The Mystery of the Headless Woman, a fascinating book by Myriam Leroy: “I forbade myself to judge my characters”

The Mystery of the Headless Woman, a fascinating book by Myriam Leroy: “I forbade myself to judge my characters”

While researching in Brussels, forgotten in history – Marina Chafroff, beheaded during the occupation -, she builds The mystery of the headless womanhis most intimate and personal novel.

Myriam Leroy follows the silhouette of Marina Chafroff, a heroine lost in history. © Romain Garcin

At the beginning, a name was carved on the grave: Marina Chafroff. Died 1942. Lost in the Ixelles cemetery, the tomb specifies that Marina Chafroff died “decapitated”. When Myriam Leroy’s eyes fall on this name associated with this horrible word, she wants to know more. During his investigation, he discovers the fate of a Russian exile in Brussels, madly in love with her husband, mother of two children, executed for stabbing a German officer. A woman whose memory was erased. The portrait she builds, leaving her imagination to complete the rare existing documents, gradually establishes intimate connections between the author and her heroine. Speaking about a woman who died 80 years ago, Myriam Leroy speaks about her and all women who have experienced humiliation. What it does The mystery of the headless womanthe third novel by Ariane etc red eyeshis most personal book.

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We have a feeling that you open up more in this novel than in the other two…
Myriam Leroy
This book demanded absolute honesty from me. Even if there is recourse to fiction, there is a more attractive contract with reality. And this real one is also mine. It took me a long time to get to this book. I wrote the “I” survey, I tried to write a letter to Marina, a letter to her children, a letter to my editor… In the end, what seemed most appropriate to find my place in this story is this inner monologue. , as if I were looking in the mirror and teaching myself a lesson. The “you” of what I say in “you” is me.

How to define Marina’s personality?
My intuition is that she was an ordinary woman at first, but not in the pejorative sense of the word. A woman of her time, on the sidelines when it was necessary to talk about politics. She was like a pot with a lid on her head. And the steam rose so much that the lid popped off. Then she gave herself all the freedom. It was rumored that she killed a Nazi, but the only thing certain is that she surrendered to the authorities in order to save about sixty hostages, which in any case makes her an unusual character.

How to explain the silence of history about him?
She was an “anomaly”. In the White Russian community in Belgium, some were not fundamentally opposed to certain ideas of Germany. Anti-Nazi acts of rebellion were condemned. Even the then Belgian Communist Party distanced itself from this attack, claiming that it was not a political act, but an isolated impulse, which was even described as a “crime of passion”! The Communists saw that they should not immediately violently revolt against the enemy. Marina was probably right too soon.

We forgot her because she was a woman…
Of course. Not only because men hid what she would do, but also because women did not practice the memory of self-glorification. Acts committed by women are often considered subordinate. Their power is diminished, denied, ridiculed. I think I’m right when I say that Marina was humiliated. Everyone denied him the political dimension of his act.

What did you discover about the occupation in Brussels?
I spent two years in the collaborationist press. In the post office, there was incredible hatred from the readers of Le Pays réel (a newspaper run by the rexist movement – ​​editor’s note). What is said about the Jews is reminiscent of this hatred that is encouraged by social networks. A lot of it is still alive today. Like “fake news” which was then called “fake news”. There is a scent in the air that connects two eras. I find that terrifying.

IN The mystery of the headless woman, you wanted to find Marina in yourself. What does that mean?
When I came across that word – “decapitated” – I thought she had committed a rather violent offence. Something ignited in me. I told myself that she had allowed herself to come out of passivity. Before I realized what she had done, I told myself that this woman must be “bad”. And that excited me.

Did the specific moment of this encounter – the closure – play a role?
We are all stuck at the beginning of the second labor. Like everyone else, I had the unpleasant impression that I was a puppet of the authorities, obliged to passivity. I didn’t feel very active. Off. Especially since at the same time I was awaiting trial for harassment that forced me to remain silent. When I fell on this grave, I caught fire again. It was useful, while the story is tragic. But paradoxically, I slipped into history as a refuge. It served as my cabin for two years.

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What did you learn from writing this book?
Maybe Marina taught me tenderness. I used to tell myself that I had to write in order to destroy the established order. I stick to the feminist approach, but what is different this time, both in writing and in my personal life, is that thanks to this book I often repeated Jean Renoir’s sentence:The scary thing about this country is that everyone has their reasons“. I refrained from judging my characters. It gives something more interesting than if I was being ironic. I found satisfaction in the nuance.

**** The mystery of the headless woman. Prague, 288 pages

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