates their existences.  Until the end, however, none appear to find it.

Rico’s path to homelessness begins essentially when he chooses to marry the socialite-to-be Sophie over the more genuine Lea.  Rico falls victim to Sophie’s lustful allure and begins his life with her, fathering a son, Julien, in the process.  Eventually their obvious incompatibility becomes too much to bear and Sophie leaves Rico for a mutual friend, Alain, cutting him off from Julien in the process.  Though Rico’s ensuing despair appears to stem from his rejection by Sophie, it becomes clear as the novel progresses that his anguish comes from the loss of his most profound connection, his son.

In part two of the book, the narrator’s identity is revealed.  Abdou is a teenager from Algiers, orphaned at an early age and traumatized both emotionally and physically by his journey to Marseilles in the boiler room of a freighter.  Abdou finds a father figure in Rico, and Rico eventually expresses a fatherly love for Abdou in return.  Therefore, while the life is bleak and often hopeless for most characters, it appears that Abdou can be saved from Rico’s fate as he has learned that it is possible to pick up the shattered pieces of his life and connect with the world again.

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