cover image MALRAUX: A Life


Olivier Todd, , trans. from the French by Joseph West. . Knopf, $35 (541pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40702-4

Whether or not you enjoy this oh-so-French portrait of the oh-so-French novelist, art historian and Gaullist politician will depend on how opinionated you think a biography should be. Throughout his life, André Malraux (1901–1976) tended to exaggerate his achievements: during the Spanish Civil War, in the Resistance and as a minister in de Gaulle's postwar governments. But the tone of airy superiority assumed by Todd (Albert Camus ) can be grating, as he fact-checks Malraux's novels—do we really care that he knew less about China than he pretended to in Man's Fate? —and scolds his subject for paying a cordial visit to the Soviet Union in 1934, when in fact the writer was considerably less naïve about Stalinism than many left-wing Europeans. It's undeniable that Todd's opinions are wittily bracing ("despite his pessimism, Malraux falls for utopia"), and his use of the present tense throughout gives the narrative a lively tone, immersing the reader in Malraux's frantic existence. Todd indelibly captures the writer's enormous charisma, exerted in dazzling monologues filled with high-flown phrases in the best French tradition. This is a very personal assessment by an often exasperated admirer who judges Malraux's two greatest achievements as Man's Hope and "his own staggering, rollicking life." 16 pages of photos not seen by PW . (Feb. 28)