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The First Man Paperback – August 6, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Camus was working on this novel, an autobiographical coming-of-age story, when he died in 1960.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA?This autobiographical novel was found in the car wreckage that killed the author 34 years ago. Through it, today's teens are given a glimpse of Camus's Algerian childhood. In the story, the protagonist, Jacques Cormery, lives in a variety of concurrent worlds. His much-loved, deaf-mute mother and illiterate, tyrannical grandmother provide him with a secure, though poverty-stricken family life. The sea and countryside provide him with a rich, sensuous play life while the lycee challenges him intellectually. Jacques's thoughts and adventures are enriched by the vividly drawn settings?the oppressive gray heat of summer, the feel of the sea and sun, the vision of crowded bodies on the trolley. YAs will find the story accessible and may be surprised at the universality of emotions expressed. Readers seeking a quiet guide through the deepest reaches of another spirit will gain further understanding of the human condition.?Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679768165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679768166
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on September 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Albert Camus. I have always liked his books, especially The Plague. My favorite part of that book was not necessarily the conversations between the characters but the moments of solitude where the sensual beauty of the world is silently looked upon. Reading The First Man I found a book by Camus that I prefer to his novels and stories because in this unfinished autobiography you get the feeling you are listening to the loneliest man on earth. It is sad, but it is heartwarming, this is Camus alone and what is important to Camus stands out like it does nowhere else. In other words this is Camus outside the context we normally encounter him in which is the turbulent intellectual debates in France of the 40's and 50's. Camus never believed in the politics of the French left in regards to the Arab countries and the future course of leadership for those nations which were his home from a very early age and where this autobiographical novel takes place. Camus believed in an alliance of European and Arab peoples that would rule together. You cannot help but think Camus was perhaps trying to come to terms with his own identity which was a combination of both places, and perhaps an uneasy combination. In some ways he reminds me of T.E. Lawrence in that his ultimate vision was always at odds with almost everyone elses. Both were ultimately very lonely figures. This book concentrates on the childhood years but since we all know what the future held for Camus it is all the more moving. And that feeling for nature which required no identity and had none of its own it seems was there from the beginning.
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Format: Paperback
It is reallly not fair to rate a work that is not complete. As an artist, I know how horrifying it is to show unfinished works to anybody. It really is a violation. However, whether this is Camus's first draft or 2nd draft, the evidence is everywhere what kind of great book it would have been had he had a chance to edit it, re-structure and re-write it. It was a great learning experience for me to study what a potential masterpiece looks like in the early stage of its creation.

In this draft, it seems that he was just writing down everything that had come to his mind, the things that he remembered and thought could be part of the story. It's not edited or organized well, so there are some inconsistency, unfinished sentences, and confusions. The plot is not clear, you don't know where the story is going, and the structure is not solid. There are some parts that can be eliminated as well.

But the writing itself is still very strong and beautiful, and there is a lot of wisdom in it. I especially enjoyed the chapter "the school." In this chapter he talks about the school life of the protagonist and how the teacher M. Bernard taught the children with love and discipline, and how the children loved and adored him, despite the corporal punishment they received from him for misbehaving. It's the kind of teacher-student relationship you rarely see in today's society. Each episode is vivid, detailed, heart-warming, full of wisdom and love, and beautifully written.

At the end of the book, after the story ceases, there is a section called "Interleaves." It's a collection of notes and memos of Camus, bits and pieces of scenes or dialogues, thoughts and ideas, which didn't have a chance to take parts of the book. Obviously Camus was planning to use them.
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Format: Paperback
_The First Man_ was published by the late author's daughter, Catherine Camus. Largely autobiographical, the manuscript was raw, uncorrected and unfinished at the time of Camus's death. In it Camus speaks of the father he never met, who was killed in combat in World War I. Camus, called "Jacques Cormery" in the novel, was raised by his strong-willed grandmother, a strict disciplinarian who would punish Jacques for wearing out his shoes playing soccer. From a poverty stricken family living in Algiers, Jacques's grandmother just did not have the money to purchase him new shoes. Jacques's war widow mother, a deaf mute, took a backseat to his grandmother in raising her son. Both women were illiterate. Jacques's Uncle Ernest, also deaf, provided a loving and strongly positive male role model for Jacques. Camus also describes the beneficent influence of a beloved male teacher who greatly encourages Jacques to succeed academically despite his family's indigence and ignorance.
According to Camus's daughter, who wrote the preface to the book, had Camus lived, as a man with a reserved nature he would have edited out much of his personal feelings that he included in the manuscript. Left untouched the published manuscript had an honesty that it may not otherwise have had. The book's unedited, frequent run-on sentences lent the book a flowing quality and a sense of immediacy and urgency. Camus also beautifully described the suffocatingly hot, sere quality of the Algiers summers. For me, _The First Man_ is a scintillating tale of a boy who triumphed despite his extreme disadvantages, who was never without "a sure confidence...(that) guaranteed that he would achieve everything he desired..."
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It is better to be wrong by killing no one than to be right with mass graves. -Albert Camus
This unfinished autobiographical novel comes to us nearly forty years after Camus died in a car crash, because, as his daughter explains in her introduction, his wife and friends were afraid to publish it at the time of his death. They feared that it would make an easy target for the increasingly numerous critics of Camus, who had gone from being an icon of the left, winning the Nobel Prize in 1957, to being a pariah, because of his principled stand on two issues: first, he refused to turn a blind eye to the Gulag and denounced the totalitarian methods of the Soviet Union; second, he refused to go along with the Algeria-for-the-Arabs climate of the times, calling instead for a sharing of power between natives and European colonists. In addition, the preoccupation with morality in his writings struck the intellectuals of his day as antiquated and quaint. Publishing a fragmentary work would have invited attacks on his already sliding reputation by a literary class which had turned on him for these myriad political reasons.
The novel, which was actually found in the wreckage of his car, would indeed have been greeted with hoots and catcalls by the Left. It is the most sentimental and personal of all his works. The story of Jacques Cormery's return to Algeria and his reflections on his coming of age is filled with inchoate longing, for the Algeria of his youth, for the Father who died when he was just a child, for the love of a beautiful but deaf and distant Mother and for a moral code by which to live. It brilliantly evokes a distinct place and time and the happy memories of a difficult childhood.
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