Friday, 28 May 2010


I know, I committed a mortal sin and now I feel irreparably orphaned: Vango has abandoned me, now he's in Salina with Ethel, and what about me? How long will I have to wait? A year? More?

Never, I say, NEVER read the first volume of a Thimothée de Fombelle novel if the second hasn't been published yet: you would otherwise remain there, dying, longing to know what will happen, and you'll have no other choice than wait! Reading again the first book won't help at all, on the contrary: this will only increase your thirst of discovery.

What can I do then? I think I'll write about it: the author is the same who wrote  Tobie Lolness *, a worldwide success. As for the Tobie Lolness novels, Vango as well is a two volume novel: Vango, entre ciel et Terre and Vango, un prince sans royaume. Most probably the second volume will be published next year, at least I hope.

Vango, Timothée de Fombelle, cover image by Blexbolex**, Gallimard Jeunesse, Hors Série Littérature, 18th March 2010

For readers 12 years up

The novel is set in the '30s, in a Europe halfway between the two world wars, already fully tyrannized by the totalitarian regimes that in a few years will upset millions of people's lives. But for Vango Romano, the problems threatening his young life have nothing to do with those dramatic events: the mystery that encircles his origins is the first source of all the troubles haunting him, from his very early childhood when, shipwrecked, he arrives on the island of Salina with Mademoiselle, his wet nurse.
About Vango Romano, whom his persecutors call L'Oiseau***, we know almost nothing except that he always carries with him a handkerchief bearing the writing "Combien de Royaumes nous ignorent"**** and a V embroidered in gold, that he loves swallows, that he can climb the most inaccessible places with no apparent effort and that, were it not for the police chasing him for murder and for someone shooting on him while escaping, he would have become a priest. We also know that Mademoiselle raised him as her own son, protecting him from his past.

Around Vango a number of historical characters like Hugo Eckener, the captain of the Graf Zepelin, and invented ones like Zefiro, the chief monk of the secret monastery on the island of Arkudak (Alicudi), or like the Mole, a young Jewish girl coming from a good family that shares with Vango the taste for independence and for the nights "en plein air" on the roofs of Paris. And then there's Ethel, Scottish, rich, young and deeply in love with Vango. To end there are his enemies, terrible, pitiless, one for all: Stalin! Yup, that Stalin, the Soviet tyrant in person.

At this point, maybe even too obviously, my mind rushed to identify the Romanov imperial family: after all Vango Romano, the dates as well are corresponding... And yet, towards the end of the novel, my theory collapses like an unsteady sand castle!

What to say? De Fombelle has an undeniable ability in creating complicated plots, charged with suspense, the little plugs masterly scattered along the text remain only vaguely mentioned up to the right moment when, and only then, they explode in all their evidence. The evocative and pressing writing envelops you with an urge for revelations that doesn't abandon you up to the end. The author is very good at recreating tension using several techniques, skilfully weaving the different threads of the plot, breaking action to the climax to move elsewhere, deviating attention on collateral events, or using flashback technique.

In short: a novel you shouldn't miss, you won't be deceived!

About this novel De Fombelle said: «J'ai mis dans ce roman tout ce qui compte pour moi : le souffle de l'aventure, la fragilité, la cruauté la beauté des existences. Je voulais une saga qui emporte le lecteur, mais qui laisse chez lui des traces.»*****

Just to give you an idea on De Fombelle, I shall list just some of the recognitions he received in the past few years:

Prix du Souffleur 2002
Prix Saint-Exupéry 2006
Prix Tam-Tam 2006
Prix Sorcières 2006
Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire 2007

You can read a short biography, and an interview, in French, on the site of the Publisher Gallimard:

The choice is now up to you: shall you buy the fist volume ora et nunc or shall you wait until the second one is published?

* The story of Tobie Lolness will soon become a film, the author is in fact working on the screenplay for the movie that will be produced in the States.

** Blexbolex is the incredible author and illustrator of Saisons, a wonderful book published last November by Albin Michel Jeunesse.

*** The Bird

**** "How many kingdoms ignore us"

***** «I put in this novel all that counts for me: the breathe of adventure, fragility, existence's beauty and cruelty. I wanted to create a saga that could capture readers and, at the same time, leave them a mark.»

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