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The Jokers (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – July 13, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"Albert Cossery, who died in 2008 at age 94, ought to be a household name. He’s that good: an elegant stylist, an unrelenting ironist, his great subject the futility of ambition 'in a world where everything is false.' ... The Jokers is a small masterpiece…” –David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

"Cossery’s account of finding the space to protest and retain your sense of humor is equal parts funny and vicious." --Jessa Crispin, NPR


“Cossery argues the futility of locking horns with your oppressor. . . . Far more effective—and far more natural—to undermine it by mockery and ridicule, as happens in this book to hilarious effect.”

—The Independent


“Cossery’s use of irony is one of the most powerful and pity-inducing to be found in any literature East or West, old or new. It is an irony so fierce, an anger so sharply muted by inversion of sarcasm and disgust that it makes the reader’s hair stand on end with guilty compassion.”

—John Murray


“His caustic satire burned like the desert sun, undermining all forms of authority.”

—The Guardian


“A jewel of eccentric humor.” —Le Monde


About the Author

Albert Cossery (1913–2008) was a Cairo-born French writer of Lebanese and Greek Orthodox Syrian descent who settled in Paris at the end of the Second World War and lived there for the rest of his life. The son of an illiterate mother and a newspaper-reading father with a private income from inherited property, Cossery was educated from a young age in French schools, where he received his baccalauréat and developed a love of classical literature. At age
seventeen he made a trip to the French capital with the intention of continuing his studies there. Instead he joined the Egyptian merchant marine, eventually serving as chief steward on the Port Said–New York line. When he was twenty-seven his first book, Men God Forgot, was published in Cairo and, with the help of Henry Miller, in the United States. In 1945 he returned to Paris to write and live alongside some of the most influential writers and artists of the last century, including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tristan Tzara, Alberto Giacometti, Lawrence Durrell, and Jean Genet. He was also, briefly, married to the actress Monique Chaumette. In 1990 Cossery was awarded the Grand Prix de la francophonie de l’Académie française and in 2005 the Grand Prix Poncetton de la Société des gens de lettres. His books, which have been translated into more than fifteen languages, include The House of Certain Death, The Lazy Ones, and Proud Beggars.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (July 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173252
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173251
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book was first published in 1964 in Paris. Its author, Albert Cossery, was born in Cairo in 1913 of well-off Greek Orthodox parents and was educated in French schools. He befriended Henry Miller while he served as a ship steward and was in the US. His first book, "Men God Forgot," published in Cairo in 1941 in French, came to the attention of Albert Camus. Cossery's writing in this book is unique, takes a dark view and turns it into sarcastic hilarity, and reminds me very much of Russian literature, specifically Dostoevsky. Yet, in spite of this novel's cynical view of politicians, authority figures, materialism, and the pathetic strivings of the working classes to rise up the economic ladder, there is a spiritual side to it and a genuine feeling of empathy for the sadly disenfranchised. One of the main characters, Heykal, is an impoverished "revolutionary" who is presented as being above the fray, an aristocrat, an unemotional anarchist who uses irony and hyperbolic exaggeration to unseat the oppressive "governor" and his corrupt cronies. He is above the run of the mill revolutionaries, doesn't throw bombs, but rather throws jokes and pranks at power to unseat it. He's an interesting character, one of many that populate this work. If you're looking for a unique read and a new author to explore, stop here. Recommended.
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Format: Paperback
This strange, disturbing, and funny book (yes, all at once) is a meditation on the various ways to assail a corrupt and oppressive regime. Is direct revolutionary confrontation the answer? Or is there another way? The "jokers" in this slender, powerful novel are leagued in a conspiracy of mockery. They set out to use outrageous, inflated flattery and praise for the corrupt and incompetent governor of their province, to make him a target of universal mockery and disdain. In this effort, they also mock the pretensions of humorless, fanatic revolutionary movements. As the joker Heykal tells the revolutionary Taher, to fight the oprressor is to legitimize the oppressor and his oppression by challenging it on its own turf and with methods that it recognizes. Better by far to show how ridiculous it and all its works appear, and by mocking the possibilities of politics and governance altogether, "the eternal fraud."
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