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This review is from: Journey to the End of the Night (Paperback)
Celine was a WWI veteran, sometimes discontented vagabond, and qualified but barely surviving Doctor/Physician who wrote one of the greatest novels of the 20th Western century. This is it. It's like a bomb hitting you on every page. The level of pessimism, cynicism, black humor, and its concomitant in the bargain--unflinching honesty--had never been equaled before in literature & few have matched it since. By his example, he inspired Henry Miller, Philip Roth, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jack Kerouac & many other luminaries to write in a similar no-holds-barred style. But as they say, the original is always the best & Celine was an original. No less a literary master and 'black satirist' than Nabokov himself has called Celine nothing but a second-rater; but even if you agree with that assesment of Celine's purely literary skills, you have to give credit to the guy for originating the no-nonsense style which made possible an artistically illuminating foray of unprecedented brutal honesty into the seedier aspects of life.
During the second World War, Celine wrote and distributed anti-semitic pamphlets and was ardently pro-Nazi and pro-German occupation of France. A lot of people couldn't understand how such an indisputably important artist could also be a Fascist sympathizer. Fascism & art didn't go together in their minds (especially since most of the literati in France who had liked Celine's novels were either strong lefists and/or pro-USSR Communists). Celine had to live in exile for many years as a result of this war-time pro-fascist business, and never regained the scary perfection of form, the shattering style evident on every page of "Journey" (and its less impressive but still amazing follow-up "Death On the Installment Plan").
There's very little in "Journey" that's scatologically trite & meandering, ... this is strong, even poetic stuff--some of the most original prose ever written. At this point in his career Celine's writing was an absolute revelation to most people who read it, and it was equally popular with low-brow and high-brow readers alike. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used to know entire passages of "JTTEOTN" by heart and quoted from it often to spice up conversations that were getting too uptight.
Some people swear by the newer Mannheim translations as the absolute best, but I for one, found them a little too willing to please 'hip' American audiences by using certain more popular forms of speech, at the expense of a stronger but more restrictively high-brow literary quality. That's why I say, read the Manheim versions but don't ignore the older translations available in the libraries , some of them are brilliant and turn Celine into a much more refined writer than Manheim, even if the curse words are toned down and euphemised. Of course, most French people will tell you that it's absolutely ridiculous to read Celine in anything but French!