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Der Königsweg: Roman by Andre Malraux

Der Königsweg: Roman (original 1930; edition 1999)

by Andre Malraux

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296965,147 (3.45)16
One of Malraux's most exotic novels, The Way of Kings is a perfect companion to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. When Claude and Perken meet on a ship heading for Indochina, they decide to throw in their lots to form a dual expedition into the perilous jungles of Cambodia. Claude, a young Frenchman, is seeking adventure, fame, and fortune. Perken, a veteran Dutch explorer, is returning to his own little patch of Siam; appalled at the effects of age, he is aiming to recapture his former masculine pride. Facing death at every turn from the seething forest and "bestial” tribes people, they are nonetheless driven to leave their stamp on a world on the eve of its demise. Novelist, art historian, and statesman Andr#65533; Malraux is best known for his psychological masterpiece, Man’s Fate.… (more)
Title:Der Königsweg: Roman
Authors:Andre Malraux
Info:dtv (1999), Taschenbuch, 179 Seiten
Collections:Your library
Tags:Kambodscha, Angkor, Khmer, Antike Hochkultur, Abenteuer, Expedition, Archäologie, Indochina, Kolonialzeit, Französisch-Indochina

Work details

The Royal Way by André Malraux (1930)


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English (7)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Described on publication in 1930 as an adventure novel set in the romantic landscape of the temples of Angkor Watt. It must have been a puzzle to many readers at the time to have in their hands an existential tract written in feverish french with an overlay of erotisme. It was not an immediate success. Sure the main bones of the novel are that a young frenchman hooks up with an older more experienced explorer (Perken) in a search for a hidden temple on the royal way leading into the forest from Angkor Wat. Perken is also looking for another white man lost in the jungle and he has connections with hostile insurgents. They become trapped in a hostile village deep in the forest and are deserted by their guides. Death, disease and degradation dog their footsteps throughout their journey and these are the real subjects of the novel.

André Malraux had visited the temples of Angkor Wat in 1923 and in fact was charged by the French Colonial authorities for unlawfully removing bas-reliefs from one of the temples. He recovered from this early set back to become a successful author, a figure in the French resistance during the second world war, a recipient of the Croix de guerre and Minister of Information in General De Gaul's post war government. He was highly respected by the succeeding generation of french writers and philosophers with two major novels written either side of La Voie Royale; Les Conquerants in 1928 and La Condition humaine in 1933. La Voie Royale seems to be the less well thought of book in the trilogy of books set in Asia.

There is nothing uplifting in this soul destroying trudge through the scarcely explored forests on the edge of Cambodia. The Young Claude Vannec is driven by desire to find his fortune by robbing treasure from temples hidden in the forests. Perken is in league with insurgents and is looking to raise money to buy military hardware. The french legation while allowing Vannec to prospect in the forest warn him about Perken. Vannec seizes on the opportunities that come his way with prostitutes on the journey out to meet up with Perken and their initial conversations are full of allusions to local native women. Their trek through the jungle is hard, laborious, and full of biting insects, but a bond develops between the two men who talk about their fear of death. They find a temple deep in the forest, but they struggle to prise away three of the bas-reliefs and then have problems in loading them on to carriers, meanwhile Perken tells Vannec of his wish to follow any leads to find Grabot a white adventurer who has never reappeared after an expedition deep in the forests. There is much more talk about the meaning of life and the possibilities of dying in the forests as the insects become a constant pest and they are deserted by their guides. They stumble into a poor tribal village where they find Grabot as a slave in a pitiful condition. Perken negotiates a way out but becomes injured in the process; His knee gets infected and gangrene is a result. A local doctor says he must prepare himself to die a painful death as the only cure is amputation and there are no reachable facilities. Perken becomes feverish as the pain comes upon him in waves during an agonising final two weeks, his plans to help the insurgents have melted away and his search for Grabot has ended in his own death and the discovery of an emasculated wreck of a man who had been something of a hero to him.

There is nothing romantic about life in the Cambodian forests, it is a place where white men enter at their peril: the climate, the insects, the threat of injury is with them every step of the way. They are intruders in a hostile environment. Malraux emphasises this aspect of the story and then goes on to describe an experience that is degrading in every way. The feeling of being trapped becomes a living nightmare for the two men and their conversations and fears become disjointed in prose that effectively relates their overwhelming feeling that there is no escape. One can have little sympathy for the men who have gotten themselves into this situation and really by the end of the book I just wanted the forest to swallow them up.

