I learnt about the agony, and the stench, and the palpable confusion of so many people who, uncomprehending but dreadfully frightened, had absolutely no idea of the lethal blast about to overwhelm them. Just as when I was a boy and read over and over again Heinrich Harrer’s The White Spider, involving death on the north face of the Eiger, I knew reading this book what was about to happen in Saint-Pierre, but hoped that this time it would go differently, that the people would evacuate in time. La Catastrophe is perhaps a little slow in starting, but quickly...

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