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The First Man by Albert Camus

The First Man (edition 1995)

by Albert Camus

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1,725115,984 (3.73)36
Title:The First Man
Authors:Albert Camus
Info:NY: Alfred A. Knopf (1995), Hardcover
Collections:Your library

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The First Man by Albert Camus



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Showing 5 of 5
In this unfinished novel, Camus gives a poignant and richly detailed semi-autographical account of a childhood in Algeria. The notes included here make it clear that this was intended as part of a much more ambitious work, but what remains is very readable and moving. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 4, 2014 |
First Man opens with Henri Cormery, the new manager of the Saint-Apotre property seeking help for his wife, in labor with their second child. But, the meat of the transcript is the son, Jacques Cormery, looking to understand he father he never met. With a deaf-mute mother and a contradictory tyrannical grandmother, Jacques's quest for knowledge is slow-going. Henri Cormery died in combat when Jacques was just an infant and the women in his family are reluctant to remember anything. Most of the story centers on Jacques in the formative years, his education, his religion, his poverty and of course, his mother and grandmother. While most of the story centers on the bleakness of poverty and the restrictions placed upon Jacques because of that poverty, I liked the sly sense of humor Camus inserted throughout the story. Take this dialogue, for example: "How is it going?" "I don't know, I especially don't go in where the women are." "Good rule...Particularly when when are crying..." (p 15). It just goes to show you that emotional women still drive men nuts. What I didn't appreciate in First Man was how confusing an unfinished transcript could be. On page 8 Jacques's mother's name is Lucie, but by page 90 she is Catherine. Then there were the hundreds and hundreds of reference notes. It made reading slow and plodding at times. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 17, 2014 |
In The First Man Albert Camus allowed the main character Jacques Cormery to reflect back on his life of humble beginnings. A forty year old Jacques Cormery sets out on a journey seeking details about his deceased father. Henri Cormery died before Jacques was a year old. Very little was shared with Jacques about his father while growing up. There was no time for Jacques to yearn for his father because he and his family were trying to survive a life of poverty.

Jacques referred to his neighborhood as an island of poverty and himself as being born into an ignorant and handicapped family. These truths were ever present but never overwhelmed him. The adults that live at home with Jacques are all illiterate. His mother is partially deaf and always distant. His grandmother is a tyrant. All his family knows is hard work. They have no time for religion or patriotism. Jacques life begins to change when a teacher recognizes his academic potential.

Jacques mother has to be the most complicated yet the most simple character of the entire work. Her personality and her status as a parent is constantly overshadowed and taken over by her tyrannical mother. She never shares any insight with Jacques about his father. When Jacques specifically asks her about his father she is dismissive. This could be seen as selfish but we learn that due to her disability and illiteracy she has a hard time expressing herself. Regardless, Jacques always had a steadfast love for his mother.

The First Man was found handwritten and unedited among the wreckage in which Albert Camus lost his life. In this raw state, it still reads like a fully developed novel. This story is melancholy yet delightful. ( )
  pinkcrayon99 | Jun 14, 2013 |
The First Man is Albert Camus' last work which was found in the wreckage of the car Camus was killed in. It was still just a handwritten manuscript and remained unpublished until 1995 when Camus' children decided to publish it just as it was.

The story is gripping and lovely. It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a man born in Algeria and living in France as an adult. It begins with his birth in Algeria on the night his parents arrive at a small village where the father is to become a farm manager. The mother is a descendent of Spanish refugees to Algeria and the father is French. The father dies when the main character is an infant and he is raised by his mother, who is partially deaf, and his maternal grandmother. The family also includes an older brother and the mother's brother who is totally deaf. Their only income is what the uncle earns in a barrel factory and a small pension the mother receives from the father's death. We follow this character to adulthood and then back to his roots in a visit to his father's grave and back to Algeria. I didn't expect to love it but I did and now I'll read more Camus. ( )
  RebaRelishesReading | Jun 10, 2013 |
When Albert Camus met his tragic end in an automobile accident in 1960, he left behind this unfinished manuscript. His wife, Francine, decided its incomplete state, with lots of marginalia, notes, and interleaved sheets, would tarnish her husband’s reputation, so she decided against publication. When Francine died, responsibility for Camus’ literary estate fell to his daughter Catherine. She struggled with the decision, and rejected the idea of destroying the manuscript of about 144 pages with little or no punctuation, and with only the barest evidence of any revision. In the 1990s, at the urging of some scholars, she agreed to publication. The English translation appeared in 1995. I, for one, offer a most hearty thanks to Catherine for her decision.

This highly autobiographic novel offers many insights into the formative years of Camus. The death of his father -- when he barely passed his first birthday -- his strict upbringing by his timid mother who deferred to his martinet of a grandmother, to his early education and rescue from a life of poverty by a beloved teacher who recommended him for a scholarship to the lycée, and ultimately to his search for information about his father, appear with a warmth and nostalgia I have not experienced in any of Camus’ other works.

In fact, so many things in his early life strike me as startlingly familiar. For example, on his vacation, young Jacques Cormery frequently visits the local library,

“Thursday was also the day Jacques and Pierre would go to the public library. Jacques had always devoured any books that came to hand, and he consumed them with the same appetite he felt for living, playing, or dreaming. But reading enabled him to escape into a world of innocence where wealth and poverty were equally interesting because both were utterly unreal...illustrated stories that he and his friends passed around until the board binding was gray and rough and the pages dog-eared and torn, was the first to transport him to a world of comedy or heroism where his two basic appetites for joy and courage were satisfied” (244).

Jacques sets off for the lycée with the encouragement of a beloved teacher, and he experiences an epiphany similar to that used by James Joyce in the last paragraph of the Dubliners story, “Araby.” Jacques and Joyce’s young boy realized they are on the edge of new experiences and are about to put their childhoods behind them.

The manuscript has numerous passages with a bit of awkwardness, and footnotes hint at Camus’ indecision about diction or deletion, inclusion, or expansion of some information for the final version of the novel. But he deals with all the major issues found in all his works – life, death, religion, punishment, colonialism, prejudice, and family relationships. Camus always makes me think about all these topics.

If you are unfamiliar with Camus, this novel is the perfect place to start – a literary and philosophical buffet of his life and beliefs. The First Man represents a most important addition to the literary canon of existentialism. 5 stars

--Jacques, 7/17/10 ( )
  rmckeown | Jul 17, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Albert Camusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Camus, CatherineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hapgood, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lund, Hans PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sterre, Jan Pieter van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679768165, Paperback)

Camus tells the story of Jacques Cormery, a boy who lived a life much like his own. Camus summons up the sights, sounds and textures of a childhood circumscribed by poverty and a father's death yet redeemed by the austere beauty of Algeria and the boy's attachment to his nearly deaf-mute mother. Published thirty-five years after its discovery amid the wreckage of the car accident that killed Camus, The First Man is the brilliant consummation of the life and work of one of the 20th century's greatest novelists. Translated from the French by David Hapgood.

"The First Man is perhaps the most honest book Camus ever wrote, and the most sensual...Camus is...writing at the depth of his powers...It is a work of genius."--The New Yorker

"Fascinating...The First Man helps put all of Camus's work into a clearer perspective and brings into relief what separates him from the more militant literary personalities of his day...Camus's voice has never been more personal."--New York Times Book Review

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:16 -0400)

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Traces the story of Jacques Cormery, a young man who rises above the losses and misfortunes of his childhood in Algeria.

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