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André Malraux

André Malraux

French writer and politician André Malraux (1901-1976) was generally regarded as one of the most distinguished novelists of the 20th century. Malraux holds the distinction of having been France's first minister of culture, serving from 1959-69. In addition, his wartime activities and adventures were legendary and well-documented. Malraux was a Communist supporter until World War II, and principal themes in his writing were revolution and its philosophical implications. He was an existentialist, believing that man determines his own fate by the choices he makes.

The novels of André Malraux depart sharply from the traditional form, with their middle-class settings, careful plot development and concentration on psychological analysis. His heroes and protagonists are adventurers determined to "leave a scar on the map," and violent action, usually in a revolutionary setting, is mixed with punctuated dialogue and passages containing philosophical reflection.

Malraux was born in Paris on Nov. 3, 1901, the son of a wealthy banker, and was educated in Paris. He attended the Lycée Condorcet and the School of Oriental Languages and would eventually develop a serious interest in China. Malraux began to move on the fringes of the surrealist movement, publishing criticism and poems. He married Clara Goldschmidt in 1921, and in 1923 the couple set off for Indochina (a former French colony consisting of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) to search for buried temples. (see Walter Langlois, André Malraux: the Indochina Adventure, 1966). After removing sculpture from the temples, Malraux and his wife were arrested by the French authorities and narrowly avoided prison (the story of Clara and André Malraux's Indochina adventures is also told in Silk Roads: the Asian Adventures of Clara and André Malraux, 1989).

It was during this period that Malraux, now hostile to the French colonial regime, came into contact with Vietnamese and Chinese Nationalists, many with Communist sympathies. He became a supporter of the international Communist movement, and during a stay in Saigon he organized a subversive newspaper.

Malraux's first novel, Les Conquérants (The Conquerors), was published in 1928. Set in Canton in 1925, it deals with the attempts of Chinese Nationalists and their Communist advisers to destroy imperialist influence and economic domination. The hero of the book provides a vigorously drawn portrait of the professional revolutionary. Malraux lamented the potential influences of Western culture, using China as an example, with The Temptation of the West (1926). In this work, the character of Ling says that many Chinese thought they could retain their cultural identities after being exposed to European influence and technology. Instead, that influence results in the "disintegrating soul" of China, a country newly "seduced" by music and movies.

Malraux's next novel, La Voie Royale (The Royal Way, 1930), was less successful; it had an autobiographical basis in the search for buried treasures, but treated the search as a kind of metaphysical adventure.

In 1933 appeared Malraux's most celebrated novel, La Condition humaine (Man's Estate, Man's Fate). Set in Shanghai, the novel describes the 1927 Communist uprising there, its initial success and ultimate failure. The novel continues to illustrate Malraux's favorite theme: that all men will attempt to escape, or to transcend, the human condition and that revolutionary action is one way of accomplishing this. In the end there is failure, but man attains dignity in making the attempt and by his very failure achieves tragic greatness.

Malraux's next novel, Days of Wrath (1936), a short account of a German Communist's imprisonment by the Nazis, was poorly received, considered more propaganda than art. But after Malraux assisted the Republican forces by organizing an air corps during the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1937, his inspiration was renewed. He then published L'Espoir (Man's Hope, 1938). In this book, the Republican forces gradually organize to meet the Fascist threat, and the novel ends at a point where the "hope" of the title might have been realized.

Following the Soviet Union's signing of a nonaggression pact with Germany, Malraux broke with the Communist cause. He was captured twice while fighting with the French army and underground resistance movement, but he escaped and would become a military leader. In 1943 he published his last novel, Les Noyers de l'Altenburg (The Walnut Trees of Altenburg).

The feel of this book is very different from that of Malraux's earlier novels. The narrator, captured by the Germans in 1940, reflects on his father's experiences before and during World War I—as an agent in central Asia, at a meeting of intellectuals in Germany, and while fighting on the Russian front. Malraux explores the fundamental problem of whether men are essentially the same in different epochs and different civilizations. Intellectually the answer seems to be negative, but emotionally it is positive, and human solidarity is maintained. Political action is seen as an illusion, and the traditional values of European humanism are affirmed.

