After being homeless for nearly three decades, Jean-Marie Roughol’s life is about to change for the better. The 47-year-old’s memoirs about begging on the streets of Paris has become a national bestseller this holiday season, selling nearly 50,000 copies and earning him cult status.
The 176-page book, titled Je tape la manche: Une vie dans la rue (My Life as a Panhandler: A Life on the Streets), tells Roughol’s story from his rough childhood to winding up on the streets of Paris. He recalls how he was abandoned by his mother and brought up by an alcoholic father, ending up on the streets in his early twenties after losing his job as a waiter.
Roughol started writing the book two years ago, sitting on park benches, making notes in school exercise books. He got help with writing and editing from a long-time friend, former French Minister of Interion, Jean-Louis Debré. The two met many years ago when Roughol offered to look after Debre’s bicycle as he shopped on the Champs-Élysées, a sweet tale that is also included in the book. He compares meeting Debré to winning the lottery.
Debré was the one who challenged Jean Marie Roughol to write his book, after overhearing two passers by whispering to each other “did you see that, Debré is talking to a bum”. Shocked by their reaction, he told his homeless friend that he could show those pretentious and infatuated people the error of their judgement by writing a book about his life.
Roughol told French reporters that he was afraid to put words to paper at first, because he thought pretty low of himself. He could only think of his faults, and the fact that he hadn’t frequented school too much as a child didn’t really serve as a motivation to write a book. But in the end, he decided to do it. The two would meet at cafés, where Roughol would hand Debré his notes, and he would transcribe them into a computer.
Je tape la manche: Une vie dans la rue numbers 176 pages of memories about his chaotic childhood and youth, nights sleeping on the streets or in parks, friendships with other homeless people but also fights to defend his territory.
Since the release of the book, Roughol has been featured on several TV shows and newspapers across the world. He used his advance to purchase a smartphone to keep up with his growing band of social media followers. But he’s still on the streets, waiting for the profits of the book to roll in. “In 10 months I will start getting my royalties, although I would prefer to have them now,” he told AFP. “When I have my own apartment, I will buy a computer so I can continue writing books.”
In the meantime, Roughol is a celebrity without a home. “People write to me from everywhere and I am stopped every day by people who have read my book,” he said. “Last week I was taken to a restaurant by a man from Tennessee who bought 15 copies of my book and another person came from Switzerland with chocolate for me.”
But his special moment came when his fame helped reunite him with a long-lost brother. “He saw me on TV and didn’t know I was homeless,” he said. “When you are on the streets, you are ashamed and you turn in on yourself. Now I have nieces and nephews who want to meet me – imagine! – when I have always been alone.”
Roughol hopes that his book will help bring a change in the way people look at the homeless, and draw attention to the plight of homeless women. “Their number is growing and it is even harder for them.They are attacked, some take advantage of their weakness. It’s scandalous. ” His dream is to open his own creperie (pancake shop).
Photos: Jean Marie Roughol/Facebook