ALBERT CAMUS by Olivier Todd


A Life
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 In this penetrating biography, Todd, a French journalist and author, clarifies the greatness of the Nobel Prizewinning author while also pointing out toes of clay. Born into poverty in Algeria, Camus managed, under the tutelage of two dedicated teachers, to educate himself and become one of the leading moral voices of this century. Todd's account traces the development of Camus's mature thought during his editorship of the Resistance paper Combat during WW II and after, in the battles over ``purifying'' the country of Nazi collaborators (``We will maintain freedom, even if it profits those who fought against it,'' he said, opposing summary justice). Todd conveys both Camus's intense appetite for life, his sensuality and vitality--for playing soccer, for the air and sea of his beloved Algeria--his confidence and also his self-doubt, his feeling of entrapment in his marriage and the consequent inability to remain faithful to his devoted but needy wife, Francine. Todd sagely attributes this to the need ``to fight a certain vertigo made up of fear and illness and death''--he suffered from serious, recurrent bouts of tuberculosis. The genesis of his great works, from The Stranger to the unfinished novel, The First Man, the evolution of his ideas on absurdity, revolt, and freedom, are ably explored, as are Camus's often lonely positions among the French intellegentsia--never an ideologue, he was against Stalinist totalitarianism, against Arab terrorism in the struggle for Algerian independence. Todd's writing (or perhaps just its translation) is not notably graceful, and he can be evenhanded almost to a fault in his portrait of Camus; one wishes for a little less dispassion in his concluding remarks on the writer's lasting significance. (Knopf, however, has set a very bad precedent for serious nonfiction by omitting the end notes, which appeared in the French version, from this edition.) Still, this is a satisfying portrait of a man whose ideas on freedom, nationalism, and violence are as necessary today as they were half a century ago.

Pub Date: Dec. 12th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-42855-0
Page count: 468pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997


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