Archive for Céline

the elephant in the biography

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2022 by xi'an

As I was buying Guerre, the long lost novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline that was recently published, I noticed that Gallimard had included a biography of the author with a massive elephant in the room!

Namely the loud silence about his antisemitic writings and collaborationist activities under the Vichy regime, which made him flee to Sigmarinen with the core French collaborators (incl. Pétain and Laval), and then flee again to German-occupied Denmark when Allied troups were approching, where he was later jailed for two years as the Libération French government had requested Céline’s extradition from the new Norwegian goverment. He only returned to France after an amnesty was granted for his disabled war veteran status.

a journal of the plague year² [across the sea]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2021 by xi'an

Read the beginning of a Japanese locked-room mystery, Murder in the Crooked House, by Soji Shimada, but either due to the poor translation or to the story itself, I quickly gave up and left the book in my Bastia rental. Also left Quand sort la recluse by Fred Vargas (which I bought in emergency for being stuck on a Corsica beach with my kids!), as the irrational basis of the plot never completely vanished and the number of coincidences was just too high… And went through the fourth volume of the Yalta Boulevard Quintet by Olen Steinhauer, which follows the same team of homicide detectives in an imaginary Eastern Bloc country between Hungary and Romania. The most disappointing of all books since, while women receive a better share of the plot than usual, the rather shallow hunt for the mastermind behind a plane bombing and the even more ambiguous role played by the political officer of the brigade are doing nothing to help with the paranormal aspects of the story… (The presentation of the Turk people is furthermore caricaturesque and somewhat racist in the same way Midnight Express is racist.) Found a short book by Amélie Nothomb in an exchange bookshelf in Bastia, L’Hygiène de l’Assassin, which I read in a few hours before I shelved it back. Highly original with connections with French authors like Céline and Pérec.

Did not cook much on the island, except for home-made houmous and grilled sardines, but tasted local cheese like Niolo and Rustinu, local fresh water oysters (from Étang de Diane) which were already renowned in Roman time and a usual treat for Napoléon (while exiled on nearby Elba Island), and tested a local restaurant that could have made it to a Michelin star!, L’Étoile, in Ville di Pietrabugno. The dishes were highly original like a leek millefeuille or a mock tomato made of brocciu…

Watched for the first time Good Morning Vietnam!, on French TV (as my rental internet was down for the whole week!), which I found completely appalling! From the lack of realism in the action parts to the portrayal of the Vietnamese people to the lack of criticism of the Vietnam War. (It stands miles below The Quiet American.)

reading highlights

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2021 by xi'an

A reading questionnaire I picked somewhere I cannot remember, a while ago, and filled in the lazy days after X’mas… Could have substituted each entry with dozens of others.

  1. Your first memorable reading experience : La Panthère Blanche (a pre-1960 children book about an albinos jaguar in the Amazonia I kept reading as a kid, and then I switched to compulsive bi-yearly reads of David Copperfield…)
  2.  Your hidden masterpiece : Kent’s Burial Rites
  3. An official masterpiece you could not complete : Melville’s Moby Dick (too much technical jargon)
  4. A writer you would dream to meet : Patrick Rothfuss (so that I could hear the end of the trilogy!), Karen Blixen, Victor Hugo, many others
  5. A favourite writer you would rather not meet : Louis Céline (definitely not a favourite person!)
  6. A book you would like to be the main character : Zeno in Yourcenar’s L’Œuvre au Noir (The Abyss)
  7. A book you offer by default : Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day
  8. A book that makes you laugh out loud : Paasilina’s The Year of the Hare
  9. A book you would rather read in the vernacular : every book not written in French or English

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

Some of my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2009 by xi'an

books3Last night, I took some of my favourite books out of my bookcases: here they are from bottom to top (picture-wise!). Obviously, they are not all comparable in terms of literary “quality”, but they are books I like to re-read from time to time or books that impacted me the first time I read them…

  • Heckmair’s My Life, already mentioned in that post about Messner’s book, for the heart-stopping tale of the climb of the Eigerwand. There are better written (more literary) books about mountaineering, but this remains my favourite;
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that I read so often it is almost virtual by now. This is not here as my favourite fantasy book, but simply as one of my favourite books, because it subsumes the [fantasy] genre into a larger one, borrowing from Nordic sagas as well as Celtic folklore and German tales;
  • Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which is the most metaphysical love story he wrote. If I had only one book to carry around that would be the one! (I also love very much his novel Brighton Rocks, another unusual and dark love story);
  • Céline’s Voyage au bout de la Nuit, also discussed in that earlier post, which is for me the most impressive French novel of the xxth century, inventing a new style and seeing beyond the current ideologies;
  • Joyce’s Dubliners, so uniquely modern as well, especially the first short story, The Dead, with its conclusion of quiet despair. John Huston made a movie of it, where he superbly managed to convey the different currents in the story;
  • Hugo’s Quatrevingt-treize, his novel about the French Revolution (and the Breton counter-revolution), with an unforgivable trio of characters, the father, the son, and the defrocked priest, as well as a superb style. Certainly my favourite novel from Hugo with L’Homme qui rit;
  • Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, for translating both the horror of the war and the ultimate feeling of camaraderie only extreme situations can induce (also a favourite of my son in his rare excursions outside fantasy). The following novels by Remarque like The Road Back and Drei Kameraden carried the same feelings of hopeless friendship, but with less intensity;
  • Chandler’s The Long Good Bye, for, if you think Chandler wrote detective stories, read him again! This is a very deep and sad novel, mostly about jilted friendship, with a detective side that is quite incidental;
  • Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov, the quintessential Russian novel with the triptych of brothers as an idealisation of humanity and the undercurrent of spiritual questioning;
  • Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, for the bittersweet taste of wasted opportunities and things past;
  • Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, a literary genre by itself…

(to be continued for the remainder of the book pile…)

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