Following the liberation of France in 1944, Malraux served in the reconstituted army as a colonel, and would later work to subvert the French Communist party. He was a supporter of General Charles de Gaulle. He and de Gaulle became friends and, as president of France, de Gaulle appointed Malraux to the position of minister of information—a job Malraux held from 1945-46. After leaving the post, he remained a de Gaulle intimate and one of the leading members of the Gaullist political movement. He contributed to The Case for de Gaulle; a Dialogue between André Malraux and James Burnham.

Beset by marital tensions, Andréand Clara Malraux divorced in January, 1946. Two years later, Malraux married his sister-in-law.

In the years that followed, Malraux wrote mainly on the subject of art. One highly philosophical volume on this subject was The Psychology of Art (1950), in which Malraux writes of an "imaginary museum"—a "museum without walls"—in which objects of art are important for their own intrinsic value rather than for their collective underlying meanings (see also André Malraux, Museum Without Walls 1967).

In Les Voix du silence (The Voices of Silence, 1951), Malraux develops the idea that in the modern world, where religion is of little importance, art has taken its place as man's triumphant response to his ultimate destiny and his means of transcending death. Also on the subject of art, Malraux penned "Saturn: an Essay on (Francisco de) Goya" (1957, translated by C.W. Chilton). Malraux also wrote Picasso's Mask (1976).

In 1958, after de Gaulle's return to power, Malraux became minister of cultural affairs—where he remained until de Gaulle's resignation in 1969. In 1967 he published the first volume of his Antimémoires (Antimemoirs). These were not memoirs of the usual type, failing to mention the accidental deaths of his two sons and the murder of his half-brother by the Nazis. Instead, they contained reflections on various aspects of his experiences and adventures.

Malraux paid two visits to the White House; in 1972, he conferred with President Richard Nixon prior to Nixon's visit to China. That same year he also suffered a near-fatal heart attack.

Malraux died in Paris on Nov. 23, 1976. Exactly 20 years later, his ashes were moved to the Pantheon necropolis in Paris. His namesake, the André Malraux Cultural Center, is in Chambéry (France).

Further Reading

Biographies of Malraux include: Robert Payne, André Malraux (Buchet/Chastel, 1973); Jean Lacouture, André Malraux (Pantheon Books, 1975); Martine de Courcel, ed., Malraux: Life and Work (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976); Axel Madsen, Malraux: a Biography (Morrow, 1976); James Robert Hewitt, André Malraux (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1978); Jacques B.E.B. Bonhomme, André Malraux, ou, Le Conformiste (R. Deforges, 1986); and Curtis Gate, André Malraux: a Biography (Hutchinson, 1995; reviewed in New York Review of Books, May 29, 1997).

Other studies of Malraux's work include the following: Ralph Tarica, Imagery in the Novels of André Malraux (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980); Will Morrisey, Reflections on Malraux: Cultural Founding in Modernity (University Press of America, 1986); David Bevan, André Malraux, Toward the Expression of Transcendence (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986); Claude Tannery, Malraux: the Absolute Agnostic, or, Metamorphosis as Universal Law (University of Chicago Press, 1991); John Beals Romeiser, André Malraux: a Reference Guide (Maxwell MacMillan International, 1994); Domnica Radulescu, André Malraux: the "Farfelu" as Expression of the Feminine and the Erotic (P. Lang, 1994); Gino Raymond, André Malraux: Politics and the Temptation of Myth (Ashgate, 1995); and Geoffrey T. Harris André Malraux: a Reassessment (St. Martin's Press, 1996).

