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The First Man
Cover of The First Man
The First Man
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Camus tells the story of Jacques Cormery, a boy who lived a life much like his own. Camus summons up the sights, sounds and textures of a childhood circumscribed by poverty and a father's death yet redeemed by the austere beauty of Algeria and the boy's attachment to his nearly deaf-mute mother. Published thirty-five years after its discovery amid the wreckage of the car accident that killed Camus, The First Man is the brilliant consummation of the life and work of one of the 20th century's greatest novelists. Translated from the French by David Hapgood.

"The First Man is perhaps the most honest book Camus ever wrote, and the most sensual...Camus is...writing at the depth of his powers...It is a work of genius."--The New Yorker

"Fascinating...The First Man helps put all of Camus's work into a clearer perspective and brings into relief what separates him from the more militant literary personalities of his day...Camus's voice has never been more personal."--New York Times Book Review

Camus tells the story of Jacques Cormery, a boy who lived a life much like his own. Camus summons up the sights, sounds and textures of a childhood circumscribed by poverty and a father's death yet redeemed by the austere beauty of Algeria and the boy's attachment to his nearly deaf-mute mother. Published thirty-five years after its discovery amid the wreckage of the car accident that killed Camus, The First Man is the brilliant consummation of the life and work of one of the 20th century's greatest novelists. Translated from the French by David Hapgood.

"The First Man is perhaps the most honest book Camus ever wrote, and the most sensual...Camus is...writing at the depth of his powers...It is a work of genius."--The New Yorker

"Fascinating...The First Man helps put all of Camus's work into a clearer perspective and brings into relief what separates him from the more militant literary personalities of his day...Camus's voice has never been more personal."--New York Times Book Review

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Excerpts-
  • From the book Intercessor: Widow Camus

    To you who will never be able to read this book

    Above the wagon rolling along a stony road, big thick clouds were hurrying to the East through the dusk. Three days ago they had inflated over the Atlantic, had waited for a wind from the West, had set out, slowly at first then faster and faster, had flown over the phosphorescent autumn waters, straight to the continent, had unraveled on the Moroccan peaks, had gathered again in flocks on the high plateaus of Algeria, and now, at the approaches to the Tunisian frontier, were trying to reach the Tyrrhenian Sea to lose themselves in it. After a journey of thousands of kilometers over what seemed to be an immense island, shielded by the moving waters to the North and to the South by the congealed waves of the sands, passing scarcely any faster above this nameless country than had empires and peoples over the millennia, their momentum was wearing out and some already were melting into occasional large raindrops that were beginning to plop on the canvas hood above the four travelers.

    The wagon was creaking over a route that was fairly well marked but had scarcely any surfacing. From time to time a spark would flash under a metal wheel rim or a horse's hoof, and a stone would strike the wood of the wagon or else would sink with a muted sound into the soft soil of the ditch. Meanwhile the two small horses moved steadily ahead, occasionally flinching a bit, their chests thrust forward to pull the heavy wagon, loaded with furniture, continuously putting the road behind them as they trotted along at different paces. One of them would now and then blow the air noisily from its nostrils, and would be thrown off its pace. Then the Arab who was driving would snap the worn reins flat on its back, and the beast would gamely pick up its rhythm.

    The man who was on the front seat by the driver, a Frenchman about thirty, gazed with an impenetrable look at the two rumps moving rhythmically in front of him. He was of medium height, stocky, with a long face, a high square forehead, a strong jaw, and blue eyes. Though the season was well along, he wore a three-button duckcloth jacket, fastened at the neck in the style of that time, and a light pith helmet over his close-cut hair. When the rain began streaming across the canvas above them, he turned toward the inside of the vehicle: "Are you all right?" he shouted.

    On a second seat, wedged between the first seat and a heap of old trunks and furniture, sat a woman who, though shabbily dressed, was wrapped in a coarse woolen shawl. She smiled feebly at him. "Yes, yes," she said, with a little gesture of apology. A small four-year-old boy slept leaning against her. She had a gentle look and regular features, a warm gaze in her brown eyes, a small straight nose, and the black wavy hair of a Spanish woman. But there was something striking about that face. Not only would fatigue or something similar momentarily mask its features; no, it was more like a faraway look, a look of sweet distraction, such as you always see on some simpletons, but which would burst out only fleetingly on the beauty of this face. The kindness of that gaze, which was so noticeable, would sometimes be joined by a gleam of unreasoning fear that would as instantly vanish. With the flat of her hand, already worn with work and somewhat gnarled at the joints, she tapped her husband's back: "It's all right, it's all right," she said. And immediately she stopped smiling to watch, from under the canvas top, the road where puddles were already beginning to shine.

    The man turned to the Arab, placid in his turban with its yellow cords, his body made...
About the Author-
  • Born in Algeria in 1913, Albert Camus published The Stranger-- now one of the most widely read novels of this century-- in 1942. Celebrated in intellectual circles, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. On January 4, 1960, he was killed in a car accident.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 5, 1996
    Camus was working on this novel, an autobiographical coming-of-age story, when he died in 1960.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 8, 2018
    Fragments by Camus are tenderly knitted together by translator Bloom and cartoonist Fernandez (The Stranger) into an episodic autobiographical ramble that intrigues at times but falls well short of the War and Peace–style epic Camus planned. Only 144 pages of the unfinished work were discovered in the car wreck that killed Camus in 1960. The author’s stand-in is Jacques Cormery, an Algerian-born writer who is the toast of 1957 Parisian literary society. A superb brooder, drawn by Fernandez with a dashingly Gallic cinematic appeal, Jacques is torn between worlds (“the Mediterranean separates two universes inside of me”). While successful in France, he remains the pugnacious colonial outsider (“it’s the Algerian in me they don’t like”). His flurry of childhood memories, from swimming to hunting and picnicking, are mixed with ruminations on the nature of the homeland he hates to love—dissecting the knotted relationship of French colonials to Algerian Arabs, people “close together and far apart.” Too much of this is wound up in Jacques’s cyclical guilt over his poor, illiterate mother, about whom he unloads on his painfully acquiescent lover. While Fernandez’s colors and architectural attention evokes the spare, sun-scorched Mediterranean setting, his inexpressive faces don’t help enliven an already stiff narrative. Too obviously incomplete, this moody adaptation doesn’t have the philosophical power of Camus’s better fiction.

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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