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LITERATURE

Google honours French icon Camus 100 years on

Google is honouring one of France’s literary giants Albert Camus with a special 'Doodle’ dedicated to the 20th century writer and philosopher, who would have turned 100 on Thursday.

Google honours French icon Camus 100 years on
The Google Doodle dedicated to the writer and philosopher. Screengrab: www.google.fr

Albert Camus, the writer who is best known internationally for his philosophical novel L’Etranger is being celebrated with a special Google Doodle to mark a century since his birth. 

In the specially-designed image, which appeared on the search engine's French homepage on Thursday, the central ‘o’ of Google represents the rock in Camus’ acclaimed 1942 philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus.

Born on November 7th 1913, exactly 100 years ago to a modest family in Algeria, Camus was an unlikely candidate to become one of the giants of 20th century literature.

His mother was illiterate and partially deaf. His father, a farm worker, perished in one of the first major battles of World War I while Camus was still a babe in arms. 

Yet, by the age of 44 he was collecting the Nobel Prize for literature, an award he dedicated to the memory of the primary school teacher who had nourished his fledgling intellect with daily extra lessons and persuaded his reluctant family to allow him to take the exams that would open the doors to higher education.

SEE ALSO: The 10 best books about France

Camus made the most of the chance accorded him. After studying at the University of Algiers he moved to Paris during the dark days of Nazi occupation and embarked on a writing career as the main editorialist for Combat, an underground Resistance newspaper.

With his sharp cheekbones, turned-up collars and a Gauloise invariably dangling from his lip, Camus was one of the faces of the post-war Left Bank in Paris, his trademark look memorably captured in a Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph that is a defining image of that time.

His philosophical writings, which echoed some of the themes explored in his fiction — the absurdity of the human condition and the necessity of rebelling against it — were frequently savaged by contemporary critics.

Translated into English as either the The Stranger or The Outsider, Camus’ novel L’Etranger has been published in more than 40 languages and has sold more than eight million copies, a remarkable achievement for what is a complex, morally ambiguous tale set in a racially divided, colonial world few people would now recognize.

Just three years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Camus died in a car accident in 1960 aged 46.

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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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