Malraux is discussed in the following articles: J. Semprun, "Memoirs of the Spanish War and André Malraux" Nouvelle Revue Francaise (Nov. 1996); T. Fabre, "André Malraux: Portrait of the Adventurer in the Mirror" Esprit (Dec. 1996); Herman Lebovics, "Malraux's Mission" The Wilson Quarterly (Winter 1997); and G. Harris, "The Self Invention of André Malraux" Times Literary Supplement (May 23, 1997). □

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Malraux, André

André Malraux (äNdrā´ mälrō´), 1901–76, French man of letters and political figure. An intellectual with a broad knowledge of archaeology, art history, and anthropology, Malraux led a remarkably adventurous life. He traveled to Indochina looking for Khmer statuary and later visited such locales as Russia, Persia, Afghanistan, Burma, Malaysia, and the United States. He witnessed the struggle in China (1927) between the Communists and Nationalists, described in his novel The Conquerors (1928), helped to organize the Republican air force and commanded a squadron of volunteers in the Spanish civil war, and was a founder of the World League against Anti-Semitism. A French tank commander during World War II, he was captured by the Germans but escaped and became a resistance leader. Malraux served (1945, 1958) as minister of information under Charles de Gaulle. An enthusiastic adherent of de Gaulle, Malraux was later (1959–68) his minister of cultural affairs; as such he was largely responsible for the restoration of many Parisian landmarks, the establishment of the Orchestre de Paris, the funding of various literary works, and the creation of regional art centers. His writings on de Gaulle include Fallen Oaks (1971, tr. 1972).

Malraux's outstanding social novels, which reflect the tumult of his time, include La Condition humaine (1933; tr. Man's Fate, 1934), concerning the Shanghai uprisings, and L'Espoir (1938; tr. Man's Hope, 1938), set in Spain during the civil war. Amid violence and political chaos, his heroes struggle to maintain their dignity and humanity. Among his writings on art and civilization are Les Voix du silence (1951; tr. The Voices of Silence, 1953); The Metamorphosis of the Gods (tr. 1960), drawn from several of his works, including Le Musée imaginaire de la sculpture mondiale (3 vol., 1953–54); and Le Triangle noir (1970), studies of Goya, Laclos, and Saint-Just. In these works Malraux portrays art as an outgrowth of past art rather than a reaction to contemporary stimuli.

See his Anti-memoirs (1967, tr. 1968); memoir by C. Malraux (1967); biographies by R. Payne (1970), P. Galante (1971), J. Lacouture (1973, tr. 1976), C. Cate (1997), and O. Todd (2001, tr. 2005); studies by V. M. Horvath (1969), T. J. Kline (1973), W. M. Frohock (1974), H. Bloom, ed. (1988), G. T. Harris (1996), and J. F. Lyotard (2001).

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Malraux, André

Malraux, André (1901–76) French novelist and politician. He witnessed (1925–27) the Communist uprising in China, and fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and the French resistance in World War II. Malraux was a loyal supporter of Charles De Gaulle and served (1959–69) as minister of cultural affairs. He is celebrated chiefly for his novels La Condition humaine (1933) and L'Espoir (1937).

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Malraux, André

André Malraux

BORN: 1901, Paris, France

DIED: 1976, Créteil, France

NATIONALITY: French

GENRE: Fiction, nonfiction, criticism

MAJOR WORKS:
The Conquerors (1928)
The Royal Way (1930)
Man's Fate (1934)
Anti-Memoirs (1967)

Overview

Well known as a novelist, art critic, political revolutionary, and statesman, André Malraux is a prominent figure in the development of twentieth-century thought. He is considered by many a prototype for the existentialist thought of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In his many works, Malraux portrays the human condition—“la condition humaine”—as a tragic state characterized by alienation and absurdity resulting from Western

civilization's loss of faith in God. His fiction is distinguished by frequent incidents of violence and rapidly paced plots that are governed by the force of ideas rather than events. His nonfiction is characterized by its tendency to be fictional.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Flirtations with Surrealism and with Orientalism Malraux was born in the Montmartre district of Paris and raised in a nearby suburb. An avid reader, he turned his love of books into employment as a broker for a rare-book dealer, and he later edited a series of luxury editions of classical literary works. During the early 1920s, Malraux contributed literary criticism to avant-garde magazines and enhanced his appreciation of art by touring the museums and galleries of Paris. His first works of fiction, Lunes en papier (1921), illustrated by Cubist painter Fernand Leger, and Royaume farfelu (1928), demonstrate the influence of surrealism and constitute Malraux's only experimentation with fantasy literature.

