W or the Memory of Childhood

This is a semiautobiographical work of fiction that tells the two different tales in two parts with the alternating chapters. One story is about the author’s childhood memories, which the author recalls, while he was so young that he could not remember much about childhood, and he uses such phrases like, “I think… I suppose”. Most of these memories are barely formed from the stories he had been told and the pictures he had seen only later in his life. This forms the semi-autobiographical part of the book. The other story is a fantasy of an island, called as W, where according to the sport rules only the fittest ones survive. This is the fiction part of the book. In this part of the story there are two people; one is an eight year old boy, deaf and dumb, lost in a shipwreck, and the other one is a man sent to search for this young boy. Both share the name Gaspard Winkler, which hab been fake for the man. The two stories are riffled up with such that even though they were different they could not be easily separated.

How These Two Stories Correspond

Briefly, Perec describes his book as the two stories told in alternating chapters. He writes the following that, “the distant light they cast on each other” and say that, "in their fragile overlapping” they could not completely express individually. The interchangeability of these two stories is indeed the overlapping as this is clear when Perec records his childhood provoking not many feelings in him; and when he writes about W, the feelings are possible, but he is carefully avoiding to express any of them.

From the title of the book, one can show that these two stories are put side by side for some reason, and that is why the author does not make the title W and the Memory of Childhood but instead he chooses the other title used. The autobiography and fiction are well utilized effectively to tell the readers about the holocaust and to keep their interest in the past; that is not of the great importance anymore. The writer uses two styles, so they complement each other in telling the stories without losing the readers during the narrative and without making the stories seem to be “unreal”. This is because if only the fiction is used, the story seems to be like an adventure, but when the autobiography is included also, the readers are reminded of the reality.

The two stories, although not in an obvious way, complement each other; as one part gives a frame, while the other one fills in with whatever is missing. When Perec tries to re-enact the memories of his past, he can only remember his childhood fantasy world. In his fantasies, he would run off to this island of Tierra del Fuego called W. When he is trying to recreate W, he has more memories of his experiences during the war time appearing than when he just thinks of his childhood. These facts tell the readers that the two ones are intertwined in some way. One story helps to form the other one and the former one is also formed with the help of it.

W is the land where all vices exist; rape is acceptable as women are made to strip, and then they run only to be followed by male athletes then raping them after having caught them. In this land, all that is left is a play. Children never grow up, but just run, wrestle and compete for medals all their lives. Those not winning are tortured; and those winning are also violated into maintaining the first position. This is Perec’s memory of his wartime experiences in the Nazi displayed in the imagined land of W. He presents the history that is, “a History…for me and for all of my people” (Perec, 1975).

Perec has few memories of his childhood; and as there are many gaps, but he uses his imagination and fantasies to fill in them. By filling these gaps, he fuses the two tales into one. This is evident in the final chapters of the novel as soon as the autobiography turns into a fiction part, and the fiction story turns into being factual. We are made aware of what was happening in detention camps, and how people were mistreated in the era of Hitler. The parts of memories that Perec has are what he completely relies on to create the whole book; and sometimes he does not even realize from where they are derived.

W is the creation of Perec from his childhood; and it is perfectly interwoven with his autobiography. Compared to other autobiographies, it is highly unusual. This interweaving helps to keep the stories together, even though it is quite a challenge to read them interchangeably as the one easily gets lost and confused by the flow of thoughts in this story.

One captivating part in the book is almost the end of the novel when Perec finally sees the inhabitants of W as they actually are: half-starved victims held as inmates in the concentration camps, victimized by “this huge machine, each cog contributes with efficiency to the systematic annihilation of men” (Perec, 1975). In W, there is no mercy or hope for the things to be changed or sorted out in some time. All vices are encouraged and sports glorified, winners are respected, and losers are executed. Perec’s representation of these things leads the readers to the question on the issue how the rest of the world lets such things happen and does nothing about it. He wonders on the matter how the rest of the world may stand back like spectators and watch the grisly acts happening on the field while some of them are cheering the players, others are not even concerned of what is going on, and the rest of them is just horrified.

The book is called W, which in French sounds as “double-vie” (double life); thereby giving the readers a notion of experiencing the double life. In one sense, this is reflected in the two stories (twinned) of the book; in another sense it is reflected in such way that Perec’s memories of his childhood are not concerning his relatives or the evidence they tell him or the facts that there was the man named Winkler that took the name of a little boy lost in the sea, and this was his double life, or the island which was a symbol of all troubles in the world. As compared to his other works, this book shows different Perec that is not portrayed in any of hiw other books. He is considered “lighthearted and playful”, which is not clear from this work. Here, he is more conservative with his creative faculties, especially in the part where he writes about his childhood memories; and he seems to be deliberately avoiding the painful gaps in his writing. The story is written just like the memories coming in repetitions, many backs and forth as if the writer was trying to identify what part of his memories had been true and what part had been a result of the objective evidence and information provided by his relatives; or maybe the author was trying to convince himself that the memories had been really true.

A keen reader notices that there are a lot of gaps in this book, in terms of its language and details that would bring the readers closer to the writer's vision. However, these gaps could be forgiven due to Perec’s lack or insufficiency of his own history and memories. Therefore, those gaps become a distinct advantage for writing the memoir.


In conclusion, W or the Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec is a book divided into two distinct stories that cannot be separated or unwoven. The two stories are achieving the writer’s attempt to talk about the holocaust; this, however, does not disturb the readers to accept this novel as a fairy tale.

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