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Le Dernier des Justes

A Jewish Child's Apprenticeship of 'The Impossibility of Being a Jew'

Kathleen Gyssels

Although The Last of the Just was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1959, the novel and its author have been forgotten. The accusations of plagiarism were such a hard offence to the Polish-Francophone author that he nearly stopped writing as a Jew and a (although oblique) witness of the Shoah. He turned to another Diaspora in his subsequent novel, La Mulâtresse Solitude (1972) and published novels with his Guadeloupean wife Simone Schwarz-Bart in which the Shoah and slavery are intertwined. In this article, I revisit The Last of the Just, which is a masterpiece because, as a hybrid form, it combines lamentation and encyclopaedic narrative, Talmudic legend and Yiddish folktales, marvellous realism and Borgesian 'journalism'. I illustrate how Schwarz-Bart's chronicle of centuries of anti-Semitism in eight European countries offers a vast chronicle 'preparing' for Auschwitz and how his dynasty of the Lévy family, elected as being the Lamed-Vov, sheds light on the unbearable tragedy and the urgent necessity to reclaim and to remember the events of the 'Last of the Just Man', killed six million times.

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Rethinking the Margins with André Schwarz-Bart

From The Last of the Just and A Woman Named Solitude to the Posthumous Narratives

Kathleen Gyssels


Fifty years after his Goncourt Prize-winning début, and three years after the author’s death, a first posthumous novel, L’Etoile du matin (Morning Star) was published by André Schwarz-Bart and his wife and co-author, Simone Schwarz-Bart. Their respective roles in the writing process have never been transparent, and the lack of interviews, as well as limited correspondence, keep this situation unchanged today. A new volume of their unfinished cycle, entitled L’Ancêtre en solitude (The Ancestor in solitude), came out in 2015. The new narratives continue to explore how margins can be minimized in order to make us see similarities rather than differences. Critics have marginalized an ‘extravagant stranger’ who has been misunderstood for his biracial and bicultural transracial imagery, a ‘Fremdkörper’ in the canon of both Caribbean and French-Jewish literature. His manifold displacements allow us not only to ‘read with different eyes’, but also to read one historical trauma in and through another (Mary Jacobus).