Wednesday, November 5, 2014

some French Jews read Celine

According to an article published a few years ago in The Jewish Daily Forward, some French Jews continue to be fascinated with Celine. Here are two of the final paragraphs:

Decades later, other Jewish writers remain firmly fascinated by Céline, drooling or not. Parisian bookseller and writer Mikaël Hirsch, born in 1973, is a grandson of Louis-Daniel Hirsch, who served as Gallimard’s sales manager for more than half a century. The younger Hirsch’s 2010 novel “The Outcast,” out in paperback August 31 [from Les editions J’ai Lu], describes the true story of how, in 1954, Mikaël’s father, then working as a Gallimard messenger boy (he is renamed Gérard Cohen for the purposes of the novel), delivered printer’s proofs to Céline in Meudon, or what the novel calls “Célinegrad.” There, Céline’s “reprobate” status echoes with the young Cohen’s own feelings of exclusion for being too Jewish, or not Jewish enough, to please his compatriots.
Another French-Jewish author, Émile Brami, who is of Tunisian origin and once owned a Paris bookshop devoted to Céline, currently maintains a blog, “Le Petit Célinien,” and has also written studies on his favorite author. Last year, Brami produced a mystery novel, “Massacre for a Bagatelle,” published by L’Editeur and set in the murky world of collectors of Céline manuscripts and rare editions. Such books suggest that Céline is a permanent presence, albeit one incarnating for many readers the epitome of rabid hatred and prejudice, on the French literary landscape. Celebrate him or not, Céline is, for better or for worse — much worse in his case — here to stay.

Several years ago, I began Celine's Death on the Installment Plan but never finished it. I do hope to one day, along with Updike's Rabbit Is Rich and several other more recent "stuck in the middle" books. It was satisfying to read Malamud's A New Life in its entirety this summer, nearly 20 years after putting it down after 100 pages or so. 

For favorite books written by writers with somewhat rabid antisemitic tendencies (more than just the usual Jew joke), I'd go with Voltaire's Candide and Hamsun's Hunger. Those are the first two that come to mind. Alas, there's the taint of antisemitism and many other prejudices (misogyny, racism, etc.) in so much of the canon as well as many contemporary novels, even with a sense that most big-name publishers are far more "PC" in their tastes these days.

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