A compelling companion to a novel that has stayed strange.

LOOKING FOR THE STRANGER

ALBERT CAMUS AND THE LIFE OF A LITERARY CLASSIC

The fascinating story behind Albert Camus’ coldblooded masterpiece.

Ever since its 1942 publication, The Stranger has been a murder mystery in more ways than one: we know whodunit, we just don’t know why. The narrator, Meursault, is a killer without a motive; after the unprovoked shooting of an Arab, he goes to trial offering neither remorse nor defense and awaits execution in a jail cell consoled only by his bull-headed refusal to play his designated role. In this swiftly told, deeply researched literary investigation, Kaplan (Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, 2012, etc.) pieces together the creation of the novel, its connection to colonialism, and how it has been interpreted ever since. The plot evolved from both notebook jottings (“Story: the man who doesn’t want to justify himself”) and events Camus witnessed as a reporter in Nazi-occupied Algeria; the spare, simple style was the result of years of painstaking rewriting. The first critics noted traces of James M. Cain and Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre saw, or imagined, only the influence of himself and wrote a critique that turned The Stranger into the book that introduced existentialism to the West. (Camus, for his part, thought the book “anti-existentialist.”) Kaplan can be overly effusive at times—it overstates the case to say the novel “would change the history of modern literature”—but she assembles the facts with astute narrative skill. She is driven by the novel’s many abiding puzzles: who or what does Meursault represent? Is he a man who finds his own solipsistic integrity in the face of an irrational universe, or is he just a callous sociopath? While she doesn’t offer any final interpretation, her detective work deepens the understanding of a work whose power resides as much in what it doesn’t say as what it does.

A compelling companion to a novel that has stayed strange.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-226-24167-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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