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40 years of active presence

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

    INTELLECTUAL LIFE – Albert Cohen

    Born in Corfu in 1895, Albert Cohen immigrated with his family to Marseilles in 1900. He would not return to Corfu but once, for his bar mitzvah in 1908. In Marseilles he experienced social isolation due to antisemitism, as well as linguistic “exile”, which he battled by learning  french so well that he was awarded by the Académie Française.

    In 1932 he settled in Paris, where he remained until 1940, just before the German occupation of the city. He escaped to London, thus avoiding deportation by the Nazis. For the most part, the remainder of his life was spent in Geneva, where he died in 1981. Alongside his literary exploits, he also worked as legal advisor to international organisations, as well as a diplomat, in close cooperation with Chaim Weizmann, for the foundation of a Jewish state.

    His first novel, Solal, published in 1931, was followed by another three featuring the same literary heroes: Mangeclous (1938), Belle du Seigneur (1968) and Les Valeureux (1969). The two essential themes recurring in this tetralogy are the quest for perfect love and the question of Jewish identity and assimilation in western societies.

    The second, pointedly autobiographical part of his oeuvre consists of Le livre de ma mère (1954), Ô vous, frères humains (1972) and Carnets 1978 (1979). The first is an expression of mourning for his mother, who died in 1943, thus avoiding deportation by the Nazis. The second is based on an earlier text of 1945, named Jour des mes dix ans, where he recounted the first verbal antisemitic attack he experienced from a French pedlar on exactly the day of his tenth birthday.

    Only part of his work has been translated into Greek.

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