Rinny Gremaud

French, Sabine Wespieser éditeur, Paris, 2023

“What if I fictionalised you? I would be giving you the statue of a ghost—conveying you, or rather condemning you, capturing you forever in the nets of my imagination. Like someone drawing the constellations by joining the stars with imaginary lines, I will try to construct a genitor on the strength of what I know—which is to say, very little… ”

“Ten years have passed and already the entrance into Busan Port is no longer where it used to be. This country really is moving too fast. Since my last visit, the container terminal, or at least the bulk of it, has been moved tens of kilometres, the better to grow, the better to participate in the inexorable rise of the number of objects circulating in the world, big or little, simple or complex, cheap or expensive, loose or packaged, useful or ridiculous.”

When the narrator turns detective, it isn’t just her unworthy father who comes under her scrutiny—and her scalpel—but an entire generation. Rinny Gremaud combines lucid analysis with biting irony to describe the trajectory of a ‘generator genitor’ who has built nuclear power plants all over the world.

The narrator reconstructs the past, joining the dots, piecing together the fragmented picture. We follow her on the trail of this unknown man who is her father. Her story is an investigation.

              An absent father. A coward. Probably an opportunist. Or, as she puts it: ‘a guy who may well have been a bastard’.

              An unstable and insatiable generation—from the post-war years to the turn of the millennium. The delirium of growth. The hubris of capitalism run wild.

              Nuclear power plants sprouting like mushrooms all over the planet. Tripping reactors.

              Human error, erring civilisation.

The narrator was born into a booming Korea that emulated the West while retaining the often stifling social codes left over from traditional Confucianism. Her mother, a secretary and interpreter, brought her up single-handedly. Her father, of Welsh origin, was a developer of nuclear power plants. He left Great Britain to come to Taipei, bringing with him the latest in industrial engineering: a steam turbine for a new thermal power plant. On the side, while the plant was under construction, he fathered his first children. A few years later, in Korea—more precisely in the little fishing village of Kori—he constructed his second power plant and fathered another child, the narrator, before moving on again and leaving her and her mother behind.

The novel follows the journey of this ‘generator genitor’ from one country to another. In shedding light on this man as she tries to plumb his depths and figure out why he acted the way he did, the narrator throws light on a whole era—an era of absurd beliefs, reprehensible compromises and scandalous irresponsibility. The high priests of the atom, whether politicians or senior engineers, don’t come off well in this astute and powerful text.

Rinny Gremaud combines immersive narration with socio-historical investigation in dense, polished and caustic prose. She takes us to a wide range of settings, from megacities to deserted seashores; her novel covers three continents, nine decades and four nuclear power plants. Reading her, we realise just how inglorious the Glorious Thirty were.

Text by Alice Bottarelli

Sabine Wespieser éditeur, Paris
Translation rights
Sabine Wespieser,
Publication date
March 2023


Rinny Gremaud

Rinny Gremaud was born in 1977 in Busan, South Korea and works as a journalist. She is editor-in-chief of T (Le Temps) magazine and lives in Lausanne. Her first book, Un monde en toc [A fake world], was published in 2018 by Seuil as part of the fiction & co. collection. It recounts a world tour with five stop-overs, each chosen on account of their massive commercial centres.

Photo:  © Sophie Bassouls