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The Incorrigible Optimists Club: Guenassia, Jean-Michel. Discussion Questions.

Jean-Michel Genasse is a writer who has rapidly gained popularity in recent years. French critics have called his book The Club of Incorrigible Optimists a great book, and French lycéeists have awarded the author the Prix Goncourt.

Клуб неисправимых оптимистов

The incorrigible optimists club introduces us to Michel Marini, a 12-year-old boy with a passion for reading and amateur photography.

The year 1959 is a turbulent time in Paris, as the Algerian War of Independence gathers momentum and Europe is concerned about the East-West divide. Paris becomes a melting pot for freethinkers, immigrants, existentialists, philosophers and artists, but also a refuge for many who have fled their homes in the East, leaving everyone and everything behind.

Michel is a genius at table football, or "baby-foot" as they call it in Paris. He plays it with his friends in many venues, but Michel spends most of his time at his local bistro, Balto.

"At the far end of the restaurant, across from me, behind the benches, was a door with green curtains... An unshaven man in a stained, shabby mackintosh disappeared behind the curtain. What was he doing in such clothes at this time of year? It hadn't rained for weeks. Driven by curiosity, I pulled back the curtain. On the door, someone had written in large handwriting, "The incorrigible optimists' club." My heart pounding, I moved cautiously forward. I had received the greatest surprise of my life. I walked into the chess club... It wasn't the chess club that was the surprise. I saw Jean-Paul Sartre and Joseph Kessel playing together in the smoky back room of a workingman's bistro..."

Can you imagine being in that room? Can you imagine a 12-year-old boy witnessing such a scene? For Michel, this was to have a very significant impact on him, for the men in this room, this almost secret club, were to become his lifeline, his confidants, his friends.


The incorrigible optimists club was a motley group of immigrants, people who had left their lives in the communist East for various reasons. With differing beliefs and ideas, these people leave their personal politics at the door and gather over drinks and a chess board. The reader learns the story of a pilot (twice a hero of the USSR), a Hungarian actor, a talented surgeon, and others, but only learns the ending of one story at the end of the book. The stories are written from real Soviet people who had to emigrate

The members of this club are a truly fascinating bunch whose stories penetrate to the very heart. The vivid portrayal of their lives before Paris touches the heart with wonderful descriptions and eloquent stories. The references to life in Eastern Europe and the Algerian War are simply mesmerising, compelling the reader to explore and learn more about these dark years of history.

Фото парижа

Book club discussion questions

  1. Please list the historical, social, and psychological problems you see in the novel.

  2. Why do you think the author begins his novel with the scene of Jean-Paul Sartre's funeral? How did his thoughts influence some of the characters in the novel?

  3. Do you agree with the words of one of the characters: "If a person reads and likes a novel written by a scoundrel, it does not mean that he has agreed with his beliefs or become his accomplice. To recognise talent is not to accept another person's moral principles or ideal of life"

  4. How did the war in Algeria affect the fates of some of the characters in the novel: Michel and Cécile, their brothers, Michel's parents, etc.

  5. According to the author, he wrote the biographies of the characters - immigrants from Eastern Europe - from real people. What do you think of the emigrant community of Paris in the 60s, and how their problems echo today's wave of emigration.

  6. What is your opinion of each of the club members: Leonid, Igor, Pavel, Imre and Tibor?

  7. What do you know about the "doctors' case"? What do you think about Sasha?

  8. What are your impressions after reading the novel?


"What could be more terrible than to do evil while wishing to do good?"

"The cause of all our misfortunes is rooted in one thing: everyone believes that their beliefs are infallible. Those who refuse to change their minds are idiots, as are those who allow themselves to be changed."

"I've just learnt that Jules Verne was a rabid anti-communist and an obsessive anti-Semite. Enzo shrugged and nodded at the paintings surrounding us. What do I know about artists whose work is awe-inspiring? If I knew in detail the lives of Botticelli, El Greco, Engra or Degas, would I close my eyes to avoid seeing their paintings? Should I close my ears not to hear the music of the majority?"

"If a person reads and likes a novel written by a scoundrel, it does not mean that he has agreed with his beliefs or become his accomplice. Recognising talent does not mean accepting another person's moral principles or ideal of life."

"There are impossible tasks. For example, looking at life soberly, telling the truth, or admitting one's mistakes."

"Memory is the source of our woes, man's happiness lies in the ability to forget. Memory is the worst enemy of happiness. Happy people forget."

"I divided writers into two categories: those who allowed me to get to the lyceum on time, and those who made me late. For Russian authors I was left behind after lessons time and time again. In the rain I would take shelter under the visor and continue reading. "Tolstoy's" period turned out to be a black month. The Battle of Borodino was worth three hours after school. When I explained to the dissertation tutor that I was late because of Anna Karenina's suicide, he took it as a sneer"

"There is nothing unimaginable about the gulag, genocide, concentration camps and the atomic bomb. They are the product of human consciousness, they are rooted within us, their monstrosity overwhelms us. They are beyond our comprehension, they destroy our desire to believe in man and bring us face to face with our dark side. In fact, they are the most complete forms of our inability to persuade."

"God himself has brought you to our establishment, Mr Tibor," she said in a reverent tone. - Please, Madeleine, leave God alone," Igor interrupted her. - You should thank Nikita Khrushchev for meeting Tibor and Imre, who hardly consults the Almighty when making these or those decisions."

"When a person realises a dream, he thinks neither of failure, nor of victory, nor of consequences. The most important thing in the promised land is not the land, but the promise of happiness."

"True love is intellectual. It lives in the brain."


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