“Stardust”, the last very personal novel by Léonora Miano about her first years in Paris in an emergency accommodation center

Léonora Miano, winner of the Goncourt des Lycéens in 2008 and the Femina in 2013 with The Season of Shadow, returns in this literary season with a very personal text, written more than twenty years ago, and never published. This autobiographical novel, which recounts his first years in Paris, of galleys and precariousness, will be published on August 31 by Grasset editions.

The story : Louise, 23, and her daughter, Bliss, a few months old, are welcomed in a reintegration and emergency accommodation center in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. The young woman left Cameroon to come and study in France, and especially to become a singer, her dream. Then she met a boy, got pregnant and dropped out of college, then the boy.

Without resources, without papers, with a dependent little girl, Louise discovers the France of the margins, of precariousness, far from the glossy image that she had made of it since Cameroon. During these harsh years, the young woman experienced the violence of exclusion. An exclusion that she suffers as a woman, as a black woman, as a black woman alone with a child, without papers, and without a home. An addition that makes her more vulnerable.

In the accommodation center, she meets lost people, with bumpy paths, uneven trajectories, violent childhoods. The young woman observes, remains on her guard, avoids forging links. She goes into survival mode and fights for her daughter, and for herself. In the midst of darkness, it is to words, poetry and music that she clings, as well as to the bright memories of her childhood in Cameroon, with her grandmother, to whom she writes regularly.

“Too eager to be free”

We follow Louise’s journey step by step, and the pitfalls the young woman has to face, from the insistence of a libidinous landlord, to the obsequious assurance of the social workers, who “like the whole of society, believe they know where people are from and where it is good for them to settle”. Louise arches her back, and does all it takes to mute the impetuosity of her temper, “too curious for a girl, too eager to be free”.

If Léonora Miano waited so long before publishing this text, it was because she feared being locked into the image of “the homeless who writes books”she explains in the preamble to her book. “I know French society and its propensity to lock up its minorities, in particular in its degrading aspects”.

“Seeing you soon fifty years old, after many publications and some great awards, I have nothing more to prove”

Leonora Miano

in “Stardust”

This book, “amended over the years”, retains the imprint of the rage that inhabited it then. The writer wanted it in the form of a novel, even if it is very personal. “This is not the diary of the months spent in this establishment”she says. “My wish was above all to focus on my life inside this home, to free myself from the stories, the faces, which several years later continued to haunt me”.

Written from the exclusive point of view of Louise (the novelist’s middle name), the text is deployed in the third person singular, chosen by the author to distance “the perils of crossing one’s own misfortune”. Beyond this very intimate story, Léonora Miano paints a portrait of France and its paradoxes. A story that explores from its margins the capacity of a country to welcome foreigners.

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The novelist pinpoints both the state of mind of the former colonizing people and institutions such as schools, which since decolonization have failed to integrate this part of history into their teaching, effectively excluding the history of children from its former colonies.

Louise is young, but she observes her congeners, a majority of “not white”, “overwhelmed by a world that changes too quickly”, “pointed out by a system that refused to fully welcome it”.

“Many young girls are only wild children. Flowers of the cobblestones. Wild grass sprung from the concrete. They are aggressive, have only defense systems. A rage of which they know neither the upstream nor the downstream.”

Leonora Miano

in “Stardust”

At the shelter, it’s every man for himself. Too much juxtaposed suffering to weave links. “It only took a short time to feel the weight of the suffering piling up there. She quickly understood that she would have to protect herself from it as much as possible. on oneself”.

“Underground France”

Louise, and all these young women who have passed through this reception center are “in an underground France from where they hear the rumor of the country they thought they had found: the one where they were to become modern, developed beings”. Many of them will not leave the margins.

But Louise has a chance that her friends in misfortune did not all have. There is a lot of talk here about mothers, and their absence. That of Louise has not been up to par either, but the young woman has found her place in a filiation that spans time, between her grandmother and her daughter. “Their love, their trust, were my armor and my compass”.

His “aspiration to verticality”, Louise also draws it a lot from poetry, from the ability of words to reverse destiny. It is through them that she ends up finding the way out of precariousness and exclusion.

By giving back, thirty years later, her voice to Louise to tell this experience, the novelist pays homage to the young woman that she was, this “Stardust” as his grandmother called him, and to all “the passengers” who crossed his path between the summer and autumn of 1996. This moving book is dedicated to them.


stardustby Léonora Miano (Grasset, 220 pages, €18.50)

Extract :

“I’m running outside, giddy with joy. I’m wearing a cute backless dress. It’s red. It’s my favorite color. Against the wall of your plank house, little green peppers growing on a shrub tempt me. I put them in your mouth.
Childish gesture, harbinger of future misunderstandings. For me, reflection has often followed action. Passion has frequently dominated reason. Recklessness has its consequences. Mine led me here.” (stardustpage 16)

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