In the novel «His Son», the successful Swiss author Charles Lewinsky tells the touching story of an orphan boy who has spent his entire life looking for his parents. A book with resonance.
Old master Charles Lewinsky is probably the Swiss author with the widest range of forms of expression: screenplays, plays, musicals, short stories – and novels.
In «His Son», Lewinsky proves once again how skillfully he has mastered the archetypal form of literature. The book tells the touching story of an orphan boy who has been searching for his parents all his life.
As is so often the case with Charles Lewinsky, the novel takes place in the story. This time around 1800. In the center is the figure of a boy named Louis Chabos.
The figure is historically documented. But nothing more is known about him than that his mother was a simple cook in Graubünden. His father was none other than the Duke of Orléans.
Between 1830 and 1848 he sat on the French throne as King Louis-Philippe I – better known as the “Citizen King”. It is also guaranteed that the boy was given to an orphanage in Milan after his birth in 1794.
Fiction meets true events
Based on these few reliable facts, Charles Lewinsky develops Louis Chabos’ life story. It is fictitious, but is always based on real circumstances and thus conveys vivid insights into that era.
In the novel, Lewinsky describes the great need in the children’s homes, which – often overcrowded – were run by clergymen who were overwhelmed: “The mother superior had to look after over 50 children. With the older ones, one more or less didn’t matter. Just make the portions a little bit smaller. But the babies had to be breastfed. Another one came along today.”
Charles Lewinsky never lost his sense of the possible in historical descriptions. Not even when he continues the story of Louis Chabos with a noticeable pleasure in telling stories and rapid changes in language tempo.
For example, how he escapes the home at some point and later travels across the country as a vagabond. Or when he ends up in prison, flees, enlists as a young man in the French military, moves to Russia with Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1812 and experiences the horrors of war there.
“You had prepared them for a lot. To the powder smoke. The noise. Even the dead. Nobody said anything about the stench of blood.”
Weekly fresh reading material in the literature newsletter
The literature newsletter offers the perfect inspiration for the next book. In addition, a Swiss writer is highlighted every week. Subscribe now.
A disturbing reunion
Louis Chabos survives and returns – albeit deeply unhappy. Psychologically sensitive, Charles Lewinsky shows how much it gnaws at the soul of the protagonist not knowing his parentage. “I have the right to know who my parents are!” he screams desperately.
Driven by mental pain, Louis Chabos moves to Graubünden. There he finally tracks down his mother. But the encounter is disturbing.
What remains is the father: via winding paths, Louis Chabos learns that he is now the king of France. Chabos rushes to Paris, wants to meet his father – and is shamefully rejected by court officials: “A bitter taste in the mouth. Bile. Anger and disappointment did that.”
Portrait of Charles Lewinsky
There is more to read, hear and see by Charles Lewinsky on the SRF literature platform «views».
Louis Chabos comes up with a plan. He’s horrible. But understandable for us readers. Because Charles Lewinsky carefully works out the motives of his character again and again.
He engages us closely in this desperate struggle for origins throughout the novel – to the end, and beyond. Because the story of Louis Chabos will stay with us for a long time.
Charles Lewinsky: “His Son”. Diogenes, 2022.