“I’ve decided to keep this diary because I’m going to die in the next few days…I am condemned because, having refused to be evacuated with the others, I will be annihilated by the incendiary bombs which are systematically ravaging the Corsican interior. Already, Zonza, the village where I took refuge is melting and all the houses in the local hamlets are collapsing under the effects of napalm. The molten rocks are forming a lava flow on the charred soil and occasionally a roof explodes like a forgotten pot in the oven. Soon, the Island of Beauty will be wiped off the map…”
So begins Jacques Mondoloni’s apocalyptic story Le Dernier Corse, available, in French, in the short story collection Corse Noire alongside stories by Mérimée, Flaubert and Maupassant.
The fictional ‘last Corsican’ of the title is the priest and former independence activist Pascal Geronimi whose mother was English and father Corsican. Having played an active role in violent resistance against the French state he has turned his back on extremism. During this final conflagration, he remains on the island and sends his account of his homeland’s destruction to a fellow priest in the Vatican.
In these diary entries, Pascal tells us something of his life as well as explaining how things have come to this. The premise is that the xenophobic, nationalist La Flamme party is in power in France and refuses Corsica’s call for independence. Citing the general ‘lawlessless’ and ‘terrorism’ of the Corsicans and their alleged ‘Arab’ origins, the government has won a referendum to apply a scorched earth policy and expel Corsicans from their homeland; deporting 200,000 Corsicans to North Africa and Italy; precipitating a refugee crisis and ultimately a plan to completely eliminate the island.
Corsicans are used to the idea of emigration and diaspora; they have often had to leave home to escape poverty and underdevelopment. The island has experienced major falls in population, notably around the 20th century’s two world wars. But whether the island is shrinking or growing and wherever its people find themselves, they carry an idea of home – often an ancestral village – with them. For any small nation, the fact that home exists, however distant, is reassuring and essential. And the possibility of that home being destroyed is beyond imagining.
This story is not only a record of the last words of this ‘last Corsican’ but an exploration of the unthinkable; the end of Corsica itself. It’s majestic landscape destroyed and it’s people dispersed; leaving only a memory of Corsica, an idea of Corsica. This particular scenario may seem unlikely, and yet the Mediterranean today is the scene of greater refugee movements than envisaged in this story and sadly human history is not short of precedents for the deliberate obliteration of places and the annihilation of populations.
Other posts on Corsican themes:
Boswell in Corsica (March 2016)
Escher in Corsica (January 2016)
Sebald in Corsica (December 2015)
Edward Lear in Corsica (August 2015)
John Minton in Corsica (July 2015)
Paoli in London (March 2015)
Conrad in Corsica (August 2014)
Seneca in Corsica (August 2014)
Village wisdom: Corsican proverbs and sayings (August 2014)
Poem: Corsica (July 2015)