Anne-Laure Bondoux

A Time of Miracles

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A Time of Miracles Summary

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A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux, translated from French, tells the story of Blaise Fortune and his caretaker Gloria Bohème. For the first eleven years of his life, Blaise has gone by the name Koumaïl. He has grown up in the Caucasus, a region between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, with his guardian Gloria. He knows that Gloria is not his biological mother, and he loves to hear her tell the story of how she rescued him from a terrible train accident, which the two often refer to as The Terrible Accident. It was this accident that claimed the life of Blaise’s mother, a French woman and a passenger on the train who passed him on to Gloria to care for and to raise as her own.

The novel begins in 1992. Seven-year-old Koumaïl lives in a housing complex with other refugee families. He and Gloria are on a journey to France, a land she believes will give Koumaïl a better life and more opportunities in the future. Although Koumaïl has been told the story of his mother’s death since he was a little boy, he still believes that upon returning to France he will be able to find her.

Their journey to France spans five years; along the way, they are met with various obstacles and dangers that threaten to derail them. They are constantly on the move, going from one housing complex to the next and taking on various jobs in order to survive, including begging and collecting scrap metal.

Koumaïl is torn between two worlds. Since he grew up with Gloria, he speaks Russian, identifying strongly with Gloria’s family and their culture. However, still feeling strong ties to France through his family history, he seeks to learn everything he can about the country. He also attempts to teach himself the language, managing to get a few key phrases down. Throughout the book, Gloria refers to him as Monsieur Blaise, further instilling this belief that he is a French citizen.

As they continue on their perilous mission, Koumaïl and Gloria meet a whole cast of characters, as they are always arriving in new housing complexes full of refugee families of all cultures and backgrounds. The complexes organize a kind of school system for the children where they learn basic information, mostly about animals and plants and their various medicinal properties. Most of the refugees are farmers, so they share what knowledge they have. They also learn music from an opera singer and prayer from a monk. Living in this way, Koumaïl absorbs all kinds of knowledge, receiving a rather eclectic education.

During their journey to France, Gloria falls terribly ill and leaves Koumaïl on a pig truck to carry on without her. Devastated, he feels a true sense of abandonment. Koumaïl eventually arrives in France but he is on his own and scared, unable to communicate with the people around him save for the few stock phrases of French he has managed to pick up, but it is not enough to explain his story or what he is seeking in France.

He meets Modeste Koulevitch, an interpreter. The man listens to Koumaïl’s story and helps him to translate it into French. It turns out that Gloria was right; once Koumaïl is in France, he has access to better education, makes friends, and absorbs French culture, accepting it as his own. By gaining an understanding of his past, he is able to build a better future for himself.

At the end of the book, the reader finds out that Koumaïl was never French at all. His parents were actually Gloria Vassilievna and Zemzem Dabaiev, a terrorist who bombed an express train carrying soldiers from Georgia but also women and children. Gloria never wanted Koumaïl to find out the truth about his father, and so she did everything in her power to protect him from it. This was her motivation behind inventing his French family history. Gloria even went so far as to steal French passports to further cement the idea that this was her son’s identity, and to give him hope and opportunity for the future.

Throughout the novel, Koumaïl is driven by the idea of finding his mother and discovering his true heritage. As it turns out, Koumaïl’s mother was by his side the entire time, though he never learned the truth about her or his family history. In the end, Koumaïl wonders whether he should be angry with Gloria for lying to him, or appreciate his mother’s protection and the wonderful story she created to shield him from the realities of the world.