In March of 1938, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht army crossed the border from Germany into Austria where they were greeted by throngs of cheering crowds all the way along their route to Vienna. The cheers came from a portion of the Austrian populace who supported Anschluss, a effort that had been kicking around for years to unite the two countries under the banner of “a greater Germany.” The dubious chicanery that led to this unification informs L’Ordre du jour, (The Order of the Day), the acclaimed novel by the French writer and filmmaker Éric Vuillard who recently scored his country’s biggest literary award, the Prix Goncourt.
The 10-member Académie Goncourt committee awarded the novel from among a shortlist of four works that included Yannick Haenel’s Tiens ferme ta couronne (Hold Onto Your Crown), about a screenwriter’s attempt to get a film of Herman Melville produced, Veronique Olmi’s novel Bakhita, regarding a 19th-century slave turned Italian nun, and Alice Zeniter’s L’Art de perdre (The Art of Loss), a novel set during the escalating conflict between France and Algeria.
According to the New York Times, Vuillard researched historical documents and photographs while writing L’Ordre du Jour, discovering and including nearly a 25 German industrialists and financiers that help make Anschluss happen and who still have thriving companies today. “They are here beside us, among us,” the Times translated Mr. Vuillard as stating. “They are our cars, our washing machines, our household goods, our radio-alarms, our homeowner’s insurance, our watch batteries. They are here, there and everywhere, as all sorts of things. Our daily life is theirs.”
In the English edition of the German periodical Deutsche Welle, Vuillard remarked “Literature is intended to tell the stories that are important and even threatening. There are forms of discovery that are specific to reading and writing. What I call fiction is the editing made by the data collected.”
L’Ordre du jour will be published in English as The Order of the Day in November 2018 by the American publisher Other Press. Previous winners of the Prix Goncourt have included Mathias Énard, Marcel Proust, and Simone de Beauvoir.