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Prisoner Of Love (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Jean Genet , Ahdaf Soueif
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 12.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 Jan 2003 New York Review Books Classics
Starting in 1970, Jean Genet—petty thief, prostitute, modernist master—spent two years in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. Always an outcast himself, Genet was drawn to this displaced people, an attraction that was to prove as complicated for him as it was enduring. Prisoner of Love, written some ten years later, when many of the men Genet had known had been killed, and he himself was dying, is a beautifully observed description of that time and those men as well as a reaffirmation of the author's commitment not only to the Palestinian revolution but to rebellion itself. For Genet's most overtly political book is also his most personal—the last step in the unrepentantly sacrilegious pilgrimage first recorded in The Thief's Journal, and a searching meditation, packed with visions, ruses, and contradictions, on such life-and-death issues as the politics of the image and the seductive and treacherous character of identity. Genet's final masterpiece is a lyrical and philosophical voyage to the bloody intersection of oppression, terror, and desire at the heart of the contemporary world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 430 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; New Ed edition (1 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170288
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170281
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 12.7 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Jean Genet (1910-1986) was born in Paris. Abandoned by his mother at seven months, he was raised in state institutions and charged with his first crime when he was ten. After spending many of his teenage years in a reformatory, Genet enrolled in the Foreign Legion, though he later deserted, turning to a life of thieving and pimping that resulted in repeated jail terms and, eventually, a sentence of life imprisonment. In prison Genet began to write—poems and prose that combined pornography and an open celebration of criminality with an extraordinary baroque, high literary style—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 for him a presidential pardon 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 boldly experimental and increasingly political plays The Balcony, The Blacks, 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.

Ahdaf Soueif is a novelist and a writer on political and cultural affairs. Her latest novel, The Map of Love, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. She was born in Egypt and lives in Cairo and London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'll be honest: it has been a few years since I read The Prisoner of Love. I decided to write this review after I found that nobody had done so. It is my hope that, should you have decided not to purchase this fine book, that you might, out of curiosity, read this review and change your mind. In which case I would be honoured to have done what little I could in getting more people to read Jean Genet's masterpiece, The Prisoner of Love.
I am not going to go into details, partly because I am not literate enough to do justice to the book and also because I want you to read the book like I did: with very little knowledge beforehand and experience it as completely as you can. Therefore know that The Prisoner of Love recounts a period of Jean Genet's life that he spent in the Palestinian refugee camps in the early seventies. Know that it is a masterly account of the various threads that converged at that moment in history amongst those displaced people. At it's heart is a romanticism that is aching in its sincerity. Genet is a poet and it shows with every word in this book. It flows and evokes feelings without ever being manipulative. I bought this book because I had read a review extolling it's virtues. I started the first chapter thinking it would be a political book, that it might be a chore to read, I finished the first sentence and I was no longer thinking those things. I finished the book and I had that feeling - you know that feeling? The feeling that you have that you had a great time, a great experience and it was deeply personal, and it was over and you wished that it wasn't but that you knew had to end because nothing in this world can last forever, and there's regret and a deep sadness and you move on, grateful for the memories?
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book I Ever Read 13 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the best book I have ever read. Every word is meant and specific. It is Genet's last book and it is a distillation of his remarkably authentic life. At the moment I'm reading it like a Bible although the heresy of that statement is probably to 'Prisoner of Love'. Each encounter he describes is complete but together they build into a profound transmission of his experience of Palestine.

It follows episodically. Interweaving Genet's prolonged visit to Palestine during the early 1970's with his return trip a decade later and also his involvement with the Black Panther's in the U.S.. I think the jumping to the Panther's is understandable for Genet but initially seems peculiar. However his writing on race in the States is precise and relevant. The book documents a personal search for an archetypal image he experienced during the conflict as well as a record of an almost forgotten period of the Palestinian resistance.

Genet shows through this book, I think conclusively, that the way to love people is not through adopting their cause as your own as many people do today. Rather it is by being with them in solidarity as yourself with integrity, and bearing witness to their struggle. Somehow he captures the nameless emotions of people in revolution in his record of everyday life lived in the presence of death. His love for and of the Palestinians includes being unflinchingly honest but never cruel or partisan.

