Forgotten Book – Sans Famille (Nobody’s Boy)[French literature]

A few days ago, I was thinking about favorite books from my childhood. I remembered how my 6th grade teacher allowed me to select the books I would like to receive at the ceremony as a 1st Prize for having the highest grades in my class. I found a book with a very colorful cover depicting a sad boy holding a monkey.

I also remembered that the story had something to do with street performers. I thought so much about this book and could not remember anything else until one evening, while I was in a ferry crossing the Missisippi river, the name Rémi came to my mind. I said to myself: “This is it! This is the name of the monkey in the story!” I googled it right away and was able to find the name of the book: Sans Famille (in French). In English it means Without Family and its English title is Nobody’s Boy. Rémi was actually how a boy, the main character, was named in the story. The book was written in 1878 by the French writer Hector Malot.


Photos above: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons) by By Loewitz (Edition Ernest Flammarion, Paris)

Considering the time when it was written and the presence of adult characters that make decisions, the book was originally not considered a children’s book. It was more of a tale for adults that involved children. The Romanian translation was put together in a pretty thick book. I didn’t like to read thick books. However, the title and the image on the cover gave away some of the elements found in the story. I became interested.

I also had a whole summer ahead of me. So, I said I should give it a try. It turned out that it was one of the best books I had read in my all young teenage years! It had not been difficult to figure out that the story must have been about a boy without family. The book starts with a baby boy that was found by a poor couple.

The wife names the baby Rémi. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, the couple cannot keep the child who is eight years old now. Her husband offers Rémi in exchange for money to a travelling artist that had three dogs and a monkey.  They have a hard life. They live in poverty, get to travel to different places in France, and go through a multitude of events. Rémi gets to interact with a lot of characters that will negatively affect his young life.

Some of the questions that any reader is going to ask at the beginning of the book or during the reading are: is Rémi’s life going to get any better? Is his destiny made only of bad luck? Is he going to survive his unhappy childhood? Is there any hope for him? Was he so unlucky that his fate as a child was going to mark him for the rest of his life? Even though the book may appear predictable at the beginning, the readers are in for a surprise.

“Nobody’s Boy” is one of the forgotten books. However, the story has been featured in movies and translated in different languages. The English version I found was “Sans Famille“, France 1981, a 6-part TV series by TF1 starring Petula Clark and Fabrice Josso (Wikipedia). It is a wonderful book that delivers emotions that people of any age could relate to. This is an opportunity for the young readers to be made aware of foreign writings and encouraged to read more classic literature as part of their general knowledge.

Featured Image: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons) by Loewitz (Edition Ernest Flammarion, Paris)


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