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Man's Fate (1933)

by André Malraux

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,069305,396 (3.74)52
As explosive and immediate today as when it was originally published in 1933, Man's Fate (La Condition Humaine), an account of a crucial episode in the early days of the Chinese Revolution, foreshadows the contemporary world and brings to life the profound meaning of the revolutionary impulse for the individuals involved. As a study of conspiracy and conspirators, of men caught in the desperate clash of ideologies, betrayal, expediency, and free will, Andre Malraux's novel remains unequaled. Translated from the French by Haakon M. Chevalier… (more)
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» See also 52 mentions

English (22)  French (3)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Characters dealing with life and death during war.
  freddyba | Dec 2, 2019 |
It has been said in other reviews that "Much is lost in translation." In fact, this is a horrible translation. The work deserves a new life at the hands of someone capable of rendering it into fluid readable English. And who was the editor who let Chevalier get away with the many nearly incomprehensible long single sentences containing a colon, and a semicolon, and half a dozen misplaced commas? Perhaps there wasn't one.

Worth the read in spite of the poor translation and much enhanced by also reading the history of the period. Striking foreshadowing. ( )
  Notmel | Jul 24, 2019 |
What a tale of jihad and lust during a civil war. If that appears reductive, there is a touch more shadow and verse at play in this gripping and frenetic novel of Shanghai in 1927.

Equally dogmatic and dour, Man's Fate is episodic in terms of narrative and ensemble. There is gore and grief and considerable historical certainty at what the Future holds----even as the vanquished are tortured and often burned alive. Elements are included of miscegenation and misogyny. These simply enhance the noir. There's plenty of silence, muttering and plaintive smoking. There's a suicide bomber and a confidence man straight out of Melville. ( )
1 vote jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
“Tonight, his life was going to change: the power of thought is not great against the metamorphosis to which death can oblige a man. He was henceforth thrown back upon himself. The world no longer had any meaning, no longer existed: the irretrievable immobility, there, beside that body which had bound him to the universe, was like a suicide of God.”

I’ve not read any fictionalized version of the Chinese Revolution. Admittedly, it’s mostly been of the Soviet variety. So, I can appreciate getting a backdrop to events that I only know cursorily through history—the motivations and psychology that went into each moving part, each country or faction’s stake in the event, each principle character lending a hand in constructing (or deconstructing, depending on the instance) a picture to a very complicated puzzle.

Unfortunately, the characters really have no personality deeper than those motivations or allegiances to their faction. Whether Chinese, Japanese, French, or Russian, I really don’t get a sense of any individual personality outside of its group. They seem more facsimile than real beings of pathos. And the settings leave you wondering just where in the hell you are. If that were the point—to leave you disoriented and crouched in the jungle gloom—I’d get it; but, honestly, it’s hard to pay attention to flat characters moving from offices to bombed-out buildings to forests to streets, especially with all that action.

Don’t get me wrong—there are some shining moments here. Some truly painful moments. One scene with a character splitting his cyanide tablet in half for a pair of suffering revolutionaries who then drop those pieces . . . yeah, more of that kind of shit. A character stumbles across a child’s severed arm, and that visual is strong, but then it’s immediately whisked away with more bombing. Which, to be fair, wouldn’t probably get properly assessed until later, anyway. But we never get that character’s reckoning of the horror in any real sense. More complexity of characters and their interactions instead of merely steamrolling the action would’ve had more impact.

Honestly, with all that death and self-sacrifice, I was kind of bored with the politics, the boardroom meetings, the too-quick revelations of man’s condition. Which is especially disappointing since the French title is 𝘓𝘢 𝘊𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘏𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦. I wanted more than just shrapnel to stick into the meat. Maybe I was looking for too much. But I often found myself drifting . . .

“The room remained the same: the mosquito-net, the blank walls, the clear rectangle of light; murder changes nothing . . .” ( )
  ToddSherman | May 8, 2018 |
Early in Man’s Fate, before the armed uprising in Shanghai that proved a key conflict in China’s early 20th century history, André Malraux describes an interesting way his Chinese revolutionaries transmit secret messages.

Two vinyl recordings labeled as language-teaching records are played, each starting at the same instant. The first record hisses so one can’t hear the words on the second record. At select moments the hissing briefly stops, a quiet interval just long enough so that a single word from the second record is heard. Then the hissing resumes until it stops again to allow a second word to be heard. The hissing/quiet/hissing/quiet continues until, by the time both records reach their ends, all words of the message have been revealed. Plus, the two records are always shipped separately to ensure security of the message.

Vinyl Encryption! Nice. Effective for 1920s rebels and not a bad name for a band. It’s even possible to see it as a symbol for how essential coordination and communication are to success, which becomes terribly evident as the revolt goes on.

In this novel Malraux gives the impression he would rather be thought to have a highly original intelligence, or a great capacity for the profound, than anything else praiseworthy. The risk of appearing ordinary in the extraordinary scenes he has composed seems to me slight but, just in case, his characters often express thoughts more apt to arrest and distract the reader than immerse him in the story. In this he does those characters, notably the Gisors, no favors. This heightened desire for originality reminds me of the similarly surnamed Norman Mailer who often seemed to be striving to find ideas that would make people want to talk to him at parties. Malraux emerged into fame from 1920s Paris, a competitive scene for the creatively gifted where one could not, I imagine, not value any effort that might make a memorable impression.

In contrast, Malraux does well with how he makes us aware of conditions provoking the general strike that occurred just before the uprising, simply reporting the slogans expressing demands on banners hung about Shanghai: “A twelve-hour working day,” “No more employment of children under eight,” “Right to sit down for women-workers.” No explanation needed. No wonder the protests and revolt.

I’ve read complaints about Haakon Chevalier’s translation of La Condition Humaine, voiced mostly by readers who acknowledge not knowing French. When one doesn’t know the original language, how is it decided that the translator, not the author, is at fault? One way would be to compare Chevalier’s version to Alistair MacDonald’s, titled A Storm in Shanghai, a title not boding well for McDonald’s effort. Let’s give Haakon some credit. Man’s Fate is a way better title than MacDonald‘s invention. As for the immediately obvious The Human Condition, that strikes me as a literalism that could hardly be duller or more vague. If we have to choose between pretentious titles then at least let us choose the most portentous.

But, well, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

My other opinion is that this is a dramatic story Malraux has told, with the playing out of the revolution having the qualities of suspense, excitement, and surprise that I like such a story to have. And despite what can seem excessive devotion to profundity and portent in Malraux’s telling, he often enough hits on just the right tone and mood to make his story have an impact it could not otherwise have. He is even, at times, original and possibly profound.

For a more conventional but also good novel set during the Chinese revolution of the 1920s, try The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna. ( )
2 vote dypaloh | Jan 28, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (58 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Malraux, Andréprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chevalier, Haakon M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Du Perron, E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Høst, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Høst, GunnarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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a' Eddy du Perron
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Should he try to raise the mosquito-netting?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Man's Fate is Malraux's most celebrated novel. It describes the 1927 Communist uprising in Shanghai, and encompasses one of the author's favorite themes: that all men will attempt to escape, or to transcend, the human condition.
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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