Author(s): Jean-Paul Clebert
Paris Vagabond is an unclassifiable masterpiece, a book that purports to be a novel but, accompanied as it is by the photographs of Patrice Molinard, is as much a brilliant documentary as a work of the imagination. In rich prose, suffused with the language of the street, and brilliantly rendered in English by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Jean-Paul Clebert captures the essence of a long-gone Paris of the poor, the criminal, and the outcast: a society of outsiders beyond the social pale. Clebert's is a genuinely anarchist voice, a free spirit who was an intrepid explorer of a Paris that was in many places practically ruinous but where the poor were not yet completely marginalized. He was also a true writer's writer, hailed by his mentor and friend Blaise Cendrars and admired by Henry Miller, who said that reading Paris Vagabond "roiled my guts."
Available in English for the first time, Paris Vagabond comes from the notes Jean-Paul Clebert took during his down-and-out years traversing the underbelly of Paris, all the while rubbing shoulders with Paris's post-war literary and artistic elite. Accompanied by 115 black and white photos by Patrice Molinard, Paris Vagabond is part imagined novel and part document of 1950s Paris, brought to life by the free-spirited writing of Clebert, who captured a long-gone era when Paris was a place for outcasts and those living on the fringe.
Jean-Paul Clebert (1926-2011) joined the French Resistance in 1943 when he was sixteen. After the war, he traveled in Asia and worked as a house painter, cook, newspaper seller, farm worker, and cafe proprietor before returning to Paris and living as a vagrant for three or four years, an experience that influenced his 1952 work Unknown Paris. Clebert went on to write 32 books, including volumes on the history of southern France, where he moved in 1956. Donald Nicholson-Smith's translations of noir fiction include Manchette's Three to Kill; Thierry Jonquet's Mygale (a.k.a. Tarantula); and (with Alyson Waters) Yasmina Khadra's Cousin K. He has also translated works by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Henri Lefebvre, Raoul Vaneigem, Antonin Artaud, Jean Laplanche, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Guy Debord. For NYRB Classics he has translated Manchette's Fatale and The Mad and the Bad, published in the US, and is presently working on Jean-Paul Clebert's Paris Insolite. Nicholson-Smith won the 28th Annual Translation Prize of the French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation for fiction for his translation of Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Mad and the Bad. Born in Manchester, England, he is a longtime resident of New York City. Patrice Molinard (1922-2002) began his career taking stills for Georges Franju's legendary documentary on the Paris slaughterhouse at La Villette, Le Sang des Betes (1949). As a film director, he is best known for Fantasmagorie (1963), Orphee 70 (1968), and Bistrots de Paris (1977).