At the Père-Lachaise school

VS‘is the perfect place: between the graves of Marcel Proust and Honoré de Balzac. “ Pecan velvet pants, slicked back hair and polished shoes, Mahmud Nasimi has displayed a permanent smile since he stepped through the heavy doors of the Père-Lachaise cemetery, an iconic Parisian necropolis where the greatest writers of French literature rest. Sitting on a bench among the granite graves, the 34-year-old Afghan author feels good. It is even there that he feels best since his arrival in France four years ago. Mahmud Nasimi fled the bombs in Afghanistan eight years ago. Prison, torture, crossing the Mediterranean: his journey to reach Paris was long. Seven years to be precise, of which he recounts 730 days in his first book From afar I can see my country, which he self-published in 2018.

Now a refugee in Paris, Mahmud Nasimi is releasing his second book, An Afghan in Paris, with Éditions du Palais, an ode to the City of Light and the language of Charles Baudelaire, which he wrote entirely in French, a language that was still unknown to him four years ago. If, for some, “Speak the language of Baudelaire” is just an expression, for Mahmud Nasimi, it is the story of his learning French.

It is chance which has placed the great writers of the last centuries in its path. One day he was wandering in Paris, the young man who had just arrived passed the imposing double door of Père-Lachaise. There he discovers the thousands of tombs and the alleys lined with large oaks, and his gaze falls on one of them. Majestic, it is overlooked by the bust of a man. This burial is that of Honoré de Balzac, whom Mahmud Nasimi does not know. “In front of his imposing grave, I thought he was a general or a politician. “

Driven by curiosity, he types the author’s name on Google and it’s a revelation: “I discovered not a man, but a whole world. “ Day after day, Mahmud Nasimi continues to get lost in the cemetery and expands his knowledge of French literature, grave after grave. “Balzac told me ‘Look, there is Proust, Éluard and also Piaf’! “ Outside the necropolis, when he is not in French class, he types the names of the greatest writers and puts them in his favorite notebook which he lines with hearts in pencil. Little by little, he gets their books, runs his finger over their words to tame them, page after page, as his grandmother did when he was a child. “I took a whole day to translate a paragraph”, admits the man who, just a few years later, speaks impeccable French.

When he was a child, Mahmud Nasimi, always sitting at the back of the class, did not like books. Today, faced with the severity of life in exile and the bad news that is raining down from Afghanistan, The Stranger or The Skin of Sorrow are for him a refuge, a space of benevolence. He admits it with a laugh: in the cemetery, the author has more friends than in the world of the living. In the midst of this eternal rest, he finds there the inspiration and the silence which heals him from the hubbub of Porte de la Chapelle. “These books saved me, I could have sank but I remained very optimistic”, explains the young man. It was then that he decided to write his own. “In Paris I was born for the second time. And when you like something, you have to show it, so I wrote my literature. “ Today Mahmud Nasimi has been granted refugee status. He is proud of his book and of his life in France: “For myself and to prove to those who laughed at me because I wanted to write a book in a language I didn’t know”, he confesses, amused. His next plan is to become a translator to help his fellow Afghans, but his greatest wish remains to visit his family in Afghanistan whom he has not seen since leaving eight years ago. In the meantime he reads The evil flowers by Charles Baudelaire.

On the path leading out of the cemetery, the writer cannot take his eyes off the graves which pass before his eyes. One of them catches his attention. A commemorative plaque on which it is engraved: “Friendship is a gem”, adorns its white marble. “Jewel, what does that mean?” “ asks the young man. “It’s like a precious stone. ” Satisfied, he leaves whispering: “A part of my heart is going to be here for a few more hours I think. “


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