The Factory of Facts Essay - Critical Essays

Luc Sante

The Factory of Facts

Luc Sante, an accomplished writer based in Brooklyn, New York, successfully tries his hand at autobiographical writing in THE FACTORY OF FACTS. What distinguishes his book from the spate of memoirs by all sorts of writers, especially younger ones, is its unique subject and the particular approach Sante takes to it. Belgium is routinely overlooked in examinations of European cultural history, and “Belgian-American” is an atypical category in analysis of American immigrant cultures. Yet this is the category that defines Luc Sante, and he vividly describes the many ways he has been pulled this way and that by competing languages, traditions, and values. He waves no particular banner for Belgian identity, nor does he repudiate it in favor of his adoptive culture. His treatment is carefully balanced, nuanced, and compelling.

Sante’s book supplies many things: description of the history of the impoverished region of Southeastern Belgium his family called home, extensive genealogical research, often amusing accounts of culinary and other differences between Belgium and the United States, the complicated dimensions of class identity in both countries as painfully experienced by his family, and, perhaps most importantly, the many determining factors language brings to life.

For an account of this author’s life, the theme of language is the most salient of all. Naturally bilingual, his attitude toward French has changed according to the stages of his development. The country of his birth remains torn by linguistic differences, and his effort at piecing together the complicated strands of his own unique experience is challenged by his need to “translate” between childhood thoughts, fantasies, and fears which took place in French and an adult sensibility marked by an imaginary life that is necessarily in English, despite the author’s fluency in French.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, February 15, 1998, p. 976.

Library Journal. CXXIII, January, 1998, p. 110.

The Nation. CCLXVI, March 30, 1998, p. 29.

The New Republic. CCXVIII, March 30, 1998, p. 33.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, March 26, 1998, p. 34.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, March 8, 1998, p. 4.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 26, 1998, p. 82.

The Times Literary Supplement. March 20, 1998, p. 29.

The Village Voice. March 24, 1998, p. 131.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXXIV, Summer, 1998, p. 92.