ANDR¸ MALRAUX: A Biography by Curtis Cate

ANDR¸ MALRAUX: A Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A highly readable biography that endeavors to correct, but not erase, the image of Malraux as a heroic, committed activist/intellectual. Malraux's youthful ""archaeological"" expedition to Cambodia, his anticolonial activities in Vietnam and China, his service with the Republican Air Force during the Spanish Civil War, his acclaimed novels, his underground activities for the French Resistance, and his postwar political career as de Gaulle's minister of culture--all would seem to suggest a uniquely romantic and large-scale life. Cate, to his credit, tries not to swallow unreservedly the conventional version promulgated by Malraux and his friends. For instance, the 22-year-old Malraux's expedition to Cambodia was largely, it turns out, an attempt to loot temple statuary. Cate (George Sand, 1975, etc.) gives a detailed, colorful, and slightly skeptical account of the unscrupulous venture. This episode might seem an unusual prelude to the anticolonial journalism Malraux began writing soon after, or to his radical fictionalization of the 1925 Cantonese insurrection in The Conquerors. But as Cate shows, such about-faces were a part of Malraux's character: His need for danger, risk, and adventure mingled with his desire to champion causes and to live life on a heroic scale. Cate's reading of Malraux's character seems persuasive when applied to many of his labors, including his efforts on behalf of the French Communist Party and his activities during the Spanish Civil War. His account of Malraux's life in the Resistance, working for both British intelligence and the French maquis, is the book's high point, providing fresh details and a thrilling narrative. The biography levels off afterward, but so did Malraux's political and intellectual drive, though his personality remained enthralling and enigmatic right up to his death in 1976. The real Malraux remains inextricably tied up with the legend, and somewhat obscured by it. Cate provides a rich account of both.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Fromm