cover image Albert Camus: A Life

Albert Camus: A Life

Olivier Todd, Clivier Todd. Knopf Publishing Group, $30 (468pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42855-8

""There is only one serious philosophical problem, which is suicide,"" wrote French novelist, essayist and dramatist Albert Camus in 1940. He was in Nazi-occupied Paris, where he lived in a ""hideous and distressing world."" But newly married to a loyal woman to whom he would be repeatedly unfaithful, he boarded a ship with her at Marseilles to honeymoon in his native Algeria. As for suicide, he had been inviting death for years, stresses French freelance journalist Todd, encouraging his chronic tuberculosis with tobacco and drink and a lifestyle that exacerbated his symptoms. Although Camus often questions in his writings whether existence was worthwhile in an absurd world, he made the most of his opportunities. He had a harmless role in the WWII French Resistance, putting out an underground newspaper, Combat, while circulating his manuscripts and involving himself in Parisian theater. With the departure of the Germans, he began publishing his plays and stories. Despite a series of affairs, divorce and a second marriage, Camus found time to write philosophical works, plays and three major novels, The Stranger, The Plague and The Fall. The Nobel Prize was awarded to him in 1957 when he was still a month short of 44, the youngest writer so honored since Kipling. ""My life,"" he wrote in 1941, ""is based on the idea that I have something to say and that I will be freed from everything when I have said it."" A little more than two years after the Nobel honors confirmed that he had indeed said it, Camus was killed in an automobile crash. Todd's exhaustive biography, which aims--and succeeds--in presenting ""the man"" and not just the writer, has been shortened for its English translation, which refers readers to the French edition for notes, sources and bibliography. Photos. (Dec.)