The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet ; Foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre
New York : Grove Press, 1964. First Edition. Hardcover. 268 pages ; 21 cm. Very good copy with original dust jacket, unmarked pages and square binding.
The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet
Foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre
Translated from the French by Bernard Frechtman
The Barrio Chino in Barcelona is a latticework of dark narrow streets bounded on one side by the elegant boulevard Las Ramblas and on the other by another broad thoroughfare the Parallelo. During the thirties it was inhabited by a motley international band of "beggars and thieves, fairies and whores" wretched beyond description. Perhaps it was natural, therefore, that the young outcast Jean Genet—an orphan, an escapee from the Mettray Reformatory, a deserter from the Foreign Legion—should have gravitated to this "sacred" pit of humanity. "It is the life of vermin I am going to describe," he notes early in this amazing journal, his first work following the explosive Our Lady of the Flowers. "Spain at the time was covered with vermin," he adds. "They went from village to village, to Andalusia because it was warm, to Catalonia because it was rich.... I was thus a louse and conscious of being one."
The key word is "conscious": everything in Genet is conscious, as he probes from within a reality hitherto rarely explored. With beauty and candor he describes and hymns his relationships with his various friends and lovers — miserable Salvador, whose flesh is the color of sawdust; Stilitano, a man of radiant and somber anger whose pride is matched only by his abject cowardice; the gypsy Pepe, who stabs a fellow gambler to death and is later caught and jailed through Stilitano's betrayal ("Betrayal is beautiful," writes Genet) ; graceful, virile Michaelis, with whom he visits the countries —and the prisons—of Central Europe.
If southern Spain and the arid country-side of Andalusia is the southern pole of this work, the northern pole is cold, gray Antwerp, where once again Stilitano appears. Between are glimpses of life—the thief s life —in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hitler's Germany, and France.
The fusion of Genet's poetic vision and his attitudes toward the world around him have no real parallel in modern literature. He is, as Sartre has noted, Narcissus, seeing himself everywhere: "the dullest surfaces reflect his image." As the world has rejected him, so he rejects the world's values, not by attacking them but by praising and hymning the values and actions the world fears and despises. When Java cringes with fear, "he is stunning"; fear itself is noble, shame and betrayal beautiful; prisons are objects of devotion, for they represent a refuge against the stings of society. In its honesty, its poetry, its freshness, The Thief s Journal is a beautiful work. "I do not fear to call this book," says Jean-Paul Sartre, "the most beautiful that Genet has written."
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