The French novelist, art theorist, and essayist Georges André Malraux (mahl-roh) was born in Paris to parents who separated a few years after his birth. He was reared by his mother and maternal grandmother, proprietors of a grocer’s shop in suburban Bondy. At the age of seventeen Malraux was on his own in Paris, working as a book dealer and editor and educating himself in literature and the arts. He lived among writers and painters and wrote surrealistic stories.
His life changed in 1923 when he and his wife, Clara, sailed for French Indochina to seek treasure in the ruins of ancient temples. His project succeeded, but he was prosecuted for theft by the colonial administration and barely escaped a prison sentence. Defiant and hostile after this experience, Malraux published an anticolonial newspaper in Saigon and sympathized with the local nationalists and the revolutionaries who were beginning to take action in China. In 1926 he returned to Paris to become an editor at a publishing house and to write novels.
Malraux’s novels, which won him almost immediate acclaim, reflect his developing views not only of politics but also of the human condition in his time. His first three novels are notable for their ideas and their violent actions as well as for brisk, tense narration and pictorial imagery. The Conquerors describes a revolutionary uprising in Canton in 1925. The Royal Way narrates a quest for treasure and power in the Cambodian jungle. The protagonists of these novels are European adventurers somewhat like Malraux himself, strong-willed but solitary, who struggle against their sense of the absurdity of life and the menace of death. They exemplify the collapse of...
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