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HISTORY

Camus ‘was killed in Soviet plot’

Famous French author Albert Camus, who died in a car accident in 1960, may have been the victim of a Soviet plot new research suggests.

Camus 'was killed in Soviet plot'

Italian academic Giovanni Catelli, an eastern European specialist, put forward the theory in the pages of the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera.

On Monday it was greeted with scepticism among other experts.

He noted that a passage in a diary written by Czech poet Jan Zabrana, published as a book, was absent from the Italian translation.

According to Catelli the missing paragraph concerns a meeting between Zabrana and and a Russian KGB contact.

“I heard something very strange from a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources,” Zabrana writes in the unexpurgated version.

“He said the road accident that cost Albert Camus his life in 1960 was organised by Soviet spies. They damaged a tyre on the car using a piece of equipment that blew out the tyre at a certain speed.”

Camus died at the age of 46 when travelling on an icy road in the car of his publisher Michel Gallimard which ploughed into a tree.

Catelli wrote that the order to kill Camus came directly from the then Soviet foreign minister Dmitri Shepilov, angered by an article published in a French magazine in 1957 in which Camus held him responsible for Moscow’s decision to send in troops to crush the Hungarian uprising the previous year.

The James Bond-style scenario did not convince French philosopher Michel Onfray, who is working on a biography of the French literary great.

“I don’t think that is plausible. The KGB had other ways to finish off Albert Camus,” he told AFP.

He pointed out that Camus at the time of his death had a return ticket from his home in Provence to Paris where he was intending to spend the Christmas holidays with his family.

Only at the last minute did he agree to take a lift from his friend Gallimard, adding that the publisher’s powerful Facel Vega car was not particularly good at holding the road.

Vojtech Ripka, at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Prague, was also highly sceptical of Catelli’s version of events, adding that in any case the claims would be impossible to verify given the tight hold Russia keeps on information about the old Communist secret police.

HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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