W, or the Memory of Childhood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
W, or the Memory of Childhood
W, or the Memory of Childhood.jpg
Original French edition
AuthorGeorges Perec
Original titleW ou le souvenir d'enfance
TranslatorDavid Bellos
GenreSemi-autobiographical novel
Published1975 Denöel (Original French)
1988 The Harvill Press (English Translation)
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)

W, or the Memory of Childhood (French: W ou le souvenir d'enfance) is a semi-autobiographical work of fiction by Georges Perec, published in 1975. Perec's novel consists of alternating chapters of autobiography and of a fictional story, divided into two parts.[1] The autobiographical thread is a collection of uncertain memories, as well as descriptions of photos which preserve moments from Perec's childhood.[2] The memories in the first part of the book lead up to Perec's separation from his mother when he was evacuated in the Second World War. The second part recollects his life as an evacuee. The adult narrator sometimes provides interpretations of the childhood memories, and often comments on details of the memories which his research showed to be false or borrowed.


In the first part, the fictional narrator is contacted by a mysterious individual, who informs him of the disappearance of a deaf and dumb boy in a shipwreck. The boy is also called Gaspard Winkler—the adult narrator of the story discovers that he took on the boy's identity after deserting the army, although at that time he believed he had been given forged identity papers.

In the second part, the fictional narrative (apparently based on a story written by Perec at the age of thirteen) recounts the founding and organisation of a remote island country called W, said to be situated near Tierra del Fuego. Life in W, seemingly modeled on the Olympic ideal, revolves around sport and competition. While at first it seems a Utopia, successive chapters gradually reveal the arbitrary and cruel rules that govern the lives of the athletes.

The final autobiographical chapter links back to the fictional narrative by a quotation from David Rousset about the Nazi death camps, where Perec's mother died: by now the reader has discovered that the story of the island is an allegory of life in the camps.

Like much of Perec's work, W is characterized by word play. The title W is a pun on "double vé/vie", referring to the two lives and two stories narrated in the text.[3]

Publishing history[edit]

  • Georges Perec, W ou le souvenir d'enfance (Paris: Denöel, 1975)
  • Georges Perec, W, or the Memory of Childhood trans. by David Bellos (London: Harvill, 1988)
  • Georges Perec, W, or the Memory of Childhood trans. by David Bellos (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, 2002)


  1. ^ Lejeune, Philippe (Spring 2009). "W or The Memory of Childhood". Review of Contemporary Fiction. 29 (1): 163–175.
  2. ^ Vice, Sue (Jul 2004). ""Yellowing Snapshots": photography and memory in Holocaust literature". Journal for Cultural Research. 8 (3): 293–316. doi:10.1080/1479758042000264957. S2CID 144055785.
  3. ^ Ross, Marilyn Gaddis (1988-11-15). "W or the Memory of Childhood (Book)". Library Journal. 113 (19): 86.

Further reading[edit]

  • Michel Sirvent, "An Auto-bi-graphy: W ou le Souvenir d'enfance or The Space of the 'Double Cover'", SITES The Journal of 20th-century Contemporary French Studies, vol. 1, n. 2, University of Connecticut, 1998: 461–480.

External links[edit]