An Inconvenient Place

Jonathan Littell and Antoine D’Agata

Translated by Charlotte Mandell

French paperback with flaps, 352 pages
Published 12 September 2024

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What is a place? A place where things happened, horrible things, the traces of which have been erased? Ukraine, for a long time, has been filled with these ‘inconvenient places’ which embarrass everyone, no matter which side of post-Soviet memorial politics they stand on: crimes of Stalinism, crimes of Nazism, crimes of nationalists, crimes of Russians; the killings follow one after another on this battered territory which aspires only to a form of peace and normality.
   With the photographer Antoine d’Agata, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Jonathan Littell began to survey Babyn Yar, the site of the 1941 massacre of the Jews of Kyiv, and the traces left on the landscape. The war came to interrupt their work. It resumed quite quickly in another form, in another place, the small suburban town of Bucha, which became infamous after the discovery of the atrocities perpetrated there by the Russian occupying forces. Again, a place where things happened; again, a place whose traces we erase as quickly as possible. How then to write, how to photograph, when there is literally nothing to see – or almost nothing?

‘Of the three ways of observing – as witness, whose meticulous, dispassionate descriptions become the fabric of the past; as voyeur, devouring the sight of the present with limitless appetite; as seer, finding in the now intimations of things to come – Jonathan Littell chooses all three at once. He doesn’t flinch from the bare, intimate detail of Russia’s visitation of death and destruction on Ukraine. Although sometimes the reader might prefer it if he did, it’s not because Littell’s visions are naked of euphemism, but because it falls to the reader themself to clothe these events in meaning. With his companion d’Agata, Littell, so fascinated by monuments, has made one with this book.’
— James Meek, author of To Calais, In Ordinary Times

‘In An Inconvenient Place, Jonathan Littell takes us on a journey into the most disturbing of modern human landscapes, from the jumble of horrors that were the ravines of Babyn Yar, into the cellars of Bucha. In chiselled, uncompromising prose, accompanied by haunting photographs by Antoine d’Agata, Littell’s unforgettable account is nothing less than a moral triumph over the willful amnesia imposed on history’s savageries by its perpetrators.’
— Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara

‘A narrative, both arduous and luminous, that takes every possible route through a history mired in tragedy.‘
— Télérama

‘What makes this powerful book so impressive is that it confronts everything – to the point of veering off course, of travelling far back into the past, of accumulating the twists, the strata, of narrative, image and investigation. At once a historical study, a testimony of the events unfolding as you read these lines, an inquiry into war crimes and a remembrance of the dead, it comes as close as possible to what its authors came to seek in the streets of Ukraine.’
— Le Monde

‘An important chronicle of the enigma of violence and evil, and the tragedy of the Ukrainian people.’
— France Inter

‘Littell and d’Agata, true aesthetes of disaster, document the history of the violence that stalks the fate of the Ukrainian people, now terrorized by the Russian army. The beauty of the book, embedded in its very tragedy, lies in its way – at once delicate and direct – of placing the ashes of this blood-streaked land into a literary urn, where nothing is forgotten, where everything captures the appalled gaze.’
— Les Inrockuptibles

‘A singular and disturbing work that ties text to image… An Inconvenient Place examines the war in Ukraine and draws its power from the interplay between the words of writer Jonathan Littell and the haunting images of photographer Antoine d’Agata.’
— L’Obs

‘Littell excels at saying the unsayable, almost to a fault. An Inconvenient Place demands attentive reading; it battles against silence and oblivion.’
— Le Figaro Littéraire

Jonathan Littell was born in New York, and grew up in France. He now lives in Spain. His best-known novel, The Kindly Ones, was originally published in French in August 2006, and won the most prestigious literary prize in France, the Prix Goncourt, as well as the Académie Française’s Grand Prix de Littérature. He has since published books on Chechnya, Syria, Francis Bacon, as well as a novel and several novellas. He has written for Le Monde, the Guardian and the London Review of Books.

Antoine d’Agata is a French photographer born in Marseille in 1961. He studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York City, under the tutelage of Larry Clark and Nan Goldin. D’Agata joined Magnum Photos in 2004. He has published more than a dozen books, and directed three films.

Charlotte Mandell has translated over fifty books of fiction, poetry and philosophy from French, including works by Marcel Proust, Maurice Blanchot, Abdelwahab Meddeb and Jean-Luc Nancy, and the majority of Jonathan Littell’s work, including The Kindly Ones. Her translation of Compass by Mathias Énard was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize and was the recipient of the 2018 ALTA National Translation Award in Prose. She was recently named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and has received the Thornton Wilder Translation Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.