Michel Edouard Tournier (tur-NYAYR) was born in Paris, France, on December 19, 1924. He was a nervous, sickly child who was deeply affected by the pain and terror of having his tonsils removed when he was four years old. Tournier also was a poor student who eventually attended a dozen public and private schools.
Although Tournier’s parents were French, both spoke German and were intensely interested in German culture. Tournier’s mother returned every summer to the German boarding school she had once attended, taking Tournier and his siblings with her. Thus Tournier witnessed the rise of Nazism in Germany as a child and experienced that nation’s occupation of France as a young man. A number of German soldiers were stationed in Tournier’s parents’ house during World War II, and he remembered the experience as chaotic but happy.
Despite his uneven school record, Tournier received a baccalauréat during World War II. He acquired additional degrees in philosophy and law, and after the war he spent four years in Germany studying philosophy at the University of Tübingen. When the time came to take his teaching examination, however, he failed.
Unable to pursue a career as a professor, Tournier worked as a journalist, editor, translator, and radio and television producer. Among the writers he translated was Erich Maria Remarque, the German author of the antiwar novel Im Westen nichts Neues (1929, 1968; All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929, 1969). During this time Tournier wrote three novels of his own that he deemed unworthy and abandoned work on another. His first published work, an ironic revision of Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) entitled Vendredi: Ou, Les Limbes du Pacifique (1967, revised 1978; Friday: Or, The Other Island, 1969), was an immediate success, winning the Grand Prix of the French Academy.
Tournier’s next novel, Le Roi des Aulnes (1970; The Ogre, 1972; published in Great Britain as The Erl-King, 1972), won his country’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt, by unanimous vote. The Ogre sold well, was widely...
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