Editions Gallimard 1960
reviewed ny Gary Levinson
WoW! I thought when Céline explained what was going on after the first 50 or so pages. There IS something of interest here! I had almost been ready to give up on continuing my reading of the book. Something that rarely happens. But I was getting tired of the fragmented sentences – just brief thoughts – followed by the endless number of ellipses. It made little sense.
Finally, around page 50 Céline explains to us that he doesn’t care what we think or understand, and then goes on to explain
the his take on the chaotic utterances that one has been reading.
The WoW! really sank in when it hit me that I had never thought about it like that before: what would the world be like if one were a Frenchman, who had during WW2 gone east to Germany, not because of any strong belief in the ideas of the Führer, but simply to avoid the war in France. What was life in Germany like at this time, not for Nazis or people who resisted the Nazis but for ‘normal’ people who just tried to get on with their lives while avoiding any political statement? What was life like behind the lines but not on the front? Simply living behind the lines, among the normal folk on the ‘enemy’s’ side?
Céline is a master of writing and words; and also of telling a story. His writing is so authentic, and his descriptions are so believable, that it seems he is telling us a non-fiction story. That he is simply recalling what really happened to him. How many reader’s believe that Zornhof really exists?
In fact it does. The real name of the village is Kraenzlin (Kränzlin), and it is in the north of Germany, in Brandenburg. Céline, along with his wife, his cat and his friend (the actor Le Vigan) left France after the Allied invasion, and the accompanying persecution of French quislings. Nord is the second book in a partly autobiographical trilogy describing their flight out of France, through Germany in 1944, and to Denmark.
Céline was not only a collaborator with the occupying Nazi German regime, he was also a Nazi sympathizer and and avowed anti-Semite.
Can a work be separated from its author? I only found out about Céline because I liked his book so much, and Zornhof seemed so real, I wanted to find out more about it. If I hadn’t done more research, I would have just thought that it was a wonderful book, with its anarchistic, apocalyptic, decadent view of life.
But I did do more research, and now I don’t know what to think. Though, I’m not so keen on reading the other two books in the trilogy now.
reviewed by Gary Levinson
review © copyright Levinson 2012