What is the worst thing that you fear might happen to you? Your husband (boyfriend) leaving you for another (younger) woman and travelling with her to Kenya to take care of crocodiles? Your teenage daughter hating you for being so submissive, ugly, afraid, unorganized, and pathetic? Your sister using you as her shadow writer, giving you all the money for the book but than taking all the fame, respect, and adoration? Your ex-husband taking a loan from your common savings, which you then have to repay? Struggling with money matters and being unable to provide everything for your family as a single mother? Do you think you can survive this and find the strength within yourself to continue, to survive and to be happy? Well, all of this happens to Josephine, the extremely aimable and lovable heroine of The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles.
I thought I had many problems. I seriously did. And every time I encountered one, I chose the easy way around – I stuck my head in the sand and I waited for the storm to pass above me. I didn’t attempt to fight because I was afraid I would fail. I was afraid I will not have the courage and the strength. I was afraid of others judging me, of my family not loving me, of that boy abandoning me, of not passing my exams, of turning into a complete failure despite all of the hopes put in me. When I read Jo’s story, I saw in fact the woman I want to be someday. My friend told me “You are not like your parents. You can choose the person you want to be and be that person”. “But I am afraid,” said I. Jo is afraid as well but she did it.
At the beginning when her husband leaves her, her teenage daughters accuse her, her family despises her, Jo for the first time takes a look at what her life has become lately. She had stopped taking care of herself, life had been passing her slowly, and she was merely the audience and not the actor in whatever happened to her. At the beginning she was afraid to change something. At the beginning she was the Jo everyone felt sorry for, everyone ridiculed, everyone secretly feared of becoming one day. Pathetic, lonely, afraid, unattractive. Change doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen indeed.
This is a novel about so many things. It’s about Josephine’s friendship with Shirley, her grounded in reality positive best friend. It’s about Josephine’s book about 12th century, which she writes so that her spoiled but beautiful sister can experience some fame and excitement in her life. It’s about the end of a marriage and the feeling that you will never love or be happy again. It is about hope and the butterflies in your stomach, that signify that love is again around the corner. It is about the difficult relationships between generations; the clash between the teenager and the mother, the growing girl and the adult woman, the old and the new. It is about learning. From your friends, from your family, from your children even. It is about being patient. It is about facing your fears and realizing what you are really afraid of; then confronting them. It is about life in all of its forms. It is about dancing with life, falling, getting up, but never ceasing to love it. Mostly, it is a book that teaches you how to love yourself, how to embrace yourself when there is no one around, how to slowly build up your future. It doesn’t matter who you used to be. There is always time to become who you think you must be.
There are of course other characters, despite Jo, who fight. There is Jo’s stepfather, who has spend an unhappily married life to her mother, a manipulative mercantile egoist. His quest for happiness leads him to his much younger secretary, who, however, loves him and is willing to give him the child he always dreamt of. There is Jo’s sister, Iris. Always the more beautiful, the more admired, the more successful, she feels empty in her marriage to the successful Philippe. Searching for something to fill in the void in her heart, she uses her sister’s talent to achieve fame and admiration. This fleeting happiness doesn’t fill the emptiness of her failed marriage, her lost talent, her dysfunctional relationship with her son, her unrequited young love. The swan suffers while the ugly duckling flourishes. There is also Jo’s ex-husband Antoine, a successful businessman, who after being fired, falls into depression. In search for excitement, he even travels to Kenya with a much younger woman, but his impatience, his lack of initiative, his boredom with life, his ignorance of his own characters, doesn’t allow him to find peace.
I recognize myself in all of these characters but I mostly loved Jo, and I doubt there will be anyone who will not love her. For what she was, for how she fought, for who she became. Because beauty, success, and love is only part of it. Most importantly, Jo became a person, who loves herself. Something, which should be our highest purpose. Beyond fame, admiration, money, and success, there is the love for that special you that keeps you going.
Unfortunately, the sequels of this amazing journey are not translated and my French is still poor to read them in original. But if there is one thing this novel taught me, that is to be patient. I will be. For Pancol’s following books. And for other things, which I have been waiting for for a long time.