‘The idea of more contact with those interfering cops and stinking detectives; of having to provide work papers going back twenty-five years and rent bills from every shelter I ever slept in . . . Oh, with that thought I’d rather end my days gloriously stateless.’ So Jean Malaquais wrote to André Gide in 1949, as he faced the prospect of putting in another application for the French passport that had always eluded him. The Polish-born writer had spent over two decades in the country at this point, had served in its army and built a literary reputation, but he would never be welcome there, nor would the keepers of the canon ever find a place for his three novels, Les Javanais (1939), Planète sans visa (1947) and Le Gaffeur (1953). Malaquais remained the original javanais of his first novel, a man who went wherever the work was, carrying the richest fictions in his mind and expressing them in a unique prose. His slender but attractively strange and special oeuvre has finally become more accessible indirectly, in the very clearly written, well-documented and engaging Malaquais rebelle, the first biography of the author, by French scholar Geneviève Nakach. She paints the portrait of a man whose first thirty years were so tumultuous it is not surprising his last sixty were spent slowing down.
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