A Very Long Engagement A Novel

Sébastien Japrisot; Translated by Linda Coverdale




Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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Set during—and for many years after—the First World War, A Very Long Engagement tells the gripping and unforgettable story of a young woman's search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having been officially reported as "killed in the line of duty." Unable to walk since childhood, the fearless, sardonic, and wonderfully imaginative Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest for information about five wounded French soldiers who were heartlessly abandoned by their own troops in January 1917—left to die, their hands bound behind them, in a no-man's-land between the French and German armies at the Picardy front.

A runaway bestseller in France when it first appeared in the early 1990s, A Very Long Engagement is at once a love story, a detective yarn, a meditation on both the brutality and beauty unique to modern times, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before, during, and after the Great War.


Praise for A Very Long Engagement

"Riveting . . . A fierce, elliptical novel that's both a gripping psychological thriller and highly moving meditation on the emotional consequence of war."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A kind of latter-day War and Peace . . . This is a book that is many things: a war story, a story of official corruption, an idyll of young summer love, and a rich and most original panorama of French men and women living in peace and robbed of it. Finally, giving it all an intent energy, it is a hybrid of the detective story and the classical quest."—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Book Review

"A classic mystery . . . Only the best historical fiction can make the journey into a distant time and return with a believable sense of how things really were. That Japrisot's book has done so is a mark of his great talent."—Paul Watkins, The Washington Post Book World

"A magical novel . . . Part romance, part mystery, part history, part exploration of the dogged pursuit of the improbable, it commands attention from first to last . . . An artist of considerable strength and maturity . . . Japrisot has a narrative style that in its handling of detail reminds one of Flaubert . . . A powerhouse novel with an unforgettable character—Mathilde Donnay—at its core."—The Boston Globe

"This book has been a bestseller in France, and it's easy to see why. Japrisot writes with warmth, and has a gift for rendering almost every character instantly likable."—The New Yorker

"Stunning . . . A terrific book, and worthy of the attention its subtlety demands . . . Like Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War, it gathers special resonance from its World War I setting . . . Against that backdrop, which Japrisot suggests with surpassing delicacy, his love story—and its redemptive theme—is doubly poignant."—The Boston Sunday Globe

"This magnificently crafted story of love that survives the horror and futility of World War I is a triumph that combines mystery, ardor, and wit with a truly compelling narrative flow."—The Trenton Times

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


Once upon a time, there were five French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that's the way of the world.
The first soldier, who in his youth had been a cheerful, adventurous lad, wore around his neck an identification tag marked 2124, the number assigned to him at a recruiting office in the department of Seine. On his feet were boots taken from a dead German, boots that sank into the mud of trench after trench as he plodded through the godforsaken maze leading to the front lines.
All five of the soldiers were bound for the front. They went single file, laboring
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  • Sébastien Japrisot; Translated by Linda Coverdale

  • Sébastien Japrisot was the pen name of Jean Baptiste Rossi. He wrote seven novels, including One Deadly Summer, The Sleeping Car Murders, The Passion of Women, and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun.




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