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Georges Arnaud: Vie d'un rebelle.

Roger Martin has written an absorbing biography of "Georges Arnaud" (Henri Girard, 1917-87). Made famous by his novel Le salaire de la peur (1950; Eng. The Wages of Fear), from which Henri-Georges Clouzot directed the classic 1953 movie, he is often confused with Georges J. Arnaud, a well-known detective-novel and science-fiction writer.

Arnaud/Girard's life was even more fantastic than those portrayed in Aragon, Kipling, or Jack London. He came to public notice in 1941, accused of the murder of his father (a historian and literary critic), his aunt, and a maidservant at the family manor in Dordogne. The trial at Riom had a hundred witnesses, vitriolic prosecuting attorneys, and unexplained events of the fateful night. Although Girard pere was an archivist at Vichy, he had imbued his son with the cult of the revolutions of 1789, 1848, and the Commune, and both were strongly anti-petainiste.

After nineteen months in prison and against all odds, Girard was acquitted. He could not settle down to the bourgeois life desired by Annie, his faithful fiancee, and went back to Paris. He resumed a Latin Quarter life, squandering money with new and old friends. Although literature was his passion, he did not feel worthy of pursuing it. In 1944 he married Suzanne, a singer, with whom he had two sons and wrote songs, which she recorded. When all money was gone and all properties sold, Arnaud/Girard became obsessed with the need to leave France.

In 1947 he went to Venezuela, becoming a cross-country truck driver, a saloon waiter, a taxi driver, a contrebandier and general hustler. He met many adventurous characters who figure in his novels and whose authenticity is attested by others, despite the disparaging remarks of Henri Charriere (better known as "Papillon"), who claims to have known Arnaud/Girard at a time when Le salaire de la peur was being issued and its author had already been back in France for a year and a half!

Unable to refrain from expressing his democratic, even anarchic, leanings in politics, Arnaud/Girard became politically undesirable in Colombia after the assassination of Eliecer Gaitan, leader of the Liberal Party. With the dictatorship of Perez Jimenez, Arnaud/Girard went south to Ecuador, then to Peru. He stowed away on a ship south of Valparaiso, Chile, and reached France in May 1949. By November Le salaire de la peur was in all the bookstores and a candidate (ultimately unsuccessful) for the 1950 Prix Goncourt. Henri Girard, now divorced and publicly "Georges Arnaud"--to evade the notoriety of earlier years--began a period of intense literary and journalistic production. He wrote successfully for the stage and magazines, his work becoming the target of anticommunist agitation in France and the U.S. He also produced a fiery expose of French prisons and became involved on the side of the Algerian FLN. His refusal to divulge sources of information led to another court trial and two years in prison.

After serving his sentence, Arnaud went with his third wife Rolande to live in Algeria in 1962 and founded a school of journalism for the government of Ben Bella. In 1965 he took no side in the coup d'etat of Houari Boume-dienne. He had already begun creating the Centre National du Cinema and organizing the radio-television system. However, in the 1970s nostalgia and the need to write novels began to draw him back to Paris. He renewed his acquaintance with his sons and, after losing a lung, moved back to France. Rolande and his two daughters followed.

Arnaud now became involved in television documentaries. Research on the Moon sect took him to Korea, Japan, and America. Another project involved the possibly faked death of an ex-Nazi living in France. In 1978 Arnaud undertook an investigation of the drug traffic in Colombia. Despite his asthma and the altitude, he and a son flew to Bogota, but neither the documentary nor the projected novel was completed. Arnaud found himself in the dilemma of how to address the fate of the Colombian poor who support themselves by cultivating the coca plant.

In 1985 Georges and Rolande moved to Barcelona, where they had spent a happy honeymoon in 1954. His health problems were becoming more severe, and increasing age was burdensome to him. He arranged for the reissue of several novels and started a final novel, unfinished at the time of his death from a heart attack on 4 March 1987.

Roger Martin has written a fascinating detailed biography of an author whose life was more interesting than that of any of his fictional characters.

Melvin B. Tolson Jr. University of Oklahoma
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Author:Tolson, Melvin B., Jr.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Previous Article:Critique et clinique.
Next Article:Lettres: 1933-1965.

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