French writer Joseph Joffo died on Thursday at age 87 in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, outside of Nice, where he had lived for decades. Joffo was known for his most successful novel, A bag of marbles, published in 1973, autobiographical book where he recounted his flight from the Nazis with his brother Maurice in the France of the Second World War. With that book, translated into 18 languages, Joffo managed to sell 20 million copies. A bag of marbles had two cinematographic adaptations: one by Jacques Doillon, shot shortly after the edition of the book, and another by Christian Duguay, which premiered at the beginning of this year. "Curious destination for a book that nobody wanted. It was rejected by 14 publishers, "Joffo recalled in an interview with EL PAÍS in January 2018." Actually, I only wrote it so that my children could understand where we were coming from. "
Son of a hairdresser and a violinist, Russian immigrants who arrived in Paris fleeing from pogroms, Joffo was born in the French capital in 1931 and lived a peaceful childhood in the Montmartre district. His life took a turn with the invasion of the German army, which forced him to flee for three years, between 1941 and 1944. Arrested in Nice by the Gestapo, Joffo and his brother were saved thanks to the archbishop of the city, who issued fake baptism certificates. All his family survived the persecution of the Nazis, except his father, who would be deported to Auschwitz. "It was a hard experience, but what does not kill you always makes you stronger. When you've lived something like this, you relativize everything. My obsession is that this story can serve young people today, "he said in January. Joffo had been touring French schools for decades to tell his story to children. "It's hard to make them believe that it's not just a fiction story. Many do not understand what really happened. And yet, last year there were more than 300 anti-Semitic attacks in France ... "
'A bag of marbles', a book with which Joffo sold 20 million copies, was previously rejected by 14 publishers
Despite defending the existence of the State of Israel, Joffo never wanted to leave France. "It's my country. It must be said that one lives quite well here. It was my mother who instilled in us the love for France. Every time we went through a town hall, he made us read the three magic words that appear on their facades: freedom, equality, fraternity, "the writer recalled. In spite of everything, he was perplexed before the future of his country. "I feel disappointed by today's men. France was a great land of welcome, but it has ceased to be. Although, at the same time, I am aware that we can not accept all the misery of the world, "he said in January.
Before becoming a writer, Joffo was a highly successful hairdresser, who included actors such as Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo among his clients, as well as politicians such as François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac. He opened a dozen salons in Paris. Joffo dreamed of converting one of his books into musical comedy, Anna and her orchestra, inspired by the story of his mother, a project that remains unfinished. In total, Joffo wrote 17 novels, although none of them managed to renew the spectacular success of his debut.