Man's Fate

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Man's Fate
Early Eng. trans. edition cover
Author André Malraux
Original title La Condition Humaine
Translator Haakon Chevalier
Country France
Language French
Genre Novel
Publisher H. Smith and R. Haas
Publication date
1933 (Eng. trans. 1934)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 360 pp (Eng. trans first edition, hardback)
ISBN 0-679-72574-1

Man's Fate (French: La condition humaine, "The Human Condition"), is a 1933 novel written by André Malraux. An English translation by Alastair MacDonald was published by Methuen in 1934 under the title Storm in Shanghai and republished in 1948 as Man's Estate.[1] In 1961 a new translation by Haakon Chevalier was published by Random House as Man's Fate. The novel is about the failed communist insurrection in Shanghai in 1927, and the existential quandaries facing a diverse group of people associated with the revolution. Along with Les Conquérants (1928 - "The Conquerors"), La Voie Royale (1930 - "The Royal Way"), it forms a trilogy on revolution in Asia.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel occurs during a 22 day period mostly in Shanghai, China, and concerns mainly the socialist insurrectionists and people involved. The four protagonists are Chen Ta Erh (whose name is spelled Tchen in the French version of the book), Kyoshi ("Kyo") Gisors, the Soviet emissary Katow, and Baron Clappique. Their individual plights are intertwined throughout the book.

Chen Ta Erh is sent to assassinate an authority, succeeds, and is later killed in a failed suicide bombing attempt on Chiang Kaishek. After the assassination, he becomes governed by fatality and desires simply to kill, thereby fulfill his duty as a terrorist, a duty which controls his life. This is largely the result of being so close to death since assassinating a man. He is so haunted by death and his powerlessness over inevitability that he wishes to die, just to end his torment.

Kyo Gisors is the commander of the revolt and believes that every person should choose his own meaning, not be governed by any external forces. He spends most of the story trying to keep power in the hands of the workers rather than the Kuomintang army and resolving a conflict between him and his wife, May. He is eventually captured and, in a final act of self-determination, chooses to take his own life with cyanide.

Katow had faced execution once before, during the Russian Civil War and was saved at the last moment, which gives him a feeling of psychological immunity. After witnessing Kyo's death, he watches with a kind of calm detachment as his fellow revolutionaries are taken out one by one, to be thrown alive into the chamber of a steam locomotive waiting outside, intending, when his turn comes, to use his own cyanide capsule. But hearing two young Chinese activists talk with trembling fear of being burned alive, he gives them the cyanide (there is only enough for two), himself being left to face the more fearsome death. He thus dies in an act of self-sacrifice and solidarity with weaker comrades.

Baron Clappique is a French merchant, smuggler, and obsessive gambler. He helps Kyo get a shipment of guns ended and is later told that Kyo will be killed unless he leaves the city in 48 hours. On the way to warn Kyo, he gets involved with gambling and cannot stop. He considers gambling "suicide without dying". Clappique is very good-humored and always cheerful all the time but suffers inwardly. He later escapes the city dressed as a sailor.

Characters[edit]

  • Chen Ta Erh – the assassin. Protagonist.
  • Kyo Gisors – the leader of the revolt. Protagonist.
  • Baron Clappique – a French merchant and smuggler. Protagonist.
  • Old Gisors – Kyo's father, one-time Professor of Sociology at the University of Peking, and an opium addict, acts as a guide for Kyo and Ch’en
  • May Gisors – Kyo's wife and a German doctor, born in Shanghai
  • Katow – A Russian, one of the organizers of the insurrection, he is burned alive for treason.
  • Hemmelrich – A Belgian phonograph-dealer.
  • Yu Hsuan – His partner.
  • Kama – A Japanese painter, Old Gisors' brother-in-law.
  • Ferral – President of the French Chamber of Commerce and head of the France-Asiatic Consortium. He struggles with his relationship with Valerie because he only wishes to possess her as an object.
  • Valerie – Ferral's girlfriend.
  • Konig – Chief of Chiang Kaishek's Police.
  • Suan – Young Chinese terrorist who helped Ch’en, later arrested in the same attack in which Ch'en was killed.
  • Pei – Also helped Ch’en.

