This first English translation of a novel left uncompleted at the author's death is also the first edition to include all its partially inchoate, though consistently fascinating content. Martin du Gard (1881—1958) remains the least internationally appreciated of France's major modern novelists, despite the 1937 Nobel prize awarded chiefly in recognition of his great eight-volume saga, The World of the Thibaults (1922—40). Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort, which he worked on periodically for the last 18 years of his life, was an autumnal magnum opus: a large-scale portrayal of his country's transformations during and after WWI, as observed by its meditative protagonist and narrator, Maumort, a soldier, gentleman, and scholar. Maumort intuits from the new century's destructive momentum a human flaw he diagnoses as the futility of the individual conscience, which cannot prevent someone who wishes to do good from instead countenancing, and thus perpetuating, evil. The author's leisurely narrative encompasses exhaustive analyses of Maumort's privileged childhood relationships with his cousin Guy (a wonderful study in adolescent egoism) and their troubled tutor; a disillusioning love affair with an exotic older woman followed by a bitterly unhappy marriage; combat experiences in North Africa and Europe; and the old warrior's last days in retirement, as German armies once again march on his homeland. Maumort's memoirs are buttressed (and interestingly qualified) by his letters to a beloved friend and by a concluding gathering of random reflections and aphorisms on various subjects that evoke Pascal's PensÇes and perhaps even Montaigne's essays as precedents. This is a novel that demands intense, perhaps repeated reading. Yet its doggedly heroic presentation of a tortured mind and soul hell-bent on understanding itself adds up, eventually, to a reading experience like no other. Martin du Gard's great admirer Albert Camus called the older novelist "our perpetual contemporary." This unfinished symphony of self-exploration is both close kin to its acknowledged models, Tolstoy and Proust, and a work of startling originality and innovation.
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