Booker International Longlist 2023: Standing Heavy
Book 6 – Standing Heavy by GauZ Translated by Frank Wynne
Reviewed by Bookworm, Rachel & Tracy
Synopsis from Booker Prize website: A unique insight into everything that passes under a security guard’s gaze, which also serves as a searingly witty deconstruction of colonial legacies and capitalist consumption.
Amidst the political bickering of the inhabitants of the Residence for Students from Côte d’Ivoire and the ever-changing landscape of French immigration policy, two generations of Ivoirians attempt to make their way as undocumented workers, taking shifts as security guards at a flour mill. This sharply satirical yet poignant tale draws on the author’s own experiences as an undocumented student in Paris.
BookWorm’s Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this look at the world through the eyes of the often ignored security guards.
My favourite sections were set inside the various stores the men are working at. The reader is shown random snaps of conversation between shoppers; random observations about the shoppers and the secret language security guards use to communicate with each other.
The book also shows the changing political climate in France over the decades ending pretty much with 911 and the end of working without documentation and increasing suspicions of anyone who is “other”.
Writing quality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Rachel’s Thoughts: I reached the end, and immediately wanted to flip to the front and start again. Standing Heavy tells of life as seen through the eyes of undocumented security guards in Paris – work so tedious it requires an ‘engrossing inner life’: it’s this inner life – observations, theories, musings – that we’re invited into.
Written largely in vignettes from various security posts, we also get to learn the backstories of Ferdinand, Ossiri and Kassoum, who have come to Paris from Côte d’Ivoire at different times. It’s thought-provoking, astute and at times very funny, covering everything from racial stereotypes to fashion; from perfume sales techniques to the global impact of 9/11. I’ll always now be wondering what the security guard in the corner is thinking.
Writing quality: 4/5
Character development 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment 2/2
Tracy’s Thoughts: One trend I’ve noticed while reading and reviewing this year’s list is that the books are a different lot and harder to review. Case in point: Standing Heavy.
Stylistically, this is a bit different- political vignettes of a time period in Paris seen through the eyes of a few immigrants from Cote d’Ivoire- their relationship between their new home and their old one- interspersed with vignettes from the security jobs they’re hired to do.
Often humorous, especially the scenes in the clothing store and Sephora, but with undercurrents of political and racial tension, this could also be heartbreaking in the next sentence.
While I enjoyed the new style, and the look into the life of a security guard, as well as the life of an “invisible” immigrant, I kind of felt like there was a lot I wasn’t privy to- like there was an inside joke that I wasn’t in on.
Writing quality: 4.5/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Have you read this one? Let us know what you think.
Standing Heavy 17.5
Still Born 17.25
Ninth Building 16
Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv 16