The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (Translated by Simon Bruni) ★★★★☆
Genre: Literary Fiction
For his whole life, the boy has lived underground, in a basement with his parents, grandmother, sister, and brother. Before he was born, his family was disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns.
He spends his hours with his cactus, reading his book on insects, or touching the one ray of sunlight that filters in through a crack in the ceiling. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before his own birth, about why they’re shut away.
A few days ago, some fireflies arrived in the basement. His grandma said, There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light. That light makes the boy want to escape, to know the outside world. Problem is, all the doors are locked. And he doesn’t know how to get out.…
I bought this a while ago on a whim, purely because of that beautiful cover. It also seemed to have great ratings on GoodReads (pre-English translation).
This isn’t what I’d call an ‘enjoyable’ read. It’s an uncomfortable subject matter, and a heart wrenching story. But I couldn’t put it down. I completely devoured this, staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it (something I rarely do, I love my sleep too much!).
This was a really cleverly written novel. We begin the story from the point of view of the boy in the basement (no names are used through the story). All we know about the family and their situation is what the boy knows. But a second section of the book takes us back to the events leading up to this situation, which completely changes your perspective of the story.
The set up is very similar to Room, but feels entirely unique. Overall I highly recommend this novel.