Philippe Lançon: Life After Charlie Hebdo

In Disturbance, the French writer and journalist describes his slow reconstruction after being severely wounded in the terrorist attack against newspaper Charlie Hebdo. A deeply moving account the author will present in the U.S. from January 23-31.
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On January 7, 2015, two men armed with assault rifles entered the offices of satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo and opened fire on the journalists and cartoonists sat in an editorial meeting. Twelve people were killed and another eleven were wounded, four seriously. Cultural critic for French daily Libération and columnist at Charlie since 2004, Philippe Lançon was shot in the hands and disfigured by a bullet that pierced his jaw. Published in France in April 2018, Disturbance begins on January 6, 2015 and ends on November 13 the same year, the day of the terrorist attack against the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. Lançon heard the news while walking through New York City with his American partner Gabriela. With overwhelming bravery and honesty, he recounts the eight months that changed his entire being.

“The attack infiltrated the hearts that it bit, but it can’t be tamed,” writes Lançon. “It radiates around victims in concentric circles and, in atmos-pheres that are often pathetic, multiplies them.” The night before the massacre, the journalist attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in a theater in the Paris region. On the morning of January 7, after doing some gymnastics and listening to Michel Houellebecq give a radio interview about his novel Submission, which depicts France governed by an Islamist party, he cycled to the Charlie Hebdo head offices. A few hours later, he was rushed to the Pitié-Salpêtrière public hospital where he underwent multiple operations. He was unable to speak or eat for several interminable weeks and battled against moments of total despair, supported by his loved ones and a team of overworked but profoundly humane nurses.

The book’s original French title, Le Lambeau (“The Flap”), is a surgical term for a piece of flesh used to cover the bones. Lançon offers a day-by-day account of his reconstruction, sparing no details of the “mental and surgical struggle” that required all his strength. In the style of the Proustian narrator, he weaves his memories from his hospital room, his only home for some time, bringing his past self face to face with the man he is becoming. Disturbance is an intimate odyssey steeped in collective history, a major work sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads it.


Disturbance by Philippe Lançon, translated from French by Steven Rendall, Europa Editions, 2019. 480 pages, 28 dollars.

Article published in the January 2020 issue of
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