Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir

Book Review
Rating 6 out of 10

I have read a part of The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir. The version I am reading is in 3 parts, and I read the first part which has the subtitle: Anne. The Mandarins is a roman-à-clef which describes the intellectual left-wing millieu in post WW2 Paris. The central character of the account is "Henri" which is considered to be Albert Camus. It's interesting to see the left-wing movement at this place and time. All the people in the millieu continously suffer bad conscience because many of their political friends died in the resistance and in concentration camps inflicted by the Nazis and Fascists during WW2, so they feel somehow guilty about still being alive. Henri is the editor of a small newspaper L'espoir (The Hope), but it's difficult for him to stay independent, he needs money for the newspaper to survive. They are several parties who are willing to support him, like the communists or SRL (a liberal, non-Communist political group), but they all want to suppress the independance of L'espoir. Also American agents contact Henri offering him support, but on the condition that he must not write critical about the Portuguese dictator Salazar, because the Americans are negotiating army bases on the Azores with Portugal. Henri is a person asking questions and as he says himself in the novel: That if you continue asking questions the meaningnessless of life eventually stares you in the head. So the great void is lurking all the time in Henri's life. The book somewhat describes a male chauvinsistic millieau. The womans in the book mostly play the role of lovers to often infidel men. Often a young womans insight into the political intellectual affairs of the men goes through the bed. One gets a sense of a young Simone de Beauvoir sitting on the lap of these older intellectual men taking notes for her novel. It's quite interesting to witness the intellectual left-wing at this place and time. The people are quite earnest about their political aims, they see it as a struggle for life and death about the future of the world. The men also feel insulted in their France national pride. During WW2 they had envisioned themselves in a postwar world forming the new world, but then they come to learn that France is just a little part of Europe having little to say to the greater powers of the world like USA and USSR. It's intesting to see the development of movements in history. The socialism somewhat started with philosophers like Marx in the mid 19th century. In the mid 20th century people are still very earnest about their cause. And then you look at left-wing today in Europe, which is a middle-class phenomena, using some of the same phraseology but actually only feeling contempt towards the lower classes of society.

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