une vie brève [book review]

This short book is about the equally short life (une vie brève) of the young mathematician Maurice Audin, killed or executed by French special forces (Massu’s paratroopers) in Algiers during the Algerian liberation war. Maurice Audin was 25 when he died and the circumstances of his death remain unknown, since the French army never acknowledged this death and never returned his body to his family, but he presumably died under torture. He was a member of the Algerian communist party which had then been outlawed by the French authorities for supporting Algerian independence. Maurice Audin was arrested on June 11, 1957 for hiding a fugitive and he died in the following days… The book is written by his daughter, Michèle Audin, also a mathematician, and a writer of several novels around mathematics and mathematicians. It does not dwell on the death since so little is known but rather reconstructs the life of Maurice Audin from bits and pieces, family memories, school archives, a few pictures, some grocery bills of the Audin family… The style of Michèle Audin is quite peculiar, almost like written thoughts or half-thoughts at times, with a sort of surgical distanciation that makes the book both strong and touching. Maurice Audin wrote several papers in les Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences [the French PNAS] but did not live long enough to defend his thesis, which was presented by Laurent Schwartz the following year and defended in absentia… The French State never acknowledged its responsability in Audin’s death. (Another book on this death is L’Affaire Audin by the historian Pierre-Vidal Naquet, which appeared in 1958.)

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