Wednesday, 25 May 2011

An old favourite resurfaces

Just been reading 2 sharply ironic and distinctive novels, recently published in the USA, by someone I first read in the early 1960s. Albert Cossery (1913-2008) was an Egyptian author who settled in Paris after WW2, remained there for the rest of his long life and wrote in French. His short stories and novels are inimitable and as for the 2 novels I mentioned, A Splendid Conspiracy (Un Complot de Saltimbanques, 2000) and The Jokers (Violence et la Dérision, 1993), they are funny, absorbing and elegant despite their occasionally awkward or clumsy American translations. James Buchan and John Murray both recommend The Jokers, and Cossery has been translated into 15 languages and widely praised, but his earlier books have been hard to find.

On my shelves I see editions of If All Men Were Beggars (MacGibbon & Kee, UK 1957); The House of Certain Death (Hutchinson, 1947); and Proud Beggars (Black Sparrow, USA, 1981). All of them fine novels! The first Cossery work I read, Men God Forgot is an excellent short story collection which City Lights published in 1963, and it came with an enthusiastic puff from Henry Miller, who also wrote about Cossery elsewhere. It seems Albert Cossery led a rather dandified but bohemian Left Bank life: his irrepressibly nonchalant, humorous variety of cynicism admirably suits the entrancing yet satirical stories that he tells so elegantly. France and the French it seems welcomed him, as is so often – happily – the case with artistic and political exiles in Paris. Thanks to that enlightened support within Cossery's adopted country and the measure of recognition he received there, Anglophone readers too can look forward to more of Cossery's books being available before too long.

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