14 Wednesday Dec 2016
Andre Malraux was the quintessential adventurer-intellectual of the between the World War years. Man’s Hope was on 1960s high school reading lists; Man’s Fate followed it for some, exploring the far reaches of the world they had come into, along with their own adventurer identities. The Royal Way, in which Malraux captured his own illicit adventureering in Cambodia for forbidden archaeological artifacts, never quite got the attention of the other two –lacking a war– but was another manifestation of his Big-Ideas Big-Adventure interests. It turns out that his model of how to be a man was T. E. Lawrence, the WW I British fighter-intellectual in the Levant.
In The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, Malraux’s last fictional work, he extends his inquiry and obsession into the nature of man, the struggle between individualism and fraternity, and “that crucial region of the soul where absolute evil hangs in balance against fraternity.” To those already familiar with Malraux’s place in time and literary lineage the linkage to Lawrence (never named) will be somewhat clear. To those coming at him without such background, it will not occur; instead, what will be in hand will be a odd text with several stand-alone and powerful sections on the violence of war but all strangely discontinuous. For such readers, the book will seem to be a muddle, more or less interesting to me and not to you, almost by chance.