In 1921, Malraux met and married Clara Gold-schmidt, the daughter of a wealthy Franco-German family, who shared his love of art, literature, and film. Their archaeological expedition to French Indochina—now known as Vietnam and Cambodia—in 1923 proved a turning point in Malraux's life and work. While attempting to steal an invaluable sculpture from the ruins of a Khmer temple in Cambodia, Malraux was arrested and imprisoned by colonial authorities. He called on literary friends in Paris for support, and found it in spades. A flood of petitions got Malraux off the hook, and the whole experience, suggests biographer Olivier Todd, left him somewhat socially obligated to found L'Indochine, an anticolonial newspaper headquartered in present-day Vietnam. After the paper's closing in 1926, Malraux continued to protest colonialism in numerous articles and essays. His first major work of fiction, The Temptation of the West, was illuminated in part by these Asian adventures and explores Eastern and Western conceptions of existence. This work focuses on the theme of modern Western civilization's obsession with the individual, an issue that Malraux addressed throughout his career.

Revolution in China In 1925, while working for L'Indochine, Malraux reported on the nationalist uprisings in China, events that provided the basis for The Conquerors, his first full-length novel. Relayed through brief scenes that emphasize the chaos of revolution, this work marks the first appearance of Malraux's “new man,” an individual aware of the absurdity of existence who combines, in Malraux's words, “a talent for action, culture and lucidity.”

Malraux's third and most highly acclaimed novel, Man's Fate, won the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary award. In this work, Malraux returns to the settings and events of the Chinese revolution featured in The Conquerors to dramatize humanity's unmitigated solitude and the impossibility of finding permanent meaning.

Communism and Brotherhood With the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s, Malraux's political stance became explicitly communist. He viewed communism as a more powerful opposition to fascism than capitalism because it avoided capitalism's preoccupation with the self, an obsession Malraux had decried as early as The Temptation of the West. Critics interpret Malraux's next two novels, Days of Wrath and Man's Hope, as fundamentally propagandistic. Days of Wrath, an early literary exposé of Nazi atrocities, affirms the values of collectivism over individualism and demonstrates that “brotherhood” can furnish humanity with transcendent meaning. In 1936, along with many other leftist writers and artists, Malraux became involved in the Spanish civil war—first as a delegate from an international antifascist group, then as a procurer of arms and aircraft for the Spanish Republican army, and finally as the leader of an international air squadron. Man's Hope utilizes these experiences to illustrate Malraux's belief in the power of fraternity and to demonstrate his opposition to war.

World War II, Resistance, and Public Service Malraux enlisted in the French tank corps in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. In 1940 he was captured by the Germans, but five months later he escaped to the French free zone, where, before joining the Resistance in 1942, he wrote his last novel, The Walnut Trees of Altenburg. Through the memories of a prisoner of the Nazis, this work investigates humanity's attempts to deny its impermanence. The Walnut Trees of Altenburg offers reconciliation with a hostile universe through imagery associated with permanence and stability. After World War II, Malraux twice served in the government of President Charles De Gaulle, first as minister of information and then as minister of cultural affairs. In 1969, he retired from civil service and devoted himself to writing and revising his multivolume autobiography and continued this work until his death in 1976.

