Pierre Mertens, the Wolf of the steppes
Pierre Mertens was born in Boitsfort on 9 October 1939, which was the same date, he reminds us, as Hitler's decision to invade Belgium... His father was a journalist - and a resistance fighter - and his mother a Jewish biologist. His parents separated during Pierre's childhood which, according to him, gave him the advantage of being able to draw from two libraries: the rather spiritual and catholic library of his father and the secular and leftist library of his mother.
Among others, he received the Prix Médicis in 1987 for 'Les Éblouissements' (Shadowlight). He was a significant Francophone writer, as much for the breadth and variety of his work as his intellectual position in Belgium and his connection to world history in the 20th century. But above all, he was a witness of his time. As an international judicial observer and defender of human rights, he saw most fronts in the second half of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century: Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
Regarded as a prominent figure of engaged intellectuals in Belgium, he attended the School of International Law (ULB) and was a literary critic (Le Soir). Pierre was a maverick. Resistant to networks, denying belonging to the Masons and calling himself 'somewhat' agnostic, he claimed to be 'neither a man of club nor a man of clan' and proudly declared, 'I am a lone wolf.’
He was a mandated judicial observer on the most diverse international fronts: from the Nigerian Civil War, torture in Northern Ireland or the infamous prisons of General Pinochet in Chile to even Armenia, Iran and Czechoslovakia for the creation of the Charter 77 (December 1976, a petition titled 'Charter 77' began circulation to be signed by leading figures in the art world, ordinary citizens, university professors, etc., which demanded that the government respect its commitments regarding human rights). He took to writing as a form of combat, an enraged literary who had always intrinsically admired Kafka and Proust.
Always concerned with producing works in a coherent project, critics often described Mertens as a merciless observer of our time. As Paul Emond (novelist, playwright and Belgian essayist, member of the ARLLFB (Royal Academy of French Language and Literature of Belgium) wrote, 'he was a symbolic landmark for an entire generation.’ Mertens had actually crossed different areas of thought: literature and philosophy, literary and political criticism, international law, cinema, music, opera and theatre.
This European traveller who had a global vision of many problems, this Belgian author whose works were edited and printed in both Paris and Brussels, does not, however, have any desire to leave. This writer, to which we owe 'Terre d’asile' (Land of Asylum) and 'Les phoques de San Francisco' (The Seals of San Francisco), has never found, he states, a land more exotic than his own. With others, he invented the concept of Belgitude. This member of the ARLLFB (since February 1989) is to this day without a doubt our best literary ambassador.