Paul Nizan (1905-40), essayist and novelist, has become the stuff of a legend that can be made to serve dubious causes. A committed Communist, he left the Party after the notorious Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 to become the victim of calumnies spread by his erstwhile comrades. Cut down in his prime during the fall of France in 1940, he was rescued from oblivion twenty years later. His resurrection in i960 and his apotheosis in 1968 are being sustained now by a constant stream of literary and political studies. Can the mood last? Probably it can, so long as there are people who think violent revolution is a good thing.

Familiarly known as Jean-Paul Sartre’s schoolboy friend and brilliant fellow student at the elite Ecole Normale Supérieure, Nizan owes the revival of his reputation to the self-flagellating author of Les Mots. It was Sartre who, while on a visit to Castro’s Cuba...


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