Works in Literary Context

Malraux's work is best seen as an early example of what came to be known as French Existentialism. This philosophical position is most associated with French philosophers and novelists Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus. These thinkers felt that life is in some ways “absurd,” because it contains no intrinsic meaning, leaving the individual fully responsible for the meaning of his or her life. Whereas Camus in particular explored the difficulty of knowing how to act in the face of the realization of the absurdity of life—and consequently wrote protagonists who are afflicted with a kind of existential paralysis—Malraux's protagonists are characterized by their action and their attempts to attain brotherhood despite its ultimate meaninglessness. In the face of the dissolution of meaning, Malraux offers the concepts of “fraternité virile,” or a life-giving brotherhood, and metamorphosis, both precursors to Sartrean thought on inter-subjectivity and the absolute freedom of human choice.

Existentialism Malraux sees humankind as existing in a state of alienation caused by a loss of faith—which he terms “la condition humaine,” or the human condition—and the awareness of the absurdity of a human existence lacking order and meaning. As he put it himself, “The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random among the profusion of the earth and the galaxies, but that in this prison we can fashion images sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.”

One gets a good sense of Malraux's existentialism in his third novel, The Royal Way. This novel illuminates Malraux's belief that death is not only a physical state, but also a metaphysical circumstance characterized by ignorance of the human condition and an unthinking acceptance of bourgeois values. Unlike existentialist protagonists in the works of Camus, characters who agonize over the possibility of meaningful action, however, Malraux's characters are impelled to act by their awareness of the abyss. Additionally, the disciple/mentor relationship between the two main characters is an early example of male bonding that Malraux eventually highlights in his fiction as a source of transcendent value in the form of brotherhood. Malraux's version of existentialism affirms the absurdity of death and the meaninglessness of life, but Malraux shows that this meaninglessness is not to be met solely with despair over the plight of humankind. Instead, in a conclusion much like that reached by Sartre in his focus on intersubjectivité, he offers the possibility that the lack of permanence—the fact that human beings die—necessitates that human beings act, build friendships, and love. In other words, Malraux says that since life is intrinsically meaningless, one must supply it with meaning through one's actions and friendships. The person who does this, Malraux deems the “new man.”

Although existentialism has its roots in thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche—all of whom died before Malraux was born—the French representation of the philosophy is quite different from its predecessors, mostly because of the historical context in which it arose. There is, in short, a sharper edge to the writings of the French existentialists. Unlike the early existentialists, French existentialists like Malraux and Sartre in particular developed their ideas in the face of World War II, and their presentation of the questions of meaning, life, death, and action found resonance in the world at large, suffering as it was from the holocaustal logic imposed by the Nazis—and accepted to an unconscionable extent by the rest of the world. Because of this peculiar historical context, French existentialism became a dominant philosophical mode for artists and authors in the twentieth century. The influence of these thinkers can be seen in the later work of many authors, including Samuel Beckett and Thomas Pynchon, each of whom explore the concept of the absurdity of life in their own fiction and drama.

Works in Critical Context

Although Malraux's reputation rests on his novels—in particular Man's Fate, for which he won the Prix Gon-court, France's most prestigious literary award—and although his novels have found nearly universal acclaim, more recent critical attention has been paid to nontraditional aspects of his novels and, even more so, to Malraux's autobiographical material. In Man's Fate, for instance, critics have turned away from analyzing the merit of Malraux's representation of the existential dilemma and have begun to study the novel with a critical eye to Malraux's representation of women. As far as form goes, however, Malraux's autobiographical material has been deemed revolutionary for its transcendence of the limitations associated with more traditional autobiographies—a transcendence achieved by making the validity of self-perception one of the central questions of the text.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Malraux's famous contemporaries include:

Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969): Vietnamese revolutionary who led the fight for independence from French and other outside rule in Indochina, culminating in the Vietnam War.

Alan Paton (1903–1988): South African author and political activist whose career is best remembered for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa.

Elie Wiesel (1928–): Romanian-born Holocaust survivor who described his experiences in a concentration camp in his memoir Night.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980): French author who built upon Malraux's literary themes with his own existentialist works, such as Nausea (1938) and Being and Nothingness (1943). Sartre famously declined the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.

Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970): French general during World War II who went on to serve as president of France from 1959 until 1969.

