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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Man's Last Book...
Having read a number of other books by Camus, such as The Fall, The Outsider, A Happy Death, and The Plague, I thought I'd try my luck here, although on picking up the book, I was a little put off at first...
Primarily, it must be noted that the book in question, The First Man, was not finished by Camus. Indeed, on reading the prologue by his daughter, Catherine...
Published on 15 July 2003 by elcid@virginstudent.com

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Early Years
An engaging and captivating account of growing up in Algeria. I used to think of these places as arid and joyless. No more.
Published on 16 May 2012 by demola


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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Man's Last Book..., 15 July 2003
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This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Having read a number of other books by Camus, such as The Fall, The Outsider, A Happy Death, and The Plague, I thought I'd try my luck here, although on picking up the book, I was a little put off at first...
Primarily, it must be noted that the book in question, The First Man, was not finished by Camus. Indeed, on reading the prologue by his daughter, Catherine Camus, we find that the manuscript of this incomplete work was found with the author in the car which he died in following an accident. Consequently, on reading the actual text, there are many footnotes to aid the reader, almost on every page, pointing out that a certain character's name has changed, or that Camus had made a mistake which he had not got round to changing before his death, etc.
Secondly, we find that The First Man, although not an autobiography, is, by and large, autobiographical in relation to the content with regards to the author's own life. However, we only reach the stage of Jacques Cormery's life (ie. Camus), where he is near to completing his education at the lycée in Algiers, and consequently we do not have the blistering accounts of how he was to travel to France under German occupation to aid the Resistence, or of when his literary fame came into being.
So, with all this in mind, why have I given this 5 stars- Why read The First Man?
Firstly, this is a touching book, and although sadly much was not written due to the author's untimely death in 1960, he did manage to get a lot down about his birth in a mall village in Algeria under French rule, about his Franco-Spanish ancestry, about the seering heat of the African sun hanging over the sand and sea of the Mediterranean in the 1920's. We feel the pleasures of a poor family, their hopes and fears and dreams, and share funny glimpses of everyday life (like uncle Ernest picking flees off his dog). We see the playground fights, the tensions between the Arabs and Europeans in the streets and desert, and the daily struggle to survive in general. The characters are real, and the scenary too is brought to life, and this book (even unfinished it has 260 pages) is a real page- turner.
This edition also has, at the 'end', a section of Camus' notes, showing how the novel would have developed, and a picture soon emerges, confirming the readers suspicions from the start that, on visiting his dead father's grave (he had been killed in World War One, when Camus was just one), the author is looking for a man he does not know and will never know; it is not his father, but himself.
One thing I think should be pointed out too, which is not evident at first, is that this edition also includes two letters, one from, and one to, the author's former teacher, who had helped this poor, small wretch of a boy to discover himself, and to gain a proper education, and to go on to become one of the towering figures in world literature in the twentieth century. Both these letters, with thanks and advice, are humbling, and add enormously to what is a blistering and emotive read. Excellent!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incomplete masterpiece, 26 Aug 2001
By 
Jason Parkes "We're all Frankies'" (Worcester, UK) - See all my reviews
(No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The First Man (Paperback)
'The First Man' was a manuscript left,unrevised by Albert Camus. It is impossible to know what the exact novel would have been- but what we have: sketches, notes, outlines- in this edition is more than enough...Strange, but this book deals with the time spent in youth, the period before we met Meursault in 'The Outsider'...The oddest image is that of a son at the grave of his father, technically older than him- this recalls or predicts texts by Samuel Beckett ('Molloy') & Paul Auster ('Leviathan')...This would be the ideal children's book, if it weren't hard to read- due to its incompleteness...This book is very odd and charming nevertheless; probably best read after an appreciation of Camus's other key works. 'The Outsider', 'The Myth of Sisyphus','The Plague', 'The Rebel' & 'The Fall'. He was one of the most important and talented writers of the 20th century and his words still matter. The publication of this manuscript proves that even more so...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a cultural essay as well as a great novel, 22 Nov 2007