This is not a particularly long novel, but reading is a little bit of an endurance test, I admired the atmosphere and setting that Malraux had created to rehearse some existential ideas, but it was a setting that had a morbid fascination that I was happy enough to put down at the end. 4 stars. ( )
2 vote baswood | May 24, 2020 |
Sometime in the 1920s, Claude and Perken, linked by “an obsession with death,” meet on a ship headed to Indochina and plot to steal antiquities. The Dutchman Perken, with “a hostility towards established values” is more experienced in the region than his French admirer, Claude. His intensity, once in the jungles of Cambodia is “a poignant, hopeless joy, like a piece of wreckage rescued from an abyss as deep as that of the darkness around them.”

The Colonel Kurtz-like Perken was originally tasked in some quasi-official capacity with locating a missing man named Grabot, but has now staked out his own territory and has his own army.

Death and decay are pervasive in the story. Claude and Perken seem to court death even as they fight it. As the Dutchman says: “the only reason to kill yourself is to exist. I don’t like people to be duped by God.” ( )
  Hagelstein | Aug 26, 2015 |
I read this in French in 1970 a couple of days before my French exam having cut it a bit fine as usual. I absolutely loved it and really regretted having missed the lectures about it. As a young reader I relished the daring adventures in palpably lush locations including jungle-covered ancient temples that I vowed to travel to at the first opportunity. This was quite a while later of course, what with the Vietnam War and the savage Pol Pot regime which ravaged Cambodia for many years. The book is partly fictionalised autobiography, as Malraux himself stole relief carvings on an expedition to Angkor in his youth, well before (ironically) becoming the French Minister for Culture. At Angkor we made a point of visiting beautiful Banteay Srei, by then cleared of enveloping jungle, danger instead being provided by residual land mines in the area. We couldn't find where Malraux had stolen carvings from. I bet there's a sign by now. ( )
  Eurydice2 | Mar 11, 2013 |
A thoughtful and entertaining novel which is, if anything, more interesting for being so obviously written under the influence of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Whereas Conrad's novel came as part of a whole tradition of English writers confronting the ‘savagery’ of the remote parts of their empire (Kipling etc.), French literature, before Malraux, had no such tradition – so just the fact of seeing France's Indochina colonies examined in the same way somehow seems rather radical.

The story concerns a young French archeologist who meets a legendary Danish adventurer on the way to Cambodia; the two cook up a scheme to plunder ruined Khmer temples for artifacts, but things go awry when they find themselves lost in the jungle at the mercy of unfriendly natives. And somewhere amidst the trees, there's also a vanished French explorer called Grabot, who went AWOL years ago in the forests, and is rumoured to have ‘gone native’….

The set-up is all there for a classic ‘novel of adventures’, and indeed there’s more than a hint of Indiana Jones to the early sections (when the two were hacking bas-reliefs off Khmer temples I could hear a voice in my head yelling ‘It belongs in a museum!’). Later escapades provide a full roster of poisoned darts, weird rituals, creepy-crawlies, and daring escapes. Yet what’s striking is how ‘French’ the resulting tale ends up being – by which I suppose I mean that it’s measured, philosophical; a story where death is not a cheap thrill, but rather a profoundly unsettling certainty that is seriously addressed. As a whole, La Voie royale reads not like an adventure story, but like a novel-of-ideas that just happens to be crammed with incidents, and in that sense it struck me as both unusual and very successful.

I imagine there are reams of ‘postcolonialist’ critique of this book out there. It’s of its time, and you can expect much reference to be made to natives and savages. That said, the colonial project is not completely unquestioned here either, and sometimes political comment does float to the surface:

L’État était au fond de cette obscurité, chassant devant lui les tribus animales avant de chasser les autres, allongeant de kilomètre en kilomètre la ligne de son chemin de fer, enterrant d’année en année, toujours un peu plus loin, les cadavres de son aventuriers.
“Behind this darkness was the State, chasing animals – and then others – before it, extending its railway line kilometre after kilometre, and burying year after year, a little further away each time, the corpses of its adventurers.”

