WINNER OF THE PRIX GONCOURT DES LYCÉENS
SHORTLISTED FOR THE OXFORD-WEIDENFELD TRANSLATION PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR THE PRESTIGIOUS PRIX GONCOURT
SHORTLISTED FOR THE PRIX INTERALLIÉ
Paris, 1959. As dusk settles over the immigrant quarter, 12-year-old Michel Marini - amateur photographer and compulsive reader - is drawn to the hum of the local bistro. From his usual position at the football table, he has a vantage point on a grown-up world - of rock 'n' roll and of the Algerian War. But as the sun sinks and the plastic players spin, Michel's concentration is not on the game, but on the huddle of men gathered in the shadows of a back room...
Past the bar, behind a partly drawn curtain, a group of eastern European men gather, where under a cirrus of smoke and over the squares of chess boards, they tell of their lives before France - of lovers and wives, children and ambitions, all exiled behind the Iron Curtain. Listening to this band of survivors and raconteurs, Michel is introduced to a world beyond the boundaries of his childhood experience, a world of men made formidable in the face of history, ideas and politics: the world of the Incorrigible Optimists Club.