As he wrote he was approaching his own inevitable death (he never saw the book published) and that lends an intensity. Maybe meant he felt able to finally write about his experiences with full depth of empathy and compassion? Ultimately this is a wise book that never states it's wisdom but shows it page by page. Genet's own revolutionary life found its complement in the Palestinian revolution. It is a profound love story.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Honest and ..Unique 3 Nov 2012
By aya
This is a unique book. I do not consider it a memoir, nor a description of a specific experience. It is more of various unrelated thoughts and feelings that were gathered in a book about a specific period of time and place, but which were related many times in the book to other events in other places in the world and different period of times. The book is unique for many reasons - for me at least: first of all, you can feel the honesty in the words of this book. Genet remembers his years with the Palestinian Fedayeen during the toughest period in Jordan, you feel how much he cares about them and how much he loves specific symbols of their lives. Second, this book talks about a period of time in Jordan which is not taught in history, not discussed (in Jordan at least at the time being) and which I think was exposed to many attempts to erase from memory.

However, because these thoughts are not organized, you feel the book is not focused. It takes you from one place to another and from a specific time to another, but not smoothly. Another point is that the language of the book/or the Arabic translation of it is not that good. There are too many mistakes in the book, but still, this does not take away the beauty of it.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A travel memoir, a masterpiece which can never be equaled 25 Oct 2006
By T. M. Teale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If the reader is looking for easy explanations to the Palestinian refugees' war with the nation of Israel, Jean Genet's book is not the place to seek them. And I don't advise readers to pick through the text looking for the succinct sentences in which Genet clearly states why he's on the side of the Palestinians, or if he's anti-Israel, or anti-American. There is no proof of reviewer Tim Keane's conclusion that Genet "seethes with hatred of Israel"; there are no such violent emotions in Prisoner of Love. At 430 pages, be prepared to find subtleties of experience shaded by conflicting responses--nuances completely unavailable via print journalism or network news, CNN, or Al Jazeera. But the very fact that Genet wanted to observe life in the refugee camps shows that he had to make a choice. Nearly all the protagonists of his memoir, this textual "souvenirs," are Palestinians and generally Muslim. Indeed, the compelling force which drives the relatively plotless Prisoner of Love are the individuals to whom Jean attachments himself: the dynamic Lieutenant Mubarak, Dr. Mahjoub and the charismatic female doctor, Dr. Nabila, Khaled Abu Khaled and Abu Omar, and an accomplished woman friend, a blond Lebanese guide and translator, Nidal, and dozens of other people. Genet was particularly attached to Hamza and his mother, who he attempts to find again after his absence from Palestine for nearly 14 years. We cannot forget the common fedayee rebel, the fedayeen as a whole who fought to make the Palestinian plight known.

When evaluating Prisoner of Love, it's important to remember that Genet is a writer. Throughout his work, Genet tells us how difficult it is to recount his experiences since he's not sure at times what he's seeing, and he must make his writing conform to the necessities of craft. And whatever writing craft decisions Jean made it is clear that the Palestinians "wrote" him as well; Jean was seldom in control of his experience. As I read, I realized that Genet is the ultimate refugee; he seeks to be with people who are like him. My conclusion is this: Palestine chose him.

Only Genet could have written this book. He is a bruised romantic searching for a resting place that will caress both his homeless intellect and his orphaned body: "A little while ago I wrote that though I shall die, nothing else will. And I must make my meaning clear. Wonder at the sight of a corn-flower, at a rock, at the touch of a rough hand--all the millions of emotions of which I'm made--they won't disappear even though I shall. Other men will experience them, and they'll still be there because of them. More and more I believe I exist in order to be the terrain and proof which show other men that life consists in the uninterrupted emotions flowing through all creation" (361). As an orphan with prison experience, and disaffected from France, Genet was willing to try on other peoples' lives; I suspect that without the structure dictated by the craft of writing, and his talent coming to the attention of well-known writers, Genet would have disappeared into the French prison system.

