Todd, Olivier 1929-
Todd, Olivier 1929-
PERSONAL: Born June 19, 1929, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; son of Julius Oblatt (an architect) and Dorothy (some sources say Helen; maiden name, Thompson) Todd; married Anne-Marie Nizan, 1948 (divorced); married France Huser (a journalist), 1982; children: (first marriage) Emmanuel, Camille; (with Chantal Charpentier) Samuel; (second marriage) Aurelia. Education: Attended the Sorbonne, Paris, France, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England. Hobbies and other interests: Walking.
ADDRESSES: Home—21 rue de l'Odeon, 75006 Paris, France; 8 rue du Pin, 83310 La Garde Freinet, France.
CAREER: Journalist and author. Lycee Int. de Shape, teacher, 1956–62; University of Saint-Cloud, university assistant, 1962–64; Nouvel Observateur, reporter, 1964–69, assistant editor 1970–77; British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), reporter, 1964–69; TV Programme Panorama, editor, 1969–70; L'Express, managing editor and columnist, until 1981.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Cazes, 1981.
Traversée de la Manche, roman (novel), Julliard (Paris, France), 1960.
Des trous dans le jardin, Julliard (Paris, France), 1969.
Annee du Crabe, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 1972, translation by Oliver Coburn published as Year of the Crab, A. Ellis (Henley-on-Thames, England), 1975.
Les Paumes, Union general d'editions (Paris, France), 1973.
Les Canards de Ca Mao, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 1975.
La Marelle de Giscard, 1926–1974, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 1977.
Un Fils Rebelle, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1981.
Un Cannibale Tres Convenable, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1982.
Une Legere Guele de Bois, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1982.
Jacques Brel: Une Vie, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 1984.
La Balade de Chaomeur, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1985.
Cruel Avril: 1975, La Chute de Saigon, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 1987, translation by Stephen Becker published as Cruel April: 1975, the Fall of Saigon, Norton (New York, NY), 1990, reprinted in French as La chute de Saigon: Cruel avril 1975, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 2005.
Tháng tden: 1975, cái chet cua Sài-gò, Tué Quyénh (Westminster, CA), 1988.
La Sangliere, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1992.
Corrigez-Moi Si Je Me Trompe, Nil Editions (Paris, France), 1998.
Malraux: A Life, translated by Joseph West, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Carte d'identités: Souvenirs, Plon (Paris, France), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, and Newsweek International.
SIDELIGHTS: Though Olivier Todd's books appear primarily in his native French, several of his works have been published in English, including his novel Annee du Crabe, translated by Oliver Coburn as Year of the Crab. The novel, which several critics viewed as semi-autobiographical, follows Ross, a man in his mid-forties on the verge of a breakdown, who has decided that his problems in life are a result of not knowing anything of his father. With his marriage in ruins, Ross decides to travel to the place of his father's childhood, Vienna. He embarks on a journey that takes him from Vienna, to London and finally to the United States. Discussing the main character of the novel, a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement wrote that the book contains "recurrent sensations of crabs gnawing at his vitals, the impossibility of satisfying relationships with either wife or mistress, the sudden urge to track down the father he has never seen and who is revealed to be a Jew: all this knots together into an anguish eventually demanding psychiatric treatment." Neil Hepburn in the Listener wrote that Todd does not make an effort to disguise the "true-confessional nature of his novel." Hepburn went on to note: "The recipro-cal stresses of a father-son meeting after forty-two years … are treated with a naive cursoriness, never generalised away from the intensely private use by Todd of his chosen figure as a kind of guilt-conductor for discharging his hang-ups." John Morgan, reviewing Year of the Crab for New Statesman, called Todd "the most celebrated, and deservedly, of European journalists. If he had done nothing but his work in Vietnam … he would have done enough." Of Chris-tophe's search for his father, Morgan wrote that "the author in turn relates this private quest to making sense of the Vietnam and Biafra wars which have been among his own means of self-revelation."
