This author is cashing in on a real-life NYC tragedy
But its premise left me cold, partly because Slimani, writing from her Parisian aerie, capitalized on a real-life New York family’s actual horror — the bloody and senseless murder of two young children.
Slimani, 36, said she was inspired by the horrific deaths of Lucia and Leo Krim, the two young children who were found stabbed in the blood-soaked bathtub of their well-appointed Upper West Side apartment a few days before Halloween in 2012. Their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, was charged with their murder, and her trial could begin shortly after her next court appearance on Jan. 22.
The deaths of 6-year-old Lucia, known as Lulu, and her 2-year-old brother shocked an entire city. Who can forget the anguish of their mother, Marina Krim, who returned home to find every parent’s worst nightmare? It’s hard to forget the photographs of her contorted, mad face pressed up to the window of an ambulance as she was driven away from the crime scene.
In France, Slimani saw the same pictures and read the news stories, becoming obsessed with the details of the deaths and the actions of Ortega, then 50, who tried to slit her own wrists and throat as Krim returned home with her other child, 3-year-old Nessie, from an afternoon of errands to make the horrible discovery. And according to police, little Lulu fought tooth and nail against her attacker.
“I knew I wanted to write about a nanny, but it was difficult for me to find a narrative rhythm,” Slimani told me over the phone from Paris. “When I discovered the New York story, I just started writing.”
In addition to alleviating her writer’s block, the Krim family drama is no doubt turning Slimani into a very rich woman.
In the two years since the publication of “Chanson Douce,” as it was called in France, the novel has made Slimani into a literary superstar. In 2016, she became the first Moroccan woman to win the prestigious Prix Goncourt, elevating her into a literary club she now shares with the likes of Marguerite Duras and Simone de Beauvoir, both past winners of the prize.
Slimani sold more than 600,000 copies of the book in France and publication rights in 38 countries. French actress and director Maiwenn recently optioned the film rights, and president Emmanuel Macron has appointed Slimani an advisor on French literature.
Does she feel any guilt for benefiting from such a painful event?
Slimani shrugged off the question and said she was focused on the relationship of the nanny with the professional couple — Myriam and Paul — in the novel. She claims only to have used the Krim tragedy as a jumping off point for her book.
But the fictional characters are eerily similar to real life. Although the setting is Paris’ elegant 9th Arrondissement in May instead of Manhattan in October, the fictional professional couple treat Louise, their middle-aged nanny, in much the same way the Krims did — with great care, taking her on a family vacation and bragging to friends that they had hired the modern equivalent of Mary Poppins.
“My book is not so much about the crime as it is about the relationship of the family with the nanny,” said Slimani, herself the mother of two young children, whose well-to-do family employed a nanny when she was growing up in Morocco. “When you live closely with people, you don’t see who they really are. In particular with nannies, they only exist in your home, and when they leave they don’t really exist anymore for you.”
And yet, the deaths of her fictional children — Mila, 6, and her 2-year-old brother Adam — mirror the final struggles of the Krim children in painful detail. In the novel, the toddler is the first victim, followed by the older girl, who fights for her life as the nanny takes a kitchen knife to her throat. Like Lulu, Mila is still alive when her mother finds her in the bathtub.
“The baby is dead,” writes Slimani in the first line of the book. “It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn’t suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a gray bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She’d fought like a wild animal.”
Novelists are free to write about whatever they want, but is there a moral responsibility here? Should Slimani perhaps donate even a small part of her profits to the Lulu and Leo Fund, the foundation the Krims set up to help other families and to honor the memory of their slain children?
Slimani said she had not reached out to the family. (Marina Krim told The Post through a spokeswoman that she would not comment on the book.)
“The story of my novel is not about the Krim children or what happened to the Krim family,” Slimani said. “This is not the point of my book. I was not investigating. My point is to invent, it is fiction.”