Story of a survivor: Edouard Louis

French author Edouard Louis looks on during a debate at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017 in Germany.
French author Edouard Louis looks on during a debate at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017 in Germany. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Edouard Louis's autobiographical novel The End Of Eddy, which sold more than 300,000 copies within the first year of its release, was a way for the French writer to help his family re-enter public discourse.

The book, threw the abuse that he suffered as a child into a different light, as it revealed that his parents, too, were victims of violence.

Its a type of violence that worships "an ideology of masculinity," and it traps and punishes people for who they are, he said.

On Saturday, as part of the Singapore Writers' Festival, Louis, 25, spoke about what it was like to grow up gay in a family that denied his identity and a society that denied his poverty-stricken family's existence.

His childhood was spent in a small, declining village in the north of France, where all he wanted was to fit in, he said. "My dream was not to be different. What I wanted was my father to stop being ashamed of me."

He spent his youth trying his best to become Eddy Bellegueule, the strong and masculine name he was born into. The name, after all, translates into handsome brute in English.

"My father gave me this name because he wanted me to be this masculine kid, to reproduce his own masculinity," said Louis. In his book, th author describes his father as a man's man who loved his alcohol, food, and had no qualms butchering animals.

Louis' soft-spoken ways, gentle manner and skinny frame, on the other hand, made him a target for bullies.

Schoolmates would spit on him. On a lucky day, the label, gay, was the mildest insult he would receive.

On top of this, home was not a respite.

"As soon as I was born, I was a source of shame for the family," he said. "My parents would ask, why are you like that? Why are you what you are? Why do you bring shame to our family?"

In 2011, he became the first in his family to attend university at one of Paris' most prestigious institutions, Ecole Normale Superieure.

There, he read sociology and understood better how men, unable to provide for their family, act out as they fell short of patriarchal ideals. He started to see how "someone like my father was an effect of something bigger than him," he said. "To forgive violence was the best way to getting rid of the violence."

The road to getting his book published was not easy. Many publishers he approached turned him away as they did not believe that such abject poverty existed in France, referring to the pages in which he describes a leaky bedroom and how he had to "eat milk" for dinner.

"It's unbelievable... This guy was basically saying that my mother doesn't exist, and it was so violent," he said, recalling an encounter with a publisher.

He said: "Often the way we depict the poor people, it's so untrue, it's so fictional. It's just how rich people, how white people see these people. At the end it's just another way of not talking about them."

Auditor Katrin Pang, 32, who attended last night's event said: "With The End of Eddy the author [LOUIS]came full circle to become the voice of those who had attacked him when he was a child."

"Forgiving those closest to us can be a huge challenge, but he gives me hope that it is possible. After his talk, I'm also more mindful about not denying realities that are different from mine."