Letter to Clifton Fadiman, November 9, 1933

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 9 November 1933

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 13. Supplement (1929-1933), New York 1979, p. 317 f., title: “Man’s Fate Is a True Work of Art”]
Keywords : Letter, Literature

Man’s Fate Is a True Work of Art

Mr. Clifton Fadiman Simon and Schuster, Inc.

New York, N.Y., USA

Dear Mr. Fadiman:

You have asked me which books I think are worth publishing in America. I would say, more than any other, the novel by the young French author, Andre Malraux, La Condition Humaine [Man’s Fate], published by Librairie Gallimard, 43 Rue de Beaune, Paris.

This novel does not seek to be only a literary work of art. It deals with the great problems of human destiny. In the context of the social and cultural crisis that is engulfing the entire world, the questions that have always stirred mankind and inspired great artists — life and death, love and heroism, the individual and society — are posed with a new sharpness for the creative mind. Only from this source can contemporary art, which has spent itself in the search for purely formal conquests, rejuvenate itself.

In the last analysis, Malraux is an individualist and a pessimist. To feel this way about the world and about life is to me psychologically alien, not to say repugnant. But in Malraux’s pessimism, which reaches the level of despair, there is an element of heroism. Malraux draws his international heroes from the stage of revolution. The setting for his personal dramas is Shanghai in 1927. The author is well acquainted with the Chinese revolution from his own experience. But this novel is neither ethnography nor history. It is a novel of human destiny and personal passions to which the revolution imparts the utmost tension. The individualist and pessimist for the most part rises above individualism and pessimism. Only a purpose greater than the individual, a purpose for which man is ready to give up his life, imparts meaning to human existence. That is the ultimate significance of this novel, which is alien to philosophical didacticism, and which from beginning to end is a true work of art.

Precisely in the United States, where the terrible crisis in the conditions of everyday life relentlessly undermines any purely empirical approach to life, Malraux’s novel, it seems to me, should have many readers.


L. Trotsky