Awards and nominations[edit]

This book won the Prix Goncourt French literature award in 1933, and in 1999 was named number five in Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century.

Critical reception[edit]

The journalist Christopher Hitchens, while noting that Malraux had spent almost no time in China, claimed that the novel "pointed up the increasing weight of Asia in world affairs; it described epic moments of suffering and upheaval, in Shanghai especially (it was nearly filmed by Sergei Eisenstein); and it demonstrated a huge respect for Communism and for Communists while simultaneously evoking the tragedy of a revolution betrayed by Moscow."[2] His biographer Olivier Todd quotes the novel as saying "It was neither true nor false but what was experienced," and remarks that Malraux's China itself was "neither true in its detail nor false overall, but it is nonetheless imaginary," and that it "cannot quite break clear of a conventional idea of China with coolies, bamboo shoots, opium smokers, destitutes, and prostitutes." [3] A 1972 Penguin edition of the MacDonald translation claims on its back cover that Malraux had been "a member of the revolutionary committee" in Shanghai. This claim is false.

Film adaptations[edit]

Three attempts have been made to adapt Man's Fate as a motion picture. The first involved Fred Zinnemann, who spent three years preparing his film version of Man's Fate before the producing studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, cancelled the production one week before filming was to begin in November 1969.[4] The Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci proposed adapting the film in the 1980s to the Chinese government; they preferred his alternative proposal, The Last Emperor, a 1987 biopic based on the life of the Chinese Emperor Puyi.

During 2001, U.S. filmmaker Michael Cimino announced he would create a film version of Man's Fate[5] but the project remains unrealized.

Selected Translations[edit]

The WorldCat listing for Man's Fate lists translations into at least seventeen languages.[6]

  • (Chinese) 人的命运 Ren Di Ming Yun. (Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chu ban she, 1996) ISBN 7541116122
  • (English) Haakon Chevalier. Man's Fate. (New York: Modern Library, 1934
  • (English) Alistair Macdonald, tr. Storm in Shanghai Methuen 1934 reissued as Man's Estate, 1948
  • (Finnish) Juha Mannerkorpi, tr. Sielujen kapina [the rebellion of souls] (Helsinki: Tammi, 1947) ISBN 9513006530
  • (Hebrew) Yitzhak Shenhar, tr. חיי אנוש Haye-Enosh : Roman. (Tel Aviv: Avraham Yosef Shtibel, 1935
  • (Korean) 인간의조건 Ingan Chokon (Seoul: Hongsin Munhwasa, 2012) ISBN 9788970552156
  • (Turkish) Ali Berktay, tr. Insanlik Durumu (Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari, 2003) ISBN 9750500296
  • (Spanish) César A. Comet and Mario Vargas Llosa, tr. La Condición Humana. ([Barcelona]: Círculo de Lectores, 2001) ISBN 8422686821
  • (Polish) Adam Wazyk, tr.. Dola Czlowiecza. (Wroclaw [u.a]: Zaklad Narodowy Im. Ossolinskich, 2001) ISBN 8304045729
  • (Yiddish) Solomon Levadi, tr. דער גורל פון מענטשDer Goyrl Fun Mentsh. (Varshe: Yidishe universal-bibliotek, 2000)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Details from 1972 Penguin Edition ISBN 01400.1523X
  2. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (10 April 2005). "Malraux': One Man's Fate". New York Times. 
  3. ^ Todd, Olivier (2005). Malraux : A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 110. ISBN 0375407022. 
  4. ^ "Classic tale enjoys revival". This is London/Evening Standard. 12 May 2001. 
  5. ^ "War Stories". The Guardian. 6 December 2001. 
  6. ^ Showing all editions of Man's Fate