The Archivist of the World (Archivaris van de wereld)
Lia Tilon, 2016
256 pages, 57.000 words
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The Archivist of the World| Archivaris van de wereld
Lia Tilon

In 1907 the French banker Albert Kahn hands his driver Dutertre a hypermodern camera and tells him to take pictures. Kahn wants him to realize his dream: capturing all the different inhabitants of the world on photograph, in order to create an “archive of the planet”. He is convinced that his pictures will eliminate fear of and prejudice against strangers, familiarizing people with one another. In the end his archive shall bring about world peace.

Soon, Kahn begins sending out a number of photographers all over the globe - to the Native Americans, to African tribes and to the plains of Mongolia. Dutertre isn’t convinced in the beginning and has problems grappeling with the new euqipment. He follows courses with Emile Pathé and studies manuals of the brothers Lumière. As he gets closer to Kahn he begins to understand his by now seniour employer. His work as a driver gets more exciting on top: he keeps riding the most illustrious guests to the villa at the outskirts of Paris, amongst which Rudyard Kipling, Sir Chamberlain and Kahn’s close friend, the philosopher Henri Bergson.

In 1939 Kahn refuses to accept that the results of the collapse of the stock exchange and the dooming war are making the realisation of his project impossible. His villa is in demise, Paris is full of anti-Semitic posters. In the last days of his empire he has nothing but his pictures to look back upon. We, the readers, are breathlessly looking back with him and Dutertre his last and only friend. Loyally, he cares for the undying idealist, letting him see all those photographs that keep his last hope alive – did he finally end up believing in Kahn’s dream?

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