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Review of “The Death of Napoleon,” by Simon Leys

by Frank on November 8th, 2014

This very short novel, originally written in French, imagines Napoleon escaping from St. Helena with the help of conspirators who plan to reinstate him once again as emperor. But the scheme quickly unravels and he ends up as a private citizen on a much shrunken stage, ignored and ignoble, suffering at one point even the humiliation of being just another tourist at Waterloo, listening to a tour guide tell lies. The story pivots on the lyrical irony of a hero’s descent into irrelevance and invisibility–in short, of him becoming like everyone else. Ley uses short brush strokes and a poetic palate to paint this unforgettable tale. (It’s more sad than funny). One suspects that the story would have even more resonance with the French, whose historical remembrance of the charismatic Corsican must be more vivid and less removed. Well worth a read in this excellent translation.

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