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Offline: Truth at life's extremes

Author: Richard Horton
Newspaper: The Lancet
Date: Jan 11 2020

On January 7, 2015, at around 11.30 am, two armed men entered the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In minutes, 12 people lay dead. Philippe Lançon, a 51-year-old columnist at Charlie (and culture critic at Libération), was badly wounded. His book recounting the events of that January morning, Disturbance, has now been translated into English. The attack itself is briefly described. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar”. Shots. Seconds. The panic and the hope. The silence and the blood. Lançon was shot three times. He felt nothing and pretended to be dead. One attacker stood over him. Lançon opened his eyes. The attacker walked away slowly. When Lançon caught his image on the screen of a mobile phone, this is what he saw: “where my chin and the right half of my lower lip should have been, there was not exactly a hole, but a crater of torn, hanging flesh…a face that was three-quarters intact and one part destroyed…a monster.” Disturbance is not a book about terror or war. It is not a book about Islam and France. It is not a book that attempts to analyse or defend the work of Charlie, “a very French bit of civilisation”. Instead, it is a remarkable account of recovery, the nature of reconstruction, and, in a way, the philosophy of return from the edge of death.