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This review is from: The First Man (Paperback)
I could feel the heat and dust, and the blinding sun in my eyes reading this. Camus lets you into his memory of living with his mother as well as creating a novel which must be largely autobiographical. I can still see images in my mind as if I'd seen a movie, not read a page of words. His descriptions are so thorough. I especially like the hunting trip. I thinks this is as good as The Outsider.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A life story of no ordinary pedigree, 11 Dec 2000
By A Customer
The book has a curious start but nevertheless a quick-paced one. The story wanders from the touching vagaries of the main character, to the pragmatic sense of scene description that leaves the rest to the imagination. This and the taste of a world that you know, yet don't, or never will leaves an eager want to read further. A book that concludes to open your comprehension and understanding to other possibilities in everyday situations. If you fail gain value from the feeling given from the characters indeed you have failed to read the book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Something of a key to Camus, 24 April 2010
By 
Ian Shine (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Anyone who has read Camus' other works will relish reading this. For those who haven't, it's probably best to start with "The Outsider" and "The Plague" before coming to "The First Man".
An unfinished autobiographical book, Camus leads us from his birth in the opening chapter, through his father's death to his own discovery of himself as the first man, looking around for a moral compass, the moral compass that guides all of his books.
Towards the end of the book as it was left he writes: "he always was [ready] to lie for pleasure but incapable of doing so out of necessity." This provides a key of sorts to unlocking departments of "The Outsider", and is just one of hundreds of such enlightening comments littered throughout the book.
But the book doesn't merely have value as a guide to Camus. It's not an author's lazy autobiographical book.
The book emanates the smells and sounds of Algerian, the unbearable heat and the September rains. It is rich with balmy feeling that bring the hero's poverty-stricken childhood off the page in a way that has never been equalled.
The Algerian weather is something that sticks out in "The Outsider" as Mersault walks along the beach and shoots an Arab, tormenting Mersault and driving him to his destiny, as if it were inevitable (inevitability is another idea that is explored in "The First Man").
In "The First Man" he describes the summer heat as: "heavy, sweaty and roasting...even the memory of winter's cool and its waters was lost, as if the earth had never known the wind, nor the snow, nor light waters," linking it into another of his core themes: memory.
Camus writes how memory is the reserve of the rich, and that the poor, as his family were, have no distinct memories as every day is the same, creating no distinct reference points for memory to stick to. It is this lack of past that connects back to his feelings of being "The First Man": robbed of a father by World War I, robbed of a guiding source in life.
This book is an outstanding piece of memoir, despite never being finished. It is rich in the stuff of life, overflowing with passion for existence, just as Camus was, and stuffed with the keys to Camus' sensibility.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Book. Incomplete But All The More Interesting., 4 Sep 2009
By 
Clifford (Weymouth, Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This book is three things: it is an autobiography of a great writer; it is a novel, albeit unfinished, that evokes breathtakingly the atmospheres and social situations of post WWI colonial Algeria; and it is a wonderful insight into the processes of literary creation. In its autobiographical content it is necessary reading for any devotees of the man and his work. As a novel, unless we insist on such art forms as being formally complete and structurally sound, it is a magical evocation of Twentieth Century Algeria, its sounds, sights and smells. It is also a touching account of a deprived childhood, and a chronicle of the coming to terms with the loss of a father in such circumstances. Finally, from the standpoint of literary creation, the work is complete enough to thrill the reader, and the perception of the missing parts, augmented by Camus' often cryptic notes gives a rare insight into the creative process. Its appearance, so long after Camus' death, is a credit to his daughter, Catherine, and a considerable benefit to the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Plus ca change!, 24 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Once in a while you come across a book that is so beautifully written, so closely observed and so poignant in its observation of life and poverty that it changes you for ever.

