Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | May 3, 2013

List of Book Reviews

Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel, portrait en buste, posé au bureau, faisant face à gauche, cigarette de tabagisme

1. George Scialabba reviews Albert Camus’s Algerian Chronicles, which Arthur Goldhammer has recently translated into English. Writes Scialabba:

Algerian Chronicles spans two decades. In 1939, when Camus was a young journalist in Algeria—where he was born in 1913, to impoverished and barely literate working-class parents—a severe drought struck the region of Kabylia. Camus traveled there to report on it, and was horrified. He wrote a series of vivid and powerful dispatches, with which Algerian Chronicles begins.

Algeria…always dominated his literary imagination—The Stranger, The Plague, Exile and the Kingdom, and The First Man are all set there—and haunted him politically as well. (To an Algerian militant, an old friend, he wrote after one of the innumerable atrocities by both sides: “Believe me when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment, as others feel pain in their lungs.”) During the Nazi occupation of France, he became the editor of Combat, the newspaper of the French Resistance, where his (anonymous) wartime writing was widely acclaimed. In 1945, with France newly liberated and political renewal in the air, Camus traveled for three weeks to Algeria and published a series of essays in Combat calling for a new relationship between France and her colony.

After the Algerian War began in 1954, and quickly evolved into one of the most brutal guerilla and terrorist wars of the 20th Century, Camus became “distraught” by the “indiscriminate violence” that was wracking his beloved Algeria. “In a series of essays published in late 1955 and early 1956 (also reprinted here), he denounced the large-scale use of torture by the French Army and of terror by the FLN. In January 1956, he traveled to Algiers to give a speech. With a mob of pieds-noirs outside howling for his scalp, barely restrained by almost equally disapproving armed guards from the FLN, which had guaranteed his safety, he delivered an eloquent plea for a civilian truce, a promise from both sides not to attack civilians. It was perhaps his finest moment politically. But the men with the guns, on both sides, ignored him.”

Scialabba notes that Camus “intervened privately on nearly 150 occasions to urge clemency for political prisoners.” This volume also includes some of the author’s correspondence and a selection of his letters to newspapers and journals. (H/T to Morgan Meis at 3 Quarks Daily.)

2. Niamh Hardiman (University College Dublin) at Crooked Timber reviews Strumpet City, by James Plunkett, a novel that follows the lives of several characters caught up in historical events and developments in Dublin between 1907 and 1914. Writes Dr. Hardiman: “It’s a novel that ranges right across the social spectrum, bringing characters from widely different backgrounds to life most vividly. Dublin had the most appalling tenements in Europe at that time – 30% of the population lived in the slums – with very little industry to speak of, and a lot of casual employment in transportation industries. There’s terrific anger behind the novel, and you’re never in doubt over the culpability of the slum landlords, the hard-heartedness of the key employers, or the smugness of some of the clergy. But the book is considerably more subtle than this might suggest, and there are counterbalancing characters in every context, with differences in interests and outlook as well as in temperament and character.”

3. Monica reviews If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. From the review: “The storyline is good and realistic, and the writing style is good for YA novel. However, most of the scenes are just too depressing.”

4. John Gray in the New York Review of Books reviews Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, by Jonathan Sperbe. Writes Gray:

Situating Marx fully in the nineteenth century for the first time, Sperber’s new life is likely to be definitive for many years to come. Written in prose that is lucid and graceful, the book is packed with biographical insights and memorable vignettes, skillfully woven together with a convincing picture of nineteenth-century Europe and probing commentary on Marx’s ideas. Marx’s relations with his parents and his Jewish heritage, his student years, his seven-year courtship and marriage to the daughter of a not very successful Prussian government official, and the long life of genteel poverty and bohemian disorder that ensued are vividly portrayed.

Also:

The renewed popularity of Marx is an accident of history. If World War I had not occurred and caused the collapse of tsarism, if the Whites had prevailed in the Russian Civil War as Lenin at times feared they would and the Bolshevik leader had not been able to seize and retain his hold on power, or if any one of innumerable events had not happened as they did, Marx would now be a name most educated people struggled to remember. As it is we are left with Marx’s errors and confusions. Marx understood the anarchic vitality of capitalism earlier and better than probably anyone else. But the vision of the future he imbibed from positivism, and shared with the other Victorian prophet he faces in Highgate Cemetery, in which industrial societies stand on the brink of a scientific civilization in which the religions and conflicts of the past will fade way, is rationally groundless—a myth that, like the idea that Marx wanted to dedicate his major work to Darwin, has been exploded many times but seems to be ineradicable.

Note: for those who do not know (and I did not know until after I read this review), Marx’s grave in London’s Highgate Cemetery is opposite that of Herbert Spencer. (H/T to Morgan Meis at 3 Quarks Daily.)

5. Anderson reviews a number of books, including The Late Lord Byron, by Doris Langley Moore (“just a ridiculously enjoyable biography, 500 pages of close-set type that I read straight through over 4 days”), and Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroeder, and the Building of the German Empire, by Fritz Stern.

Image Credit: Photo of Albert Camus, 1957, from the New York World-Telegram & Sun, donated to the Library of Congress and dedicated to the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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