The Birth of a Bridge by French author Maylis de Kerangal is an intriguing read. The novel is set in the fictional town Coca in northern California, where its new mayor John ‘the Boa’ Johnson is eager to re-invent the town after a visit to the grandeur city landscape of Dubai, thus initiating the building of a new one-of-a-kind bridge.
The novel follows the construction of the bridge, and the fates of the people who are brought together, from all over the world, to build it. More importantly, however, it examines “The bridge against the forest, the economy against nature, movement against immobility – you wouldn’t have known who to cheer for”.
The construction of the bridge presents itself as an opportunity to be a part of something new and revolutionary, and architects, engineers and construction workers are desperate to get a piece of the grandeur that will put Coca on the map as a growing and prosperous economical centre.
De Kerangal has an insight that allows a clever engineering of a plot that builds a bridge in its literate sense. On the other hand, she uses the bridge as a metaphor to question whether the grass is actually greener on the other side.
The construction brings unrest to the Natives in Coca as it endangers the wildlife, challenging the notion that mankind can never settle but must always reach for more development, more technology and always progress.
The bridge also functions as a new beginning – or transgression towards something better – for those employed in the project, and De Kerangal examines the different fates that have brought the characters to Coca.
Georges Diderot, who is in charge of the project, is heartless and seems, in the first place, to be there only on the grounds of getting the work done and rising in his field.
Other characters, like Katherine Thoreau or Summer Diamantis, come from difficult personal backgrounds and pour their energy into the project to have a sense of stability and purpose in their lives.
These characters and their and the bridge’s fate and function is described through fast-paced sentences, innovative language and thorough descriptions.
De Kerangal´s voice is passionate, and Jessica Moore´s translation of the book into English honours her style of writing. The plot races back and forth between characters, between different moments in time and between different places; but the reader is never lost.
Rather, the structure of the novel and its language makes it an even more thrilling read, while at the same time emphasising the need to reflect on the story that is told.