Letter to Survivors

A post-apocalyptic wasteland separates families holed-up in nuclear bunkers, but luckily, the postal service remains, to read letters into the survivors’ ventilation shafts. A surreal, sci-fi satire from 1981, translated from its native French

A post-apocalyptic postie delivers a letter in Gébé's Letter to Survivors

In the post-apocalyptic future of Letter to Survivors, the Earth’s surface is a ruined wasteland, with most of what’s left of humanity stuck in personal, family-sized underground bunkers. Except, it would seem, the postal service, who travel between the bunkers in their radiation-resistant suits, delivering mail. However, because bunkers don’t have letterboxes, the mail is opened and read by the people who deliver it, reading aloud into the bunkers’ ventilation shafts.

A family in a nuclear bunker in Letter to Survivors by Gébé

In this book we hear the letters read out by one particular postie to one of these families. The strangest thing, however, is that these letters don’t necessarily relate to the people they’re being sent to. They’re strange parables that get seemingly more obtuse as the story progresses. Perhaps no-one underground knows where anyone else is, so sending stories of days gone by to complete strangers in distant bunkers seems like the only remaining method of communication – a scream into the void. As the stories unfold they’re visualised on the page, as the recipients’ imaginations drift off into these fantasies, like children being read bedtime stories.

If it sounds a bit disparate, it is, at least until the end when Gébé deftly rolls everything together. This gives the whole thing a strange, otherworldly beauty, albeit offset by weirdness and set in a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

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