About the Book:
Erudite and sensitive, author Michel Robin has earned the wisdom that worldly experience of six decades confers on a reflective man. But in Sixty Years Young, he goes back through time to confront the child that he was and to embrace the ways in which that boy is still who he is now.
In the tradition of philosophers’ and poets’ courageous childhood confessionals, yet with an honesty and clarity all his own, he gives us a real narrative of childhood seen through un-tinted glasses. Revisiting his boyhood becomes a quest for truth. The truth of the man he has become. The wider truth of the world as the boy saw it, the world that grew up around him. The tales of his truths make for episodes at times delightful, at times embarrassing, and always incisive.
This is no safe stroll down Memory Lane. The author relives the beauty and tyranny of being a child. Young Michel commands fairness into his universe with toy soldiers shared with the neighbor boy across the fence of social divide. He lights matches to the housecat’s whiskers. He pursues his first love with a barrage of letters, and gets punished by the school priest. He parries adult intervention with subterfuge or flashes of contrition. Older Michel dissects his world – our world – with the keen intransigence of the boy. It’s a dialogue between two selves. A protest against malice and hypocrisy. A hand held out for love. An ode to life.
It’s also an evocation of Belgium in the post-war years. There are tensions among family members around issues of class and religion. Puritanism contends with fascination for movies, fast cars, beautiful girls. People, events, beliefs all loom into the lens, held in the same lucid gaze, by the boy and by the man that boy has become. As if yesterday was still today.
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Yes, I know the cover art is in French. The copy I read was in English. It's been far too long since high school French class to have tackled the foreign copy. I will say that if you understand a little about French/Belgian culture, you're going to get more out of this work than most. It would help a great deal more if mid-twentieth century French was your favorite genre.
We kick off the story with the author's birth in Belgium just after the end of WWII. His childhood is encompassed by the bleak rebuilding of Europe and families of all socioeconomic backgrounds struggling to find a new normal. The old social class schools of thought are having to find new ground. Well, everyone else is. The author's family is sticking to the old ways.
The author seems to belong to an upper-lower class family with social climbing aspirations. It took me a few chapters to realize they weren't rich. They just put on airs of being better than their blue-collar neighbors. His perspective shows his parents as emotionally distant and disinterested in him on a personal level. He notes that his being in the home seems like more of a duty than an labor of love. So what does he do? He acts out and cuts up, bringing negative attentions from his classmates and school personnel. He's what we in the Southeastern United States would refer to as a "messy child." He fairs no better with aunts and uncles, with his godparents, or with other would-be benefactors. Being a precocious pain isn't helping him win friends.
As far as scoring a review, I'll admit to finding this one difficult. From a technical aspect, the editing and translation is great. The cover art is interesting and enticing. On these alone, I'd give at least four or four and half stars. However, I have to rate the contents of the story, and that's where the trouble lies.
Let me first say, I like nonfiction, and autobiographies are no different. I'm not fond of a book that spend most of its time whining about ever perceived childhood slight. I had hoped the author would use these bleak childhood experiences to show how they shaped him into a positive person or how they gave him strength to become a writer. It's not a profession for the faint of heart or the lazy. Alas, neither of those things happened. The book ended without much fanfare. Don't get me wrong. The ending isn't as bleak as Jude the Obscure or Tess of the D'Urbervilles. It just ends and then quotes a poem about childhood.
It took me quiet some time to ponder the work and pick out what the book could mean on a personal level. There had to be more than what presented itself on the surface. I came to the conclusion human spirit was the answer. We all have people who think us beneath them. We might even have people who say nasty things about us or to us. No matter where we are in the world, those things remain a constant. We can either let those negative thoughts and actions swallow us, or we can use those experiences to change ourselves and our surroundings.
I can say this book would make for a very safe work read. I feel confident in saying a conservative American reader would find parts of this book offensive. Capitalists aren't thought well of and President Bush is lumped in with the likes of Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. Karl Marx and Albert Campus are noted by the author as being persons of worthy note. A utopian socialist would cheer. Therefore, I can't recommend this to a wide audience. If post World War II style French existentialism is for you, you'll probably like Sixty Years Young. I can't say it was a bad book. Like I said before, it is well written and the technical aspects are very good. I'm going to give Sixty Years Young three and a half stars.
About the Author:
Michel Robin is an international nomad and author of true story-based fiction. He was born in Charleroi, Belgium on February 2nd, 1946, and, due to his extensive travels and wealth of experience, can easily be considered a true citizen of the world.
At 16, Michel bought his first 50cc motor bike and, with no prior experience, took part in the Belgian Juniors Motorcycle Racing Championship placing second behind Jacky Ickx (who went on to become a celebrated Formula One racer). At this time he discovered a love for writing when he submitted his first article for Les Sports magazine’s supplement Les Sports Moteurs. He quickly became a regular contributor to the publication.
Michel continued to race throughout his young adulthood, winning awards and making a name for himself on the competitive circuit in Belgium. He took part in several races, most notably the 84 Hour Nürburgring in Germany driving for Mazda along with a fellow Japanese racer. This constituted the first race pairing of Japanese and Belgian nationalities in Europe. Although Michel studied business in University during that time, he tended to spend more time on the racetrack than in the classroom.
Throughout his early adult life, Michel, traveled the world writing and reporting on a plethora of subjects including news, opinion, economics, car and motorcycle racing, and more. Journalism turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg for Michel as he quickly embraced the role of a life-long-learner and ventured confidently into the European business sector.
Michel went on to self-fund and found Customer Relationship Management agencies in several countries as well as a number of other start-up companies. He has also been a consultant for multi-national corporations and auto-manufacturers who refer to him as their 'favorite irritant' due to his unique gift of always asking the right questions.
Michel now lives in Portugal with his soul-mate and spends the days writing and planning how to make the world a better place. Sixty Years Young is Michel Robin's first novel.