cover image War


Louis-Ferdinand Céline, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3732-1

In this compact and characteristically biting denunciation of French hypocrisy from Céline (1894–1961), WWI soldier Ferdinand is plagued by a “horrific din bashing my head... like a train” after being wounded in battle. Stumbling around in a delirium, Ferdinand hallucinates dead friends, three of whom appear before him “completely armless... you could see daylight through his head... he had guts that were sliding from his ass far into the countryside.” Brought to convalesce in a hospital in the town of Peurdu-sur-la-Lys, Ferdinand is protected from a doctor who wants to operate on him by a necrophiliac nurse, and befriends a fellow convalescent whose attempt to put his girlfriend to work as a prostitute threatens to backfire. For the maimed and embittered Ferdinand, the real enemy is the French establishment, including his bourgeois parents. Céline fled France in 1944 to avoid being charged as a collaborationist and left this unedited manuscript behind; Mandell’s faithful translation preserves some of the peculiarities of the original, including a few character names that change over the course of the narrative. Céline’s furious style is in full force, and is well served by the brevity of the text. Devoted fans will rejoice. (June)