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In this enormously engaging, vibrant, and richly researched biography of Albert Camus, the French writer and journalist Olivier Todd has drawn on personal correspondence, notebooks, and public records never before tapped, as well as interviews with Camus's family, friends, fellow workers, writers, mentors, and lovers.
Todd shows us a Camus who struggled all his life with irreconcilable conflicts--between his loyalty to family and his passionate nature, between the call to political action and the integrity to his art, between his support of the native Algerians and his identification with the forgotten people, the poor whites. A very private man, Camus could be charming and prickly, sincere and theatrical, genuinely humble, yet full of great ambition.
Todd paints a vivid picture of the time and place that shaped Camus--his impoverished childhood in the Algerian city of Belcourt, the sea and the sun and the hot sands that he so loved (he would always feel an exile elsewhere), and the educational system that nurtured him. We see the forces that lured him into communism, and his attraction to the theater and to journalism as outlets for his creativity.
The Paris that Camus was inevitably drawn to is one that Todd knows intimately, and he brings alive the war years, the underground activities that Camus was caught up in during the Occupation and the bitter postwar period, as well as the intrigues of the French literati who embraced Camus after his first novel, L'Etranger, was published. Todd is also keenly attuned to the French intellectual climate, and as he takes Camus's measure as a successful novelist, journalist, playwright and director, literary editor, philosopher, he also reveals the temperament in the writer that increasingly isolated him and crippled his reputation in the years before his death and for a long time after. He shows us the solitary man behind the mask--debilitated by continuing bouts of tuberculosis, constantly drawn to irresistible women, and deeply troubled by his political conflicts with the reigning French intellectuals, particularly by the vitriol of his former friend Sartre over the Algerian conflict.
Filled with sharp observations and sparkling with telling details, here is a wonderfully human portrait of the Nobel Prize-winning writer, who died at the age of forty-six and who remains one of the most influential literary figures of our time.
"There is only one serious philosophical problem, which is suicide," wrote French novelist, essayist and dramatist Albert Camus in 1940. He was in Nazi-occupied Paris, where he lived in a "hideous and distressing world." But newly married to a loyal woman to whom he would be repeatedly unfaithful, he boarded a ship with her at Marseilles to honeymoon in his native Algeria. As for suicide, he had been inviting death for years, stresses French freelance journalist Todd, encouraging his chronic tuberculosis with tobacco and drink and a lifestyle that exacerbated his symptoms. Although Camus often questions in his writings whether existence was worthwhile in an absurd world, he made the most of his opportunities. He had a harmless role in the WWII French Resistance, putting out an underground newspaper, Combat, while circulating his manuscripts and involving himself in Parisian theater. With the departure of the Germans, he began publishing his plays and stories. Despite a series of affairs, divorce and a second marriage, Camus found time to write philosophical works, plays and three major novels, The Stranger, The Plague and The Fall. The Nobel Prize was awarded to him in 1957 when he was still a month short of 44, the youngest writer so honored since Kipling. "My life," he wrote in 1941, "is based on the idea that I have something to say and that I will be freed from everything when I have said it." A little more than two years after the Nobel honors confirmed that he had indeed said it, Camus was killed in an automobile crash. Todd's exhaustive biography, which aims--and succeeds--in presenting "the man" and not just the writer, has been shortened for its English translation, which refers readers to the French edition for notes, sources and bibliography. Photos.