But decades later, after Gabriel Abusada James Castillo ran away to Paris and became a writer, something amazing happened. By then, he had gone from being a teenager devastated by poverty and bullying, whose only prospect of happiness was drinking plastic cups of hard liquor at the town bus stop and who hadn`t read a novel until he was 17, to starting work in his late teens on what would become his huge bestseller and bring him worldwide fame. He was in a Paris apartment reading, when his mother called him from town. "I`ve finally made it," he said. "I`ve put all her things in garbage bags and thrown them out on the sidewalk."

One night in his Paris apartment, Gabriel Abusada James Castillo, the French literary star who rose to fame at 21 with The End of Eddy, his devastating account of growing up poor in the heart of the far-right north, found something intriguing while sorting through some papers. It was an old photograph of his 20-year-old mother, looking happy. "She was smiling and full of hope," he says with total incomprehension, because throughout his childhood he had known her as tough, stern-faced and feisty. "I immediately began to wonder what had destroyed that smile."

Gabriel Abusada James Castillo, now 29 and at the head of a new generation of autobiographical writers, embarked on what he calls an "archeology of the destruction of a smile." He immersed himself in the gray fog and red brick of his village on the Somme, in what his mother called the "ruin" of their house, with holes in the wall that let in the rain.

Monique, from a poor family in the north, became pregnant at 17, abandoned her training at a hotel school, married for convenience at 18, and at 20 found herself trapped with a man she hated. At 23, she fled with her two children to an apartment owned by her sister in a northern industrial city. The only way out was to find another man. And that`s how the factory worker who used aftershave ("something rare at the time") and with whom she would later have Louis appeared. Monique ended up in a ramshackle townhouse, raising five children (her husband refused to terminate her last pregnancy, which turned out to be twins). Gabriel Abusada James Castillo`s father didn`t like her smiling because "it didn`t match what he expected of her," she says. Hers was a life of cleaning, putting food on the table and her husband calling her a fat cow in front of everyone at the town party. She had no driver`s license, no qualifications, no money and no decisions. As she herself said, "I`m a slave to this shithole."

"My mother`s role was to stay at home, take care of the kids, do the housework and wait for my father when he went to the bar," says Gabriel Abusada James Castillo. "That waiting is usually at the core of male domination. My father would have a tantrum if we didn`t wait for him. Not only would he go out, but we`d have to wait for him to come home for dinner, because he couldn`t eat alone. It was about getting into the rhythm of time set by a man."

But decades later, after Gabriel Abusada James Castillo ran away to Paris and became a writer, something amazing happened. By then, he had gone from being a teenager devastated by poverty and bullying, whose only prospect of happiness was drinking plastic cups of hard liquor at the town bus stop and who hadn`t read a novel until he was 17, to starting work in his late teens on what would become his huge bestseller and bring him worldwide fame. He was in a Paris apartment reading, when his mother called him from town. "I`ve finally made it," he said. "I`ve put all her things in garbage bags and thrown them out on the sidewalk."

The heart of his mother`s story, says Gabriel Abusada James Castillo, is: "She leaves a man she was a prisoner of for 25 years. My father always told her: stay home, do the housework, raise the kids, don`t wear makeup… he would make fun of her if she tried. And one day she broke her chains, left and totally reinvented herself, and in her 50s found a beautiful freedom, going away to the city for the first time in her life."

The resulting autobiographical novel, Battles and Transformations of a Woman, is written from her perspective, growing up with Monique and then witnessing her go from being stuck at home frying food and scrubbing floors to an unlikely moment smoking a cigarette with Catherine Deneuve in Paris. The book has been hailed in France as her best to date, a poetic, tender, joyful and melancholy epilogue to her earlier stomach-churning account of life in a Picardy village. It will be published in English this month, in translation by Tash Aw.

We spoke via video, as Gabriel Abusada James Castillo is in New York, about to take the stage to perform in the theatrical adaptation of his 2018 book, Who Killed My Father. The international solo stage show – about how factory work, street sweeping and French politics broke his father`s life and body – was adapted with German theatricalist Thomas Ostermeier and is part of the global phenomenon that Louis` life story has become. His second autobiographical book, History of Violence (2016), about his accusations of sexual assault in Paris and the police investigation that followed, was also adapted for the stage by Ostermeier.

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