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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Mandarins (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is a very good English translation of de Beauvoir's 2-volume Les Mandarins which won the Prix Goncourt in 1954. Rich, detailed and utterly absorbing it opens at Christmas 1944, the first Christmas after the liberation of Paris, and ends about three years later. Deeply political, it follows the personal and intellectual lives of a group of Parisian intellectuals - writers, journalists, editors, many of them ex- Resistance - as they struggle to find a way for France to heal itself and find a place in the world between the growing stranglehold of America and Soviet Russia.

Alongside the party politics and in-depth debates, this also explores issues of gender politics: the dreadful malaise which blankets Henri's relationship with Paula; his unsatisfactory affairs with other women; Anne's search for identity as a middle-aged woman past her prime; and the aggressive, volatile and yet vulnerable Nadine who can't forget her first love who died in a Nazi concentration camp.

De Beauvoir's prose is so crisp and clean that it translates easily into English. I was mainly reading this in French (Les Mandarins 1), using this English edition as a filler read on the tube and noticed very few blips in the translation: guérir is given as `to cure' a few times which jars in the context of a character's pathological need for love, and might have been better rendered as `to heal' but this is a minor quibble.

This is a huge book, and a deeply intelligent one - but amongst all the political squabbling, the backstabbing and the more fatal consequences of Nazi collaboration, this also gives an effortless feel for 1940s Paris: the cafés, the champagne, the dancing in darkened cellars. I love this book and wanted to slip between the covers and live inside it -highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A truly great piece of writng. Simone de Beauvoir's novels all too often try to be proving a philosophical point, which at the best can lead to a well-written novel with an improbable, almost silly conclusion (L'Invitee) and at the worst to a dry, depressing read ('All Men are Mortal', surely one of the most depressing books ever written). The one novel in which Beauvoir is more interested in character than theory is 'The Mandarins', which must be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. I loved the descriptions of post-war France, of the Resistance fighters trying to make a new life for themselves in a very different world, of the former 'Maquis' fighters who continued to attack collaborators, and the struggle to build a new and better society. The discussions of socialism, and of how far the French could separate themselves from either the American or the Russian superpower, though slightly drawn out, also make fascinating reading; a great bit of history without ever becoming dry. There are a whole host of extremely memorable characters, from the wise and life-enhancing Robert Dubreuillh (who, despite his wisdom ends up compromising himself by becoming too friendly with the Soviet powers, to his regret), Henri, the novelist and playright who struggles to be a good and honest man but is too easily seduced by beautiful women (one in particular) and in the end finds 'salvation' in an unexpected marriage, Anne, Dubreuillh's wife, a psychoanalyst who fears death and ageing and briefly finds youth again in an affair with an American writer, Nadine, her daughter, whose fierceness and disagreeable behaviour hide a deep vulnerability and bitter memories of World War II and the death of her lover, Paula, Henri's masochistic ex-lover - and many more. This book is often cited as part autobiography, and interestingly for me the autobiographical parts were the weakest (Anne only periodically comes wholly to life, and her affair with Lewis Brogan, based on De Beauvoir's with Nelson Algren, is not entirely convincing, as it is over so much more quickly than the Beauvoir/Algren one; Brogan is also, I suspect, rather less sympathetic than Algren.) But even these sections contain much fine writing, and the book as a whole is compulsive reading: nearly 1,000 pages, it never feels too long and never gets dull.

Possibly De Beauvoir's finest work, this is necessary reading for anyone interested in 20th-century European history, in what it was like to be a woman in 1950s Europe and in the life of a writer. I re-read this book nearly every year and have never grown tired of it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2015
I really enjoy Simone de Beauvoir's writing and for the most part, this novel was engaging. However, the novel is written with two interwoven narratives and I found Anne's (SdB's fictional counterpart, of sorts) chapters a bit dreary and self-indulgent at times. She writes about her (extra-marital, but sanctioned) lover in a cloying manner and I felt it was a bit too cringey for me. The third person chapters were fine though. Also, it's a fairly chunky book.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
as an avid fan of the existentialist movement i came to De Bouviour's work strangely late; odd, considering that i started reading existentialism with Iris Murdoch, a writer who's quote adorns most copies of this novel. i had started with Simoné's 'she came to stay' and got used to her indivdual style of veiled biography and realised that, unlike her other contemporaries (and her partner; Sartre) hers are not so much philosophical moral tales, as a portrait of those around her that lived their whole lives by their philosophy- you get the very truth of what it's like to exist as an existentialist, to be (or fail to be) what you write about. The Mandarins is her greatest expression of this unique style- an astonishingly heart-rending story of post-war life, people trying to forget, people trying to act like heroes, accusers and the bourgiouse elite. paris is beautifully represented in real colour and vibrancy and at the heart of the story is a powerful friendship between one genious and his mentor, a friendship that falls apart through politics- something i found terrible and gripping to find myself a bystander to. don't belive the other bad review, this book was one of the most all enveloping works of literature i have ever experienced. if you're even slightly interesed in the movement this should be your guide. it is truly essential.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2010
I expected to like this book. I'm interested in Sartre, Camus and that whole Parisian society thing, and Simone de Beauvoir is undoubtedly a good writer, but I found this book terribly tedious. What we have here is over seven-hundred densely-packed pages that could, and should, have been edited to about three-hundred pages. Then it might actually be a good novel. As it is, the good bits, and there is quite a lot of fine writing, are lost amongst long rambling conversations about nothing much. Life is too short.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2008
A superb account of lives lived to the full. It makes most modern novels and novelists look half-witted and inane - Martin Amis, and all the other contemporary soon-to-be-forgotten fads.
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15 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2000
Dubreuilh shrugged his shoulders. Nadine shrugged her shoulders. There are exactly 140 shoulder shruggings in The Mandarins. It is annoying. First, I thought, maybe, it was the translation. So, I checked the original and found out that the excruciating shrugs were in the French version too (elle haussa les epaules). When people are not shrugging their shoulders, they are shaking their heads. Simone de Beauvoir, whose life and accomplishments I find fascinating, is not that great a story teller. Which is a shame because she always has interesting things to tell. The Mandarins is a captivating story if you can get past the style with which the dialogues are delivered. Simone de Beauvoir had told that this was not a biography, it was fiction. But, still, I am sure that it gives a pretty accurate account of how the intellectuals lived, contemplated, worked and played, especially just after the war. Camus, Sartre and many others are in there under thin disguise.
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