José Giovanni

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José Giovanni in 2001

José Giovanni (June 22, 1923, Paris, France – April 24, 2004, Lausanne, Switzerland) was the pseudonym of Joseph Damiani, a French-Swiss writer and film-maker of Corsican origin.

A former criminal who at one time was sentenced to death, Giovanni often drew his inspiration from personal experiences or from real gangsters such as Abel "the mammoth" Davos in his 1960 film Classe tous risques. In his films as well as his novels, he often championed the underworld, as did Auguste Le Breton, while praising masculine friendships and advocating the confrontation of the individual against the world.


Originally Corsican, José Giovanni was well-educated, studying at the Collège Stanislas de Paris and Lycée Janson de Sailly. He worked at several professions (logger, miner, innkeeper) before becoming a writer and film-maker. Fascinated by climbing, he was also a mountain guide, and during the Second World War was a member of Jacques Faure's Jeunesse et Montagne (Youth and Mountain) group.

In Prison[edit]

In 1945, after the Liberation, he became involved in the scene of the Quartier Pigalle, Paris, and was caught up in a racketeering venture organized by his maternal uncle with the help of his elder brother. The racket turned murderous; three people died. In 1948 Giovanni was sentenced to death (though he had himself killed no-one) along with an accomplice, Georges Accad. He however narrowly escaped the guillotine when he and Accad's sentences were commuted by President Vincent Auriol to twenty years of hard labour. He was released from prison in December 1956 and was rehabilitated in 1986 after a new trial.

He died from a brain haemorrhage.[1]


He wrote his first novel, Le Trou (The Hole), when he was 33 years old. It tells the escape he attempted from prison with other inmates in 1947. His lawyer, and writer Roger Nimier read the book to Antoine Blondin and Albert Camus through whom it was published. His style, at times strange and intentionally clumsy, does not fail to surprise the reader with its findings and its strong images, sometimes to the limit of toleration. The novel was turned into a film.

In 1958 the editor Marcel Duhamel introduced Giovanni to the Série noire publishing imprint, where he was immediately noticed by the publication of three novels the same year:


  • 1957: Le Trou (The Hole)
  • 1958: Le Deuxième Souffle (Second Breath)
  • 1958: Classe tous risque (Consider All Risks)
  • 1958: L'Excommunié
  • 1959: Histoire de fou (History of Madness)
  • 1962: Le Haut-Fer (High Fear)
  • 1964: Ho!
  • 1964: Meurtre au sommet n°866 (Murder on Summit 866')
  • 1967: Les aventuriers (The Adventurers)
  • 1983: Le Ruffian (The Ruffian)
  • 1991: Le Musher
  • 1995 : Mon père, il m'a sauvé la vie (My Father Saved My Life)
  • La Mort du poisson rouge (The Death of the Goldfish)
  • Chemins fauves (Favorite paths)
  • Comme un vol de vautours (Like a Flight of Vultures)
  • Le pardon du grand Nord (The Forgiveness of the Far North)


[FD] : film director, [Sc] : screenwriter, [DW] : dialogue writer, [Wr] : writer of the original novel


  1. ^ See french wikipedia
This article incorporates information from the revision as of August 31, 2008 of the equivalent article on the French Wikipedia.

External links[edit]