One of our favorite ways to discover new books is by checking out staff recommendations at local independent booksellers, so we thought it would be fun to create an ongoing blog series that features recommendations from the New World Library publishing team. Senior Editor Jason Gardner kicks it off with this glowing recommendation of And There Was Light
by Jacques Lusseyran
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I was thrilled to acquire publication rights last year to And There Was Light, a classic but little-known memoir originally published in 1963. I was wowed by Jacques Lusseyran’s brilliant voice and his buoyant embrace of life, no matter the challenges he faced.
Here are five reasons you should read it:
1. It’s an amazing story about World War II and the French Resistance. Lusseyran was a brilliant Parisian schoolboy who was blinded at age eight in a freak classroom accident. As a teenager, when the Nazis invaded France, he helped found an important arm of the French Resistance. His involvement eventually led to his arrest and internment in the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he became one of only thirty survivors of a transport of two thousand Resistance fighters. Jonathan Kirsch wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “His account of Buchenwald, where he was condemned to the living hell of the ‘Invalids’ Barracks,’ is one of the most anguishing fragments of Holocaust testimony that I have ever encountered.”
2. It’s also inspiring, suspenseful, and true. Lots of great fiction is being published these days about Nazi-occupied France: Suite Française
, The Invisible Bridge
, and Code Name Verity
have all recently hit bestseller lists. Lusseyran’s story has all the gripping intrigue of these works, and much more. Anthony Doerr cites And There Was Light
as the central inspiration in unlocking the character Marie-Laure, a blind French schoolgirl, in his blockbuster novel All the Light We Cannot See
3. Lusseyran’s descriptions of blindness are unlike anything else ever written on the subject. In an interview about her recent bestseller Learning to Walk in the Dark, in which she writes about Lusseyran’s remarkable experiences, Barbara Brown Taylor said, “Lusseyran writes like an angel, like a mystic. His response to losing his sight at an early age is so surprising that it will change the way anyone thinks about blindness.”
4. You can read it before it gets made into a movie. Martin Scorsese reportedly was interested in executive producing a film version of Lusseyran’s memoir, and rumor has it the French government is looking to help fund a French production. In the Village Voice, Ethan Hawke called the book “One of the most powerful memoirs I’ve ever encountered . . . [Lusseyran’s] experience is thrilling, horrible, honest, spiritually profound, and utterly full of joy.” The book is destined to make it to Hollywood someday. Read it now, so you can tell your friends, “The book is better.”
5. It’s a great work of spiritual philosophy, too. A jury of writers, including Harold Kushner, Thomas Moore, Huston Smith, and Natalie Goldberg, chose And There Was Light
as one of the “100 Best Spiritual Books of the Twentieth Century.” Zen teacher Roshi Philip Kapleau wrote, “This book is his testament to the joy which exists in all of us, a joy which no conditions — not even the worst — can kill.” You can now read it in our new edition
that restores passages from the original French edition and includes an insert of photos of Lusseyran throughout his life. Or you can listen to the abridged audiobook, read by playwright Andre Gregory.
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Jason Gardner is senior editor at New World Library. Jason has been with New World Library for eighteen years and acquiring books for fifteen years. He previously worked as a writer and editor for a nonprofit magazine covering urban environmental issues, for a literary agency, and as a bookseller.