Todd's French-language works include his novel Les Canards de Ca Mao set in 1973 Vietnam after the signing of the Paris cease-fire. After the American troops left, fighting continued between the Saigon military and the Viet Cong, renamed the Provisional Revolutionary Government. In the novel, three journalists propose to travel to the Viet Cong zone "seeking answers to questions which no longer much interest their readers or editors," wrote David Leitch in the Times Literary Supplement. The trio successfully penetrate the area and, under pressure from the Viet Cong, spend two months crafting their stories and interviews to reflect the communist point of view. "There is something … puppetlike about the journalists, whose reality is secondary to the themes their reportorial quest enables Mr. Todd to examine—whether the Viet Cong are communists or nationalists, for instance," wrote Leitch. Leitch also commented that with this book, Todd "has explored most skillfully an apparently dead genre, the novel of political ideas and commitment." Leitch added: "It is an honest and convincing novel which illuminates a murky piece of history."
In La Marelle de Giscard Todd describes Giscard d'Estaing's ascent to the French presidency. A reviewer for the Economist called the book "both detailed and discursive," and said that "the final impression is of a certain opacity, due as much as anything else to the central figure."
Todd's Un Fils Rebelle was called "part eulogy and part parricide" by a contributor to the Economist. The book reveals that Todd's "surrogate father" was Jean-Paul Sartre (French novelist, playwright, and philosopher) whom Todd met when, in his teens, he married Anne-Marie Nizan. Paul Nizan, Anee-Marie's father, was a close friend of Sartre. Nizan, after his objection to the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 and his exit from the Communist Party, lost his life at Dunkirk. After Nizan's death, Sartre was named guardian of Nizan's two children. The relationship put Sartre "in the situation where he could act as the father-figure for whom Olivier Todd was then so urgently seeking," wrote Philip Thody in the Times Literary Supplement. Although close to Sartre, Todd did not share the writer's belief that "Communism would become progressively more liberal throughout the world," noted Thody, adding: "He sees the root cause of Sartre's political aberrations in the hatred which he felt for the French middle class." Thody also wrote that the book "presents a fascinating account of this adoptive family."
Jacques Brel: Une Vie is a biography of singer, songwriter, actor, and director Jacques Brel, who died in 1978. Jayne Abrate, in the French Review, called Todd's approach to his subject an "objectively documented style." Todd drew on "previously unpublished correspondence and interviews with family to paint a broader portrait of Brel's childhood and family," wrote Abrate. In the book Todd documents Brel's transition from actor to director. His appendices include unedited songs, a discussion of Brel's role in film, a bibliography, discography, filmography, and a chronology of songs. "In addition, the long list of acknowledgements indicates the depth and variety of his contacts," noted Abrate.
The English-language version of Todd's account of the final days of the Vietnam War, Cruel Avril: 1975, La Chute de Saigon, was published fifteen years after the war's end. Cruel April: 1975, the Fall of Saigon is a present-tense account of that conflict based on government documents, articles, books, and Todd's own personal experiences. Kenneth W. Berger commented in the Library Journal that, although other books have been written on the subject, "none provides the detail" of Todd's account. Berger called Cruel April a "skillful narrative." William Shawcross, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, called the book "important and provocative … a racy, episodic account of Saigon's fall—Todd admits that he may have fallen victim to 'the totalitarian temptation' during the war." Shawcross also noted that Todd said that he "had at any rate [campaigned] to establish a regime in Saigon that [he] condemned in Prague or Budapest."
Albert Camus: A Life is Todd's abridged English-language version of his biography of Camus, shortened to 434 pages from the 859 pages in the French edition. Edward Hughes wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Todd's "engaging and dense biography is one often bruised by collisions and tests of loyalty—in his private life, his journalism, his identification of causes." "It is the story of a man whose emotional and intellectual contradictions led to his exile from all of the communities to which he belonged because they failed to enlist him in their intractable positions," wrote Isabelle de Courtivron in the New York Times Book Review.
Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 of Alsatian and Spanish descent and grew up in the underclass. Camus's mother supported her two young sons by taking work as a domestic after Camus's father was killed in action in France when Camus was eight months old. Later, Camus would say, "I did not learn about liberty from Karl Marx. I learned it from being bone-poor." Camus studied philosophy, published a literary magazine, and operated a theater troupe called "The Team," taking the show to small towns that had never before known theater. "In journalism, Camus's gift for collegial activity was even more to the point," wrote a reviewer in the Economist. "He came of age at a time when Algerians were treated as inferiors, and almost as strangers, in their own country." Camus's best-selling novel The Stranger is based on his witness of an actual murder. A reviewer for the Economist commented: "It is to Mr. Todd's credit that, fifty-two years after the event, he tracked down the two surviving participants and got them to talk." The reviewer added that "there is something exceptional about Mr. Todd's achievement," noting that "it is in a very high class."
In Malraux: A Life, the author tells the life story of the adventurer and novelist André Malraux. Always adverse to steady work, Malraux in his early days was a schemer who lost his wife's fortune by investing in a Mexican mining endeavor. His many adventures included a trek to the Cambodian jungle, where he absconded with relics in hopes of selling them to collectors. He was caught and would have served time in prison except for intervention on his behalf by some prominent French writers. This adventure and others provided the basis for many of his novels. Malraux also suffered numerous tragedies in his life, including the deaths of his two children and his lover. Writing in the National Review, Algis Valiunan called Todd's biography of Malraux "fascinating." New Yorker contributor Judith Thurman wrote: "One could hardly call Malraux's life wretched or his fiction minor, but his latest biographer, Olivier Todd, … [focuses] on the pretenses, embroideries, and outright lies—the mythomania—that, in his view, compromise his subject's achievements."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Todd, Olivier, Cruel April: 1975, the Fall of Saigon, translated by Stephen Becker, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
Booklist, November 1, 1997, Bonnie Smothers, review of Albert Camus: A Life, p. 449.
Economist, October 29, 1977, review of La Marelle de Giscard, p. 123; November 21, 1981, review of Un Fils Rebelle, p. 111; April 27, 1996, review of Albert Camus, pp. 92-93.
French Review, March, 1986, Jayne Abrate, review of Jacques Brel: Une Vie, pp. 633-634; April, 1997, Konrad Bieber, review of Albert Camus, p. 741. Library Journal, August, 1990, Kenneth W. Berger, review of Cruel April, p. 124; November 15, 1997, David Lee Poremba, review of Albert Camus, p. 59.
Listener, June 5, 1975, Neil Hepburn, review of L'Anee du Crab, pp. 746-747.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 2, 1990, William Shawcross, review of Cruel April, p. 2.
National Review, July 4, 2005, Algis Valiunan, review of Malraux: A Life, p. 43.
New Statesman, May 9, 1975, John Morgan, review of Year of the Crab, pp. 629-630.
New York Review of Books, January 15, 1998, John Weightman, review of Albert Camus, pp. 26-29.
New York Times Book Review, December 14, 1997, Isabelle de Courtiviron, review of Albert Camus, p. 14.
New Yorker, May 2, 2005, Judith Thurman, review of Malraux, p. 098.
Publishers Weekly, October 20, 1997, review of Albert Camus, p. 60.
Times Literary Supplement, December 1, 1972, review of L'Anee du Crab, p. 1449; October 10, 1975, David Leitch, review of Les Canards de Ca Mao, p. 1172; May 15, 1981, Philip Thody, review of Un Fils Rebelle, p. 539; March 8, 1991, Richard West, review of Cruel April: 1975, the Fall of Saigon, p. 22; October 4, 1996, Edward Hughes, review of Albert Camus, p. 4.
World Literature Today, spring, 1997, Adele King, review of Albert Camus, p. 346.