Mend the living (“Réparer les vivants”), by Maylis de Kerangal
With Mend the living, Maylis de Kerangal has written a novel about a heart transplant. A vital organ or the home of love, the heart, in all its states, is at the centre of this literary epic.
Maylis de Kerangal
After studying history, philosophy and ethnology, Maylis de Kerangal first worked as a children’s editor at Editions Gallimard, from 1991 to 1996. Her first novel I Walk Under a Cloudy Sky (“Je marche sous un ciel de traîne”) was published in 2000 and was followed by The Travelling Life (“La Vie voyageuse”) in 2003, Corniche Kennedy in 2008, and a collection of novellas, Neither Flowers nor Crowns (“Ni fleurs ni couronnes”), in 2006.
In 2010, the writer received the Prix Médicis for Birth of a Bridge (“Naissance d’un pont”) and, in 2012, the Landerneau Prize for Eastern Tangent (“Tangente vers l’Est”).
In 2014, Mend the living won the RTL-Lire Grand Prix and the Prix du Roman des étudiants France Culture-Télérama.
From a heart transplant to a literary epic
In Mend the living, Maylis de Kerangal describes the 24 hours following the accidental death of a young man surfing at a beach in Le Havre: From the doctors’ difficult task of doctors of informing the parents of their son’s death obtaining their consent for an organ donation, through the grief and incomprehension of relatives, to the relief of the recipient, waiting in limbo for a new heart.
As realistic as it is poetic, this tale of a heart transplant becomes a literary, choral, intimate epic, where the heart is considered both as a vital muscle but also as the home of feelings and love.
Diving into the world of hospitals
Born of novella written in 2007 and a series of personal tragedies experienced by the author, Maylis de Kerangal worked on Mend the living for a year. After contacting the Biomedicine Agency, she was able to meet a transplant coordinator nurse, an emergency doctor and a heart transplant specialist from the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she herself attended a heart transplant.
Praised for its mastery of technical medical vocabulary, the novel follows the structure of classical theatre (units of time and action). It is also inspired by the chanson de geste genre of epic poetry, where the heart is a symbol of love and Greek hero-worship – parents and medical professionals are made heroes by the challenges they face and the narrative structure.
From Le Havre to the libraries of Europe
Having won numerous prizes, Mend the living was adapted for the big screen by Katell Quillévéré in 2016, and also for the theatre by Emmanuel Noblet. The novel has been translated into German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and English, and the English version received the Wellcome Book Prize in 2017, which each year awards a book "that discusses themes of health and medicine with style".
The novel won over both Bill Gates, leader of Microsoft, who included it among his reading tips on his blog, as well the European Representatives (“MEP Library Lovers”), who selected it from a list of 60 titles from European literature in 2017.
Mend the Living (“Réparer les vivants”) has been translated into 13 languages with the support of the Institut français.
Through its translation support programmes, the Institut français participates in the global dissemination of French-language literature.