The Arty Semite

Clara Malraux: A Feisty Writer to Remember

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

The French Jewish writer Clara Malraux (1897-1982) deserves to be remembered for her two ardent, sadly untranslated, books on Israel, “Kibbutz Civilization” (“Civilisation du kibboutz,” 1964), and “From the Four Corners of the Earth: Twelve Israeli Encounters” (“Venus des quatre coins de la terre: douze rencontres en Israël,” 1971).

Instead, as a stylish new biography by Dominique Bona, “Clara Malraux,” informs us, in posterity’s eyes Clara Malraux is merely seen as the first, ultimately rejected, wife of the author and French Culture Minister André Malraux. Bona, who has also published an elegant biography of the French Jewish novelist Romain Gary, underlines how Clara, born Goldschmidt, faced antisemitism in childhood, and became a Resistance heroine during the German Occupation. This in contrast to her pretentious liar of a husband, whose belated, yet much-praised, entry into the French Resistance is an example of the feet of clay which hamper a certain faded form of Gallic machismo.

André Malraux’s writings are mostly unreadable now, so it is good that Grasset is reprinting some of Clara’s, including the autobiographical volumes “And Yet I Was Free” (“… Et pourtant j’étais libre”) and “When We Were 20” (“Nos vingt ans”). These reveal a feisty, fearlessly bumptious writer whose verve clearly captivated other authors noted for their wit, from Emmanuel Berl to Vladimir Jankélévitch.

A 2008 memoir from Arléa Publishers, “Clara Malraux: Adventuress” (“Clara Malraux, L’aventureuse”), by a journalist friend, Claude Kiejman, confirms that Clara was a salty, forthright person who cheerfully admitted to lifelong recreational use of opium, ever since she and André had traveled to Southeast Asia in the 1920s. In addition to writing her own works, she was also a gifted translator into French of such key texts as Gustav Janouch’s “Conversations with Kafka”; “The Minor Passion: a Child’s Tale” (“Die kleine Passion. Geschichte eines Kindes,” 1929) by the anti-Nazi Buchenwald survivor Ernst Wiechert; and Virginia Woolf’s feminist text “A Room of One’s Own.”

Unlike her ex-husband André, who became a lifelong slave to Charles De Gaulle, Clara was infuriated with the General’s positions toward Israel, writing in volume four of her memoirs, “I will never forgive [De Gaulle].” Thanks are due to Dominique Bona and Grasset Publishers for shining a long-overdue spotlight on this remarkable Frenchwoman.

Watch Clara Malraux discuss her memoir “And Yet I Was Free” on a 1979 broadcast of the French book chat program “Apostrophes,” here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Dominique Bona, Clara Malraux, André Malraux

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.