33. Man's Fate: Andre Malraux

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33. Man's Fate: Andre Malraux

Post  Patguy on Sat Dec 19, 2009 1:01 am

“‘One can fool life for a long time, but in the end it always makes us what we were intended to be. Every old man is a confession, believe me, and if old age is usually so empty it is because the men were themselves empty and had managed to conceal it.’”

The famous novel by Gallic bon vivant Malraux (in French: La Condition Humaine), telling the story of the successful 1927 Communist uprising in Shanghai, and its subsequent betrayal by its allies in Chiang Kai-Shek’s Koumintang. Along the way we also get some very French musings on love, sex, and ennui.

The political insights of this novel are very astute and, from what I can tell, accurate historically. But Haakon M. Chevalier’s translation (I believe the only English translation) is a terrible slog. I don’t read French, so I can’t speak with any authority on the original text, but I gather it’s supposed to read pretty smoothly, with a thriller-novel pace. This version, by contrast, is deadly slow and, especially during the subtle backroom political dealings that reassert Western capitalist power after the revolution, almost impenetrable. I’ve read it some passages several times, but I’m still not sure what happened on page 329. What would in other circumstances have been, I think, a terrific read, was tanked by the translation.

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