Another conclusion I came to: Genet shows us the difference between terrorism and Arab nationalism. Is there any hope that the U.S., of which I am a native-born citizen, will ever figure out this difference?

Overwhelmingly, the single image I have of Prisoner of Love is that to read it is to travel the land that dwelled *in* Jean Genet, this traveler who was intelligent enough to let his emotions guide him. And only by reading can I share in living a life which speaks so eloquently of rebellion and blood, of life and death.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intense,compelling as he allows, Genet a poet,a writer,first 11 Oct 2000
By scarecrow - Published on Amazon.com
Genet allows you to feel the immediacy of the Palestinian situation with particles from lives,from ill-defined fragments of lives disrupted with no future,he stayed with a family in 1980 a half-day and a whole night where the young son,Hamza a fedayee went off at night to fight. Genet hearing gun fire in the distance inhabited his bed and was brought Turkish coffee and water in the night as a replacement for the young man,by his mother. Genet is a writer/poet,a political thinker,but never a man of politics, a deeply sensitive man,a virtuoso of the sensual image, as the starry-night reflected against the curtain in his room with the small blue table. "Of course it's understood that the words,nights,forests,septet,jubilation desertion and despair are the same words that I have to use to describe the goings on at dawn in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris when the drag queens depart after celebrating their mystery,doing their accounts and smoothing banknotes out of the dew."
Genet was allowed with special permission to visit the massacre site at the camps at Sabra and Chantila,smelling the rotting flesh, "They happened I was affected by them. I talked about them. But while the act of writing came later, after a period of incubation,nevertheless in a moment like that or those when a single cell departs from its usual metabolism and the original link is created of a future,unsuspected cancer,or a piece of lace, so I decided to write this book."
Genet has an intense need for passion of any dimension,scouring the vigours of whatever parts of fragments of the lifeworld's complexity presents itself to him. I once thought of this book as a romantic means of portrayel a betrayel of a political situation,one, the only one that excited Genet.It means something that only encounterings lives in struggle,bent into a repressive state that Genet finds the only life worth encountering,sensing and feeling about. This book was completed in 1986 after suffering from throat cancer, he died on the night of 14-15th of April,1986,while correcting proofs.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read... 24 Nov 2012
By Dr Benjamin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Genet was an early witness to some profound moments and tragedies in the Palestinian struggle and this book provides a record of this. Although predictably, it screams Genet from every page, it is an interesting journey and for me, one of his best works, regardless of what one think's about the Palestinian cause with which Genet became involved in 1970. As an outsider and outcast from French society himself, even though he was in a sense, re-habilitated following his Presidential pardon in 1948, Genet was attracted to stark revolutionary causes and those which questioned and sought to overthrow the status quo as part of a struggle for autonomy and legitimacy. So, in a sense, the Palestinian cause was an ideal one which grew upon Genet's commitment to the Algerian cause. It is also significant that Genet knew many within the Palestinian leadership who would ultimately not survive, becoming martyrs to the cause. This book also allows Genet to expound upon all of the things of interest to him so it is also a bit of a philosophical journey and journal as well. Considering it is Genet's last work, written when he himself was dying, it provides "last comments" on many things, fulfilling also Genet's penchant for upheaval, confusion, contradiction and inexplicable directions.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sent a library book 14 Jan 2014
By michael miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed with this order. While the book is in good condition and readable it is in a library jacket from F.L. Weyenberg Library, Mequon, WI. with the library name stamped in ink on the pages and the library numbers still on the jacket. While the jacket can be thrown away (thus losing the photograph of Genet and the cover art) the ink stamp on the pages cannot be removed. This is what you buy at a library book sale for fifty cents or a dollar. As it was planned as a gift I am too embarrassed to give it. Beyond that, this is false advertising, which will keep me from ever ordering from this seller again
6 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great and unique work. 26 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This book is absolutely essential to any understanding of the Palestinian situation. It is also the mostimportant work of Genet's entire career.
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