Man's Fate Man's Fate takes place in Shanghai in 1927, when General Chiang Kai-shek breaks from the Communist revolutionaries, thus beginning China's long and bloody civil war. The novel centers on several characters, mainly Chinese Communist conspirators and European adventurers, who are working against Chiang Kai-shek. These men also struggle against the meaningless solitude and absurdity that marks the human condition. Each searches for his own way to deny it, yet the solutions they seek individually, such as terrorism and torture, are all destructive and dehumanizing.

At the time of its release, Man's Fate was applauded by critics for its portrayal of both the acts and feelings of the characters. “I do not know of any modern book which dramatizes so successfully such varied national and social types,” writes Edmund Wilson in The Shores of Light; “We not only witness [the characters'] acts and see them in relation to the force of the socio-political scene: we share their most intimate sensations.”

More recent critical inquiry has focused on this novel's female characters and the psychology of Tchen, a terrorist whose severe isolation convinces him that absolute value lies only in acts of violence, but the novel continues to be regarded as crucial to the development of twentieth-century literature. As Christopher Hitchens writes in a review for the New York Times, “It pointed up the increasing weight of Asia in world affairs; it described epic moments of suffering and upheaval, in Shanghai especially (it was nearly filmed by Sergei Eisenstein); and it demonstrated a huge respect for Communism and for Communists while simultaneously evoking the tragedy of a revolution betrayed by Moscow. It was, in short, the quintessential novel of its moment.

Responses to Literature

  1. Read Man's Fate. In the novel, Malraux depicts the Communist uprising in China that led to a civil war and ultimately the institution of a Communist government. In your opinion, how do his political and philosophical views color his depiction of events, if at all? Do you think a writer with different beliefs might have portrayed the same events in a different way? What does this suggest about the objective truth of accounts of historical events?
  2. Read Anti-Memoirs and Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. How do these two authors approach memoir differently? In your opinion, which one of these texts is more satisfying as a memoir? Why? Support your response with examples from the texts.
  3. Although Malraux wrote about Nazi concentration camps, he was never imprisoned in one. In a short essay, compare Malraux's representation of Nazi concentration camps in Days of Wrath with their portrayal in the memoir Night, which was written by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
  4. After having read Anti-Memoirs, This Boy's Life, and Night, you are familiar with the characteristics of the memoir. Now try writing your own brief memoir. Consider some important episode in your life—your first love, your first funeral, your first year in high school—and write a memoir in which you explore your feelings and actions during this period of your life.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

After a long career as a fiction writer, Malraux set out to write his autobiography. Here are a few more examples of popular memoirs:

Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), an analytical memoir by Carl Jung. In this text, psychoanalyst Carl Jung recalls the major events of his life and offers psychoanalytical analysis of his dreams and memories—in essence, he turns himself into a patient.

Chronicles (2004), an entertainment memoir by Bob Dylan. Musician Bob Dylan discusses some of the pivotal moments in his life and career, focusing on his love for the work of other musicians, authors, and filmmakers. Throughout the text, however, the reader is aware of Dylan's admission that he has on numerous occasions lied to the media, thereby calling into question the validity of the memoir itself.

This Boy's Life (1989), a literary memoir by Tobias Wolff. Novelist and short-story writer Tobias Wolff describes his own childhood—including the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather—in this memoir that was later turned into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as young Toby Wolff.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Blend, Charles D. Andre Malraux: Tragic Humanist. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1963.

Boak, Denis. Andre Malraux. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Cote, Paul Raymond, and Constantina Mitchell. Shaping the Novel: Textual Interplay in the Fiction of Malraux, Herbert, Modiano. Providence, R.I.: Bergham Books, 1996.

Cruickshank, John, ed. The Novelist as Philosopher. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Frohock, W. M. Andre Malraux and the Tragic Imagination. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1952.

Greshoff, C. J. An Introduction to the Novels of Andre Malraux. Rotterdam: Balkema Press, 1976.

Kline, T. J. Andre Malraux and the Metamorphosis of Death. New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.

