Where I Left My Soul by Jérôme Ferrari tells the story of French military man Captain Degorce. Having survived torture at the hands of the Gestapo and internment In Indochina, Degorce’s military career has landed him in Algeria amongst the events which pre-figured the fall of the French Fourth Republic.
There is unrest as disenfranchised Algerians agitate against French rule, recently radicalised by the Sétif massacre. Degorce and his unit are responsible for the capture and interrogation of members of the Algerian resistance the FLN.
Inevitably this results in Degorce becoming a torturer himself. Degorce sees himself as a Christian man of conscience, a position he had the luxury of occupying when he was the subject rather the executor of torture. Now in the role of Roman centurion rather than Christ his actions weigh heavily on him.
As a result of his situation Degorce finds himself becoming increasingly isolated, unable to communicate with his colleagues in Algeria, and family back home. His wife persists in sending him letters to which he is unable to respond, given his inability to explain the horror he has witnessed in Algeria, and the shame he feels at his complicity in its production.
Degorce finds a counterpoint in his subordinate Captain Andreani, a man who is at ease in the grimy world of ‘information gathering’. Lacking Degorce’s compunctions in regards to torture, Andreani spouts the usual defences about necessary evils whilst revelling in the cruelty he inflicts.
Andreani and Degorce’s relationship is defined by mutual loathing. Having once idolised Degorce Andreani is disgusted by his qualms against violence and what he perceives to be Degorce’s hypocrisy. Degorce finds Andreani’s easy cruelty abhorable.
When Degorce’s unit captures Tahar, the head of the resistance, things become even more morally murky. In Tahar Degorce finds a man at ease with violent actions due to his belief in his cause, something Degorce now lacks.
Degorce becomes preoccupied with Tahar and the peace which his impending martyrdom brings him. Eager to play the noble warrior Degorce affords Tahar full military honours .This doesn’t sit well with Degorce’s colleagues and superiors.
Where I Left My Soul features some beautiful prose and in its pages Ferrari illustrates how the logic of torture dehumanises both its instigator and subject. In one passage, reminiscent of Kafka’s torture device from InThe Penal Colony, Degorce feels that he is the caretaker of an inexorable engine of torture which must be fed “organic fuel”, torture becoming both the means and ends in a hellish cycle.
Such a topic is extremely relevant in today’s society where, due to military double speak and political wordplay, the hellish spectacle of torture is downplayed as somehow necessary for the greater good. Ferrari should be applauded for writing a serious and thoughtful novel which unflinchingly deals with the subject.