With cool empathy and industrious detail, Lacouture sets forth a life about which--he explains--Malraux himself has...



With cool empathy and industrious detail, Lacouture sets forth a life about which--he explains--Malraux himself has generally been silent, evasive or untruthful. The essential problem was summarized by Heidegger: an existentialist needs concrete, external commitments but has no moral basis for choosing them. Thus, Lacouture shows, Malraux was not simply a rebel who later devoted himself to order; both tendencies persisted simultaneously. As a young writer, Malraux was drawn both to the anarchist Action and the ultra-right Action Francaise. After he and his wife failed to smuggle temple ruins out of Cambodia for the art market, he set up a seminationalist newspaper in Vietnam--but never saw the Chinese insurgency, much less fought with it, despite the impression he allowed his books to create. He did go to Spain--in a Lanvin uniform, to command a bomber squadron, though he couldn't fly. Lacouture's material on the Resistance period is most striking: Malraux, despite his ""Red"" past, lived unmolested in his villa even after the Nazi occupation of the Vichy Zone. According to Lacouture, when he did join the Resistance, he acted as an American delegate against both the Gaullists and the Communists in the Dordogne. After the war his participation in the Gaullist movement took place on the explicit basis of pro-Americanism and anti-Communism. Lacouture suggests that as a minister under the Fifth Republic, Malraux did not simply provide a cultural cover for Algerian atrocities, but also quietly tried to save certain Algerian nationalists from torture; however, Lacouture suggests that his ""cultural"" achievements were slight at this juncture. Malraux's writings--except for some notable juvenilia--are evaluated briefly and sharply in terms of his divided political consciousness; Lacouture emphasizes among other things that the Far East novels have only a few non-Western characters, and those are terrorists rather than revolutionaries. The rest are ""anti-heroes""--and the biography gives new life and lucidity to that notion as a final tag for Malraux himself.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 1975


Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1975