How's the writing? As you can see, it's chewy and dense and hugely enjoyable. I read it in French, and it’s the kind of French book I like best: short and easy to follow, but still rich enough that you feel a constant benefit in discovering the original. The landscape of Southeast Asia is described in long, lush sentences, full of atmosphere. Here's the marshes as our protagonists approach the jungle from the river:

Claude regardait avec passion ce prologue de la forêt qui l'attendait, possédé par l'odeur de la vase qui se tend lentement au soleil, de l'écume fade qui sèche, des bêtes qui se désagrègent, par le mol aspect des animaux amphibies, couleur de boue, collés aux branches.
“Intently, Claude watched this prologue to the forest that awaited him, overwhelmed by the scent of the silt oozing slowly in the sun, of the insipid, drying froth, of the crumbling animals – by the sluggish appearance of the amphibious wildlife, mud-coloured and clinging to the branches.”

At other points the narrative becomes more precise, focusing in on welcome details:

Le feu crépitatit toujours; la flamme, au contraire, montait droite et claire, presque rose, n’éclairant que les volutes saccadées de sa fumée, dessinant des reflets dans la masse du feuillage qui ne se distinguait plus qu’à peine du ciel.
“The fire was still crackling away; the flame, by contrast, rose straight and clear, almost pink, illuminating only the jerky spirals of its own smoke, drawing reflections in the mass of foliage which was now barely visible against the sky.”

Interspersed with the languorous descriptions and the boy’s-own-adventure set-pieces are long, stychomythic passages of bare dialogue, where Claude the archaeologist and Perken the adventurer discuss, mainly, their own mortality. Ultimately, this propensity overtakes the more adventurous parts of the book, and the final section is essentially an extended Malrucian meditation on death and dying – except that I normally hate that sort of thing, whereas here, after what came before, it felt unusually powerful. And it’s free from the usual clichés of such writing: after a reflection that so many people around the world who are facing death take refuge in some god, we get this astonishing outburst:

Ah ! qu’il en existât, pour pouvoir, au prix des peines éternelles, hurler, commes des chiens, qu’aucune pensée divine, qu’aucune récompense future, que rien ne pouvait justifier la fin d’une existence humaine […] !
Oh! if only one of them did exist – just to be able, at the cost of eternal torment, to howl like a dog that no divine order, no future reward, nothing, could justify the end of one human existence!

It doesn’t feel depressing at all, it feels angry and articulate. Ce n’est pas pour mourir que je pense à mon mort, c’est pour vivre, as Perken puts it earlier: I don’t think about my own death in order to die, but in order to live. The aphorism could serve as a TL;DR summary of the entire novel – but consuming it as a whole, tomb-raider adventures and all, is a far more entertaining way to soak up the message. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Sep 7, 2012 |
Dans les années vingt, à bord d’un bateau faisant route pour l’Indochine, un jeune archéologue rencontre un aventurier. Tous deux, en quête d’argent, décident de prélever les plus belles sculptures de temples Kmers situés dans la jungle, hors des zones exploités, pour les négocier au meilleur prix. Plus qu’un simple roman d’aventure, on retrouve dans ce roman, des réflexions que Malraux ne cessera de développer dans l’ensemble de son oeuvre, sur les rapports de l’homme face à son destin et à sa mort.
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
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Celui qui regarde longtemps les songes devient semblable à son ombre.
—Proverbe malabar
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Cette fois, l'obsession de Claude entrait en lutte : il regardait opiniâtrement le visage de cet homme, tentait de distinguer enfin quelque expression dans la pénombre où le laissait l'ampoule allumée derrière lui.
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One of Malraux's most exotic novels, The Way of Kings is a perfect companion to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. When Claude and Perken meet on a ship heading for Indochina, they decide to throw in their lots to form a dual expedition into the perilous jungles of Cambodia. Claude, a young Frenchman, is seeking adventure, fame, and fortune. Perken, a veteran Dutch explorer, is returning to his own little patch of Siam; appalled at the effects of age, he is aiming to recapture his former masculine pride. Facing death at every turn from the seething forest and "bestial” tribes people, they are nonetheless driven to leave their stamp on a world on the eve of its demise. Novelist, art historian, and statesman Andr#65533; Malraux is best known for his psychological masterpiece, Man’s Fate.

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A semi-autobiographical novel based on Malraux's search for buried treasure in Indochina in the 1920s.
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