A little-known classic from one of the great French writers of the 20th century
Jean Genet (1910-1986) was born in Paris. Abandoned by his mother, he was raised in state institutions and charged with his first crime when he was 10. After spending many of his teenage years in a reformatory, Genet enrolled in the Foreign Legion, though he later deserted, served several jail-terms and, eventually, a sentence of life imprisonment. In prison Genet began to write and on the strength of this work found himself acclaimed by such literary luminaries as Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, whose advocacy secured a presidential pardon for him in 1948. Between 1944 and 1948 Genet wrote four novels, Our Lady of the Flowers, Miracle of the Rose, Funeral Rites and Querelle, and the scandalizing memoir A Thief's Journal. Throughout the fifties he devoted himself to theater, writing The Blacks, The Balcony, and The Screens. After a silence of some twenty years, Genet began his last book, Prisoner of Love, in 1983. It was completed just before he died.
Reflecting Genet's sympathy for the outcast and his personal revolt against the established order, this dense, episodic montage records the years the Frenchman spent with the Black Panthers in the U.S. in the early 1970s and with Palestinian soldiers in Jordan and Lebanon until his death in 1986. Genet glorifies two male-dominated societies--the Panthers and the PLO--that recall the all-male worlds of his youth in reform school, the army and prison and strains to compare two ``virtual martyrs,'' neither possessing any territory of their own. Part anti-Zionist tract, part memoir and philosophical discourse, this uninhibited cascade of images and associations is less a political document than a map of Genet's mental landscape. (Apr.)
At the time of his death in 1986, Genet had in manuscript form an account of his stay with the guerrilla armies of the Palestine Liberation Organization during the early 1970s and 1980s. Available for the first time in the United States, this dense and difficult book is suffused with the deathbed recollections of Genet's personal experiences, dreams, digressions forward and backward in time, rumor and hearsay, fact and fiction, which loosely coalesce and whose overall effect is impressionistic rather than straightforwardly informative. What appeals most is Genet's vivid exposition, which relies on metaphorical imagery rather than logical argument to make its point. This book is a biography of a people fated to struggle against unpopular world opinion and overwhelming odds, a very personal portrait of the Palestinian guerrilla movement seen from the viewpoint of a committed social rebel. A fine introduction by Edmund White helps put the book into the context of Genet's personal and political aesthetic. Recommended primarily for larger collections or where the subject or author is already represented.-- Jeffery Ingram, Newport P.L., Ore.