TO THE END OF THE WORLD • Blaise Cendrars

Peter Owen [UK edition] / 1966 / Hardcover

Blaise Cendrars’ last novel is an original and often very funny portrayal of the Parisian criminal underworld of the late 1940s that crackles with the fires of an abundant imagination. Yet To the End of the World is not total invention as, like all Cendrars’ works, it has some basis in real life. The narrative races between a Foreign Legion barracks in North Africa and the theaters, cafes, dosshouses, and police headquarters of postwar Paris. The central character in this roman à clef is Thérèse, a septuagenarian actress who was once the rival of Sarah Berhardt herself. Her passionate affair with a young deserter from the Foreign Legion (in which Cendrars himself served) is interrupted by the murder of a barman and the impact this event has on all their lives. With its bold and colorful supporting cast—a subterranean gallery of ex-legionnaires, theater types, black marketeers, dubious aristocrats, sexual adventurers, and freaks—entwined with numerous subplots and minor themes, To the End of the World amounts to a grandly picaresque adventure. When it appeared in France in 1956, it offered a ready antedote to the sense of negativity and existential futility that pervaded many novels of the era.