Over the years, the HIV and AIDS pandemic has touched tens of millions of lives, leaving in its wake tremendous loss and suffering, hope and stubborn resilience, as well as stories—individual and collective stories that have captured the ongoing pandemic, thus, recording its history.
Hans M. Hirschi’s new book is such a story. In Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris, the author takes on the subject of HIV intersectionality [see this month’s Gallery article] and examines it through the lens of ongoing and new crises, as well as through the lens of history. Released on April 30, 2022, Michel is based on a character from a previous novel, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka [A&U, February 2015]. The author includes enough back story, so that, while the two narratives intertwine, Michel can be read as a stand-alone novel.
Michel, the character, appeared in Hirschi’s previous book “in the wrong place and way too early, and so, he had to go,” the author explains. “The scene where he passes away is, to this day, my favorite scene of everything I’ve written,” he adds. It’s impossible to read that particular passage without tearing up.
Yet, while Michel, the character, had to go, its (his) ghost continued to linger around. “Michel, never really let go of me,” Hirschi says, pondering. “And so, in 2020 just before the pandemic hit—and I’m not talking about the HIV one, I’m talking about COVID—I started writing Michel’s story, because I was curious about his upbringing. I had a little bit of a back story [about Michel] from his [brief] interactions and conversations with Haakon, the main character of The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, but it wasn’t flashed out,” Hirschi says, explaining that he was curious about what was missed from Michel’s life. “And you know, I always say that, as a reader, in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka you learn about how Michel died. In Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris, you learn how he lived.”
Hirschi’s new book tells a coming-of-age story set in the eighties, a time the author refers to as a dark, if not “probably the darkest time for the LGBTQ+ community.” It is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about love and loss, about unlikely friendships that cross time-and-space boundaries, about compassion, acceptance, redemption, and also hope.
“The story of Michel is not ‘just’ about HIV and AIDS,” Hirschi writes in his note introducing his book. “It’s also the story of an entire generation, and a very special time for Christopher’s kind. What sort of lives did we lead back then, before the internet, before iPhones? What did we do? What happened to us? We loved, worked, studied, played; we listened to music, watched movies, and yes, [sought] intimacy in brief physical encounters. Far too often, we would also get hurt by people who knew we couldn’t cry for help, people who knew we would find no sympathy if we did.”
In so many ways, Michel: The Fallen Angel of Paris tells a collective story of a time not long ago and a crisis still left unsolved. Through its characters—Michel and Haakon—it brings to life not only the dark, harsh reality defining those first years of the HIV and AIDS crisis, but also a collective relationship defining that time. It is a kind of relationship that, sadly, only very few individuals were lucky enough to have. “Only very few had a Haakon to look after us in the end, [to] love us unconditionally,” Hirschi writes. “Many of us loved a Michel, and we all have lost a Michel, time and time again.”
Hans M. Hirschi’s novel stands out for many reasons: exquisite writing, powerful narrative, and memorable characters, to mention only a few. What makes Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris a book impossible to put down, in particular, is the remarkable story that it tells—heartfelt, riveting, and awe-inspiring, an unforgettable story that shows that in spite of all crises (ongoing, as well as new) there is still reason for hope.
Find out more about Hans M. Hirschi by visiting online at www.hirschi.se.
Learn more about Beaten Track Publishing at www.beatentrackpublishing.com/
— Alina Oswald
Alina Oswald is the Managing Editor of A&U. Contact her at alinaoswald.com.