Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Army of Shadows by Joseph Kessel

Pocket Francais paperback edition printed in 2007
Known in English as Army of Shadows, the official title of Joseph Kessel's 1943 novel in French is L'armee des ombres. I have read other books by Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour, The Lion, etc.), which have translated copies currently in print, but I have a feeling that they pale in comparison to Army of Shadows—unfortunately, I've been unable to track down a readable copy of the only English translation printed in 1944 by Cresset Press. The main reason why I'm even aware of this book, along with most other English speakers, is because of Jean-Pierre Melville's film adaptation of the same name from 1969. The movie is a pleasantly sprawling tale of the French Resistance and its members as they try to combat oppressive Nazi forces in their homeland. Told on the bleaker side and shot in beautiful blue and gray hues of color, Melville's film adaptation is by far one of his best movies and my favorite. All of these things lead me to believe that Kessel's novel must be equally as amazing, if not more so. Based largely on Kessel's own war-time resistance experiences, as far as I understand it, the movie remains pretty faithful to the text. A year ago I sent an inquiry to NYRB about printing a new English translation but no one ever got back to me. Maybe there are rights issues or other things connected with Kessel's estate that I'm unaware of, but I hope that someday someone releases another English edition of this book so I can finally read it.

Back cover of an older Pocket Francais paperback from 1972 

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