Camus' semi-biographical account of a young boy's childhood in French Tunisia is just such a book. Buy it! Now! It will change you too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great man of good will, 9 Nov 2012
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
In this very moving human document, Albert Camus tries to unearth his familial, geographical and intellectual roots. He explains also his vision on mankind and which part of mankind occupies a prime position in his heart.

His family, Algeria
The ancestors of Albert Camus emigrated from the Alsace in France to Algeria and that in terrible conditions (the cholera killed 10 people every day). His father, an illiterate orphan died at the age of 21 during the Battle of the Marne, in a, for him, incomprehensible war so far from home.
In Algeria, where the heat drove Albert crazy, he felt an invisible threat when at night fights broke out between the French and the Arabs.

His youth (school and work)
Albert Camus came under the spell of a remarkable teacher during his primary school years. After winning the Nobel Prize, he sent him after so many years a moving letter of thanks, because he still considered himself as one of his little schoolboys.
His family was so poor that Albert had to work from the age of 13 during his vacations in order to pay for his studies. He immediately felt the boredom, the fatigue and the endless monotony of the beast of the work, a terrible curse, which made days too long and life too short.

Mankind, the first man
Albert Camus discovered `the mystery of poverty', the huge number of dead and nameless human beings which built the whole world. For him, the honor of the world lies with the oppressed, not with the powerful.
But, he also came to understand that men `pretend' to respect the law and bow their neck only in the face of brute force.
For him, all men without fathers are first men; they are those who stand alone in life without roots and faith.

This thinly disguised autobiography is a poignant story of emotional links and holes, of physical and mental battles for survival, which gave Albert Camus the courage to undertake a most remarkable and dramatic human journey. This admirable, but at the same time tragic, book is the work of a generous, grateful and life loving man. .
A remarkable work of world literature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars `So, for years, Jacques's existence was divided unequally into two lives between which he was unable to make any connection.', 29 Sep 2011
This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
In 1960, Albert Camus died in a car accident. The handwritten manuscript of this incomplete autobiographical novel was found in the wreckage. It was published, thirty-four years later, by his daughter Catherine. Albert Camus's wife and friends were afraid to publish it at the time of his death for reasons Catherine Camus explains in her introduction.

`The First Man' is the story of Jacques Cormery's return, at the age of 40, to Algeria, and his reflections on his childhood there. The novel follows Jacques's life from birth to his years in the lycée in Algiers. The novel explores childhood and school, Jacques's love for his mother and his search for a father who died during World War I. The novel may be an incomplete draft, in need of editing and further polish but it has its own raw power, with its insights into a happy but difficult and poor childhood. The novel is also about the colonial history of Algeria, and the relationship with France. Poverty and illiteracy have their own impact, on Jacques and his family, and on their interactions with the world.

`To begin with, poor people's memory is less nourished than that of the rich; it has fewer landmarks in space because they seldom leave the place where they live, and fewer reference points in time throughout lives that are grey and featureless.'

The lessons Jacques learned from his life included his ultimate disappointment at winning a brawl in the schoolyard: `And then he knew that war is no good, because vanquishing a man is as bitter as being vanquished.' There is also his embarrassment at reading film subtitles aloud to his illiterate mother and grandmother at the cinema, and his joy when a public library opens near the lycée.

Those more familiar with Albert Camus's writing than I am may see insights into his other works that I, having not yet read them, cannot appreciate. I read this for a reading group discussion and am moved by the power of the writing, and the realisation, by Jacques Cormery, of the power of literacy. There is a sense too that the acquisition of literacy, as a precursor to written memory, becomes part of an individual's responsibility to society. Albert Camus may have been writing about himself as he collected thoughts and ideas for this novel but I doubt that he was only writing for himself.

`And he too, perhaps more than she, since he had been born in a land without forefathers and without memory, where the annihilation of those who preceded him was still more final and where old age finds none of the solace in melancholy than it does in civilized lands.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 20 July 2014
By 
Elise (Santa Monica, CA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Great read
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The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics)
The First Man (Penguin Modern Classics) by Albert Camus (Paperback - 6 Dec 2001)
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