The Criminal Child: Selected Essays

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Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
4.9 X 7.9 X 0.4 inches | 0.3 pounds
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About the Author

Jean Genet (1910-1986) was born in Paris. Abandoned by his mother at seven months, he was raised in state institutions and charged with his first crime when he was ten. After spending many of his teenage years in a reformatory, Genet enrolled in the Foreign Legion, though he later deserted, turning to a life of thieving and pimping that resulted in repeated jail terms and, eventually, a sentence of life imprisonment. In prison Genet began to write--poems and prose that combined pornography and an open celebration of criminality with an extraordinary baroque, high literary style--and on the strength of this work found himself acclaimed by such literary luminaries as Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, whose advocacy secured for him a presidential pardon in 1948. Between 1944 and 1948 Genet wrote four novels--Our Lady of the Flowers, Miracle of the Rose, Funeral Rites, and Querelle--and the scandalizing memoir A Thief's Journal. Throughout the 1950s he devoted himself to theater, writing the boldly experimental and increasingly political plays The Balcony, The Blacks, and The Screens. After a silence of some twenty years, Genet began his last book, Prisoner of Love (available as an NYRB Classic), in 1983. It was completed just before he died.

Charlotte Mandell has translated nearly fifty books from the French, including works by Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust, Maurice Blanchot, Jonathan Littell, and Mathias Énard. She has been awarded a translation prize from the Modern Language Association and the National Translation Award in Prose. Her translation of The Magnetic Fields by André Breton and Philippe Soupault will be published by NYRB Poets in 2020.

Jeffrey Zuckerman's recent translations from the French include Ananda Devi's Eve Out of Her Ruins and The Living Days, the diaries of the Dardenne brothers, and the short stories of Hervé Guibert. He is the digital editor of Music & Literature, and his writing and translations have appeared in Best European Fiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, and Vice.


"Genet's multifaceted and wildly original aesthetic is embodied in associative takes and close reads . . . Also enthralling are reflections on the inner void, queer life, disease, and death . . . Essential for followers of Genet, inquisitive general readers, and enthusiasts of 20th-century avant-garde French writing." --Diane Mehta, Library Journal

"[This book is] united by Genet's signature probing prose and his fascination with morality, misfits, and art. . . . Throughout, Genet is a deft, sensual, and outrageous critic--in regards to theater, he proclaims, 'A performance that does not act on my soul is vain.' Fans will be pleased with this gathering of Genet's inimitable reflections on art, life, and his muses." --Publishers Weekly

"[T]his text provides crucial insights into Genet's way of thinking." --John Gray, The New Statesman

"Genet consistently broke lyrical conventions, creating a narrative approach as a stream of his unique consciousness, unexpectedly poetic. The collection 'The Criminal Child' examines homosexuals' connection to crime, punishment, and our own queerness. His language, provocative and queer, reminds us that Genet was his own creation." --Mark William Norby, Bay Area Reporter

"Genet's sense of language [moved] seamlessly from street argot to the sublime. . . . Genet's poetry drew me to write; his imagery drew Robert [Mapplethorpe] to the camera." --Patti Smith, The Paris Review

"Beside [Genet], Henry Miller is but a cheerfully smutty college sophomore, Sade a dilettante aristocrat of eccentric habits, Gide a genteel old lady sedately cultivating nightshade in her little kitchen garden." --Time