Lewis, R. W. B., ed. Malraux: A Collection of Critical Essays. Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964.

Madsen, Axel. Malraux: A Biography. New York: Morrow, 1976.

Payne, P. S. R. A Portrait of Andre Malraux. Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Todd, Olivier. Malraux: A Life. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Wilson, Edmund. The Shores of Light. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1952.

Periodicals

Hitchens, Christopher. “‘Malraux’: One Man's Fate,” in New York Times (April 10, 2005).

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Malraux, André

André Malraux

Excerpt from Man's Fate

Originally published in 1933

"Ch'en was become aware, with a revulsion verging on nausea, that he stood here, not as a fighter, but as a sacrificial priest. He was serving the gods of his choice; but beneath his sacrifice to the Revolution lay a world of depths beside which this night of crushing anguish was bright as day."

A ndré Malraux's novel Man's Fate is set in Shanghai, China, in the spring of 1927. Chinese Communists are trying to stage a revolutionary uprising in the country's most industrialized city. A terrorist named Ch'en has been sent to assassinate an arms dealer in order to obtain a document that will enable the Communists to obtain three hundred guns. Meanwhile, forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek attack their Communist allies, executing thousands. (Chiang [1887–1975] was a military leader who would rule China for twenty years.)

Although the events described in the novel did not actually take place, a rebellion did occur in Shanghai in 1927. The book's opening scene, excerpted here, provides the author's view of a political assassination, a moment in which the principles of politics and philosophy come down to taking the life of a specific human being.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Man's Fate:

  • André Malraux's description of Ch'en's attack provides an insight into the mental process of someone about to kill another human being—not in the heat of battle or passion, but in cold blood. Not all terrorist acts occur in the same way as the stabbing depicted in Malraux's novel, but many take place under similar circumstances. Literature is one of the few ways an ordinary person can gain insights into the assassin's thought process.
  • This excerpt is from a work of fiction. Ch'en's thoughts as he contemplates carrying out an assassination are as imagined by French author André Malraux. The entire novel depicts the relationship between Ch'en the terrorist and the other characters; similarly, in real life the actual assassins who commit acts of terrorism are but a few of the many players on the global political stage.

What happened next …

In the novel, Ch'en went out from the hotel and took a taxi to the edge of the French-ruled part of the city. From there, he crossed over into the Chinese section, where he made his way to a shop with a sign on the door: Lu Yu Hsüan & Hemmelrich, Phonographs. Four of his comrades were waiting.

In real life, the Chinese Communists failed to launch their revolution in 1927. But the country was soon to be plunged into twenty-five years of turmoil: first invasion by Japan, then World War II (1939–45), and finally the takeover of the government by Chinese Communist forces led by Mao Zedong (also spelled Tse-tung; 1893–1976) in 1949.

Did you know …

  • In addition to writing novels, André Malraux (1901–1976) was active in politics in France, where he served two one-year terms as the Minister of Information (1945 and 1958) under President Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970). Malraux also was France's minister of cultural affairs. His best-known novel besides Man's Fate is Man's Hope, which is set during the Spanish civil war of the late 1930s.

For More Information

Botjer, George F. A Short History of Nationalist China, 1919–1949. New York: Putnam, 1979.

Chesneaux, Jean, Françoise Le Barbier, and Marie-Claire Bergére. China from the 1911 Revolution to Liberation. Translated from the French by Paul Auster, Lydia Davis, and Anne Destena. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.

Dong, Stella. Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City. New York: William Morrow, 2000.

Fitzgerald, John. Awakening China: Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

Langlois, Walter G. André Malraux: The Indochina Adventure. New York: Praeger, 1966.

Madsen, Axel. Silk Roads: The Asian Adventures of Clara and André Malraux. New York: Pharos Books, 1989.

Malreaux, André. Man's Fate. First published in 1933. Reprint: Vintage Books, 1961.

Sih, Paul K. T., editor. The Strenuous Decade: China's Nation-Building Efforts, 1927–1937. New York: St. John's University Press, 1970.

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