Paris Vagabond by Jean-Paul Clebert, Donald Nicholson-Smith (Translated by), Patrice Molinard (Photographs by), Luc Sante (Introduction by)
Jean-Paul Clébert was a boy from a respectable middle-class family who ran away from school, joined the French Resistance, and never looked back. Making his way to Paris at the end of World War II, Clébert took to living on the streets, and in Paris Vagabond, a so-called “aleatory novel” assembled out of sketches he jotted down at the time, he tells what it was like.
His “gallery of faces and cityscapes on the road to extinction” is an astonishing depiction of a world apart—a Paris, long since vanished, of the poor, the criminal, and the outcast—and a no less astonishing feat of literary improvisation: Its long looping breathless sentences, streetwise, profane, lyrical, incantatory, are an adventure in their own right. Praised on publication by the great novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars and embraced by the young Situationists as a kind of manual for living off the grid, Paris Vagabond—here published with the starkly striking photographs of Clébert’s friend Patrice Molinard—is a raw and celebratory evocation of the life of a city and the underside of life.
Beautiful and touching!
I like reading about my city and it was a great walk into history and into french culture with someone able to make you feel the world he was seeing and living in. He was right about Paris being experimented early in the morning, in the bistrots/cafés or just by losing yourself in the streets.
Still the best way to discover Paris and its diversity not always full of sparkles.
I was pulled into the desription and the hard and realistic way the author was sharing his testimony of an epoque as well as trying to share his views of Paris. Not sure, it's a book for tourists, who usually prefer the glamorous and romantic view of seeing the French capital. But it's wonderfully written, full of poetry even when relating poverty and the ways clochards were living at this time.
It's also very contemporary. If the landscape have changed because of constructions and if some "quartiers" have disapeared, Paris is still full of awesome surprises and days still "inhaled faster than a puff on a cigarette." And poverty with clochards and migrants is still the same. Probably even more sad and dangerous now.
An awesome book, written by someone who was in love with the French city as well as with the real people he had spent time with.
Jean-Paul Clébert (1926–2011) ran away from his Jesuit boarding school at the age of seventeen to join the French Resistance, serving undercover in a Montmartre brothel to gather intelligence on the patrons who were German soldiers. After the liberation of Paris he wandered through a catalog of odd jobs including boat painter, cook, newspaper seller, funeral director’s mute, and café proprietor. For many months he lived with the city’s down-and-outs, though without losing touch with some of Paris’s literary figures, notably Blaise Cendrars, and gathered the raw material for this book, first published in 1952 as Paris insolite. In 1956 he moved to Provence, where he remained for the rest of his life, writing many books, including a classic firsthand study of Gypsy life, originally published in 1961 and translated by Charles Duff as The Gypsies; and the encyclopedic Dictionnaire du Surréalisme (1996).
Patrice Molinard (1922–2002) began his career taking stills for Georges Franju’s legendary documentary on the Paris slaughterhouse at La Villette, Le sang des bêtes (1949). As a film director, he is best known for Fantasmagorie (1963), Orphée 70 (1968), and Bistrots de Paris (1977).
Donald Nicholson-Smith was born in Manchester, England and is a longtime resident of New York City. He came across Clébert’s Paris insolite as a teenager and has long wished to bring it to an Anglophone audience. Among his many translations are works by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Henri Lefebvre, Raoul Vaneigem, Antonin Artaud, Jean Laplanche, Guillaume Apollinaire, Guy Debord, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, and (with Alyson Waters) Yasmina Khadra. For NYRB Classics he has translated Manchette’s Fatale and The Mad and the Bad, which won the 28th Annual Translation Prize of the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation for fiction.
Luc Sante is the author of Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, Folk Photography, and, most recently The Other Paris. He translated Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines and has written introductions to several other NYRB Classics, including Classic Crimes by William Roughead and Pedigree by Georges Simenon. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, he teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.