The First Man


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About the Author

Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913. The works that established his international reputation include THE PLAGUE, THE FALL, THE REBEL and THE OUTSIDER. Camus died in a road accident in 1960 and is remembered as one of the greatest philsophical novelists of the twentieth century.


Among the wreckage of Camus's fatal car crash in 1960 was a 144-page handwritten manuscript, a first draft of a projected epic, the Nobel Prize winner's final novel. Suppressed by his family for decades in order to avoid criticism from the Left, the manuscript, transcribed by Camus' daughter, was finally published last year in France, where it became a bestseller. Now the narrative, carefully annotated, has reached our shores, allowing admirers of Camus and of fine literature in general to delve into its complex, strongly autobiographical pages. Jacques Cormery, 40, returns to his native Algeria to learn about his father, who died at the Battle of the Marne when Jacques was one. In Africa, Jacques relives his childhood growing up in a house dominated by a gentle and illiterate mother and an abusive and illiterate grandmother. His only father figures are a ``half-mute'' uncle and a grade-school teacher who manages to get the boy a scholarship to a private high school. Meanwhile, the simmering racial and political conflict between Arabs and Frenchmen provides a compelling subtext that threatens to come to the fore at any moment. The autobiographical nature of the material is betrayed by Camus's occasional use of real-life names for the characters; for instance, as when he calls Jacques's mother the ``Widow Camus.'' The profuse footnotes can make the reading slow going, but the novel is a vital example of the writer's craft, its pages filled with alluring passages depicting an exotic world so removed it feels like part of another century. Camus, who customarily revised his fiction up to a half dozen times, no doubt would have changed much, and perhaps the final version would have stressed the bitter class animus already in evidence (``Remembrance of things past is just for the rich''). It's likely that no amount of reworking, however, would have disguised the novel's most compelling aspect: the warmth and humanity of its author's spirit. BOMC and QPB selections (Sept.)

When Camus died in an automobile accident in 1960, a manuscript was found near him. It turned out to be the first chapters of his autobiographical novel. At that time, when the French Nobel laureate had fallen from the good graces of many leftist intellectuals, his family decided against publishing the unfinished draft. When his daughter finally published it in 1994 with little editing, it was widely acclaimed by French critics and media. The book covers the first 14 years of the life of Jacques Cormery, a.k.a. Albert Camus. First there is a "search for the father," the undercurrent of a boy's quest to fill a tragic vacuum created by his father's death when he is only a year old. The poverty and difficult circumstances in which he grows up in French Algeria make him feel like an outsider, even when he becomes an adult. Yet the memories of the child are filled with energy and physical intensity. The spontaneity of the narrative by an otherwise reserved writer makes this book a unique document for anyone interested in Camus. Essential for academic libraries and recommended for large collections.-Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y.

YA‘This autobiographical novel was found in the car wreckage that killed the author 34 years ago. Through it, today's teens are given a glimpse of Camus's Algerian childhood. In the story, the protagonist, Jacques Cormery, lives in a variety of concurrent worlds. His much-loved, deaf-mute mother and illiterate, tyrannical grandmother provide him with a secure, though poverty-stricken family life. The sea and countryside provide him with a rich, sensuous play life while the lycee challenges him intellectually. Jacques's thoughts and adventures are enriched by the vividly drawn settings‘the oppressive gray heat of summer, the feel of the sea and sun, the vision of crowded bodies on the trolley. YAs will find the story accessible and may be surprised at the universality of emotions expressed. Readers seeking a quiet guide through the deepest reaches of another spirit will gain further understanding of the human condition.‘Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA

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