Grégory Reibenberg was inside La Belle Equipe, the restaurant he owns, when gunmen opened fire on patrons at candle-lit tables on its terrace, killing 19 people. His Muslim ex-wife, Djamila, was shot dead, as were nine of Reibenberg’s good friends.
The shootings at Reibenberg’s restaurant were part of a series of terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, which killed 130 people and left hundreds wounded.
“I have 20 deaths weighing on me and I don’t know how to act,” Reibenberg writes in his book, Une Belle Équipe, which is set to be released on Nov. 16.
In the book, which Reibenberg said he wrote “in one sitting,” he discusses the four months that followed the attack and led up his bistro’s reopening.
He describes how difficult it was to find a sense of regularity in the wake of the events; he spent months in a daze, he writes. He recounts attending funeral after funeral, and leaning on family members, friends and multiple psychiatrists for support.
What he found hardest, he admits, was keeping calm in front of his daughter.
“I am on the edge of the abyss, and I have to pick up Tess at school,” he writes in one passage. “I must hide my broken appearance completely. I am not a very good actor.”
He knew he wanted the book to be more of a personal account than a factual report of the events of that horrific night, he said. “I didn’t find it necessary [to recount the details], and I had grown tired of repeating them,” he told HuffPost France.
“Everyone had asked me, right after, what had happened. I don’t want to talk about it anymore, it is nothing but pain. Like a captain on his ship, I was there, I saw everything, all the bodies, all of it,” he said.
“As a child, I always asked myself why my grandparents refused to speak openly about what they had seen during the war, the camps, the death, the horror. Now, I know why. I don’t want to either, I don’t want to. Hell is not a place to revisit without cost.”
― Grégory Reibenberg, Une Belle Équipe
Reibenberg says one of the reasons he wrote the book was to preserve the memory of processing the tragedy with his daughter and to remember the poignant questions she would ask him ― “Is there a chance that Mama will come back, Papa?”
“A couple, friends of mine, died that night, leaving their child an orphan. That allows me to get some perspective when I’m feeling bad,” Reibenberg said. “I am lucky to have a little girl to keep me sane and in check.”
In his book, Reibenberg also reveals how disillusioned he felt with the French authorities after the attacks. “Am I too demanding of the Republic? I find it pretty cold sometimes,” he writes.
“I met the mayor of the 11th arrondissement and it was appalling,” he told HuffPost France. “He boasts about giving me 40,000 euros like all the other businesses affected by the attacks. He had no words of compassion to add, no sign of empathy. Nothing else. The mayor of Paris was the same.”
“No one thought it was a good idea to meet the people in the area, to talk to us, to grasp the impact of the attack on the ground. No, they stayed in their offices and came up with an arbitrary number,” he continued.
I am lucky to have a little girl to keep me sane and in check. Grégory Reibenberg
Despite what he viewed as insubstantial support from the authorities, Reibenberg was determined to reopen his restaurant. In March, a remodeled La Belle Equipe opened its doors ― but customers were slow to return, for various reasons.
“The 11th arrondissement [where many of the attacks took place] certainly suffered. Businesses were close to shutting down, because people were afraid of returning,” he said. But Reibenberg said the district has “bounced back” in recent months ― and so will France, he insisted.
“November was our Pearl Harbor. We were attacked although we were not at war. France must be stretched to the limit to recover. She will do it,” he said.
This piece originally appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.