San-Antonio

Sanantonio Mondadori

Dominique Jeannerod, Queen’s University, Belfast

Jean-Marie Le Ray, Translator, Rome-Paris

With our thanks to Gianni Rizzoni and Daniel Magennis

Italy was not the first country to translate and adapt the investigations of Detective San-Antonio, the French bestseller whose 183 novels have sold more than an estimated 100 million copies in his country of origin. Initial translations into English, in 1954, did not meet with any success and faded almost without trace. San-Antonio had greater success in Francoist Spain, where translations were published, and sometimes reissued, from the early 1960’s. The first translation of the Italian “Sanantonio” was not until 1970, the first title being La Gioconda in blu (Pass me the Mona Lisa). What sets Italy apart from other countries is the large number of translations published there and their high quality. 120 of the 183 original novels were translated there, as well as two comics. Including reissues and reprints, the total number of San-Antonio books published in Italy from 1970 to 2015 amounts to 190. Throughout these 45 years—by no means uninterrupted— San-Antonio was picked up by five different Italian publishing houses. The most significant of these was Mondadori who, between July 1970 and the end of 1977, published 90 original translations at a rate of one every month.

The present article tries to put into perspective San-Antonio’s apparent success in Italy. It seeks to reassess the Italian San-Antonian corpus, following the recently published book San-Antonio International (Artiaga & Jeannerod (dir.), PULIM, 2020) which challenged the narrative of San-Antonio’s success abroad, a narrative that so often blurs the realities of its reception. Far from being an unqualified success around the world, the story of San-Antonio in translation takes the form of a series of mishaps and commercial disasters. In fact, the number of Italian editions imply a success that appears to be at odds with an otherwise depressing worldwide tendency; an exception to the observations made in all the other countries investigated in this study.

Certainly, several valid explanations to this Italian idiosyncrasy are highlighted in the book, not least the exceptional skills shown by the Italian translators, with their ear for French slang and their flair for finding equivalences in the Italian language. Success in Italy was further bolstered by the long tradition of circulation of French popular fiction in Mediterranean countries; the cultural proximity between France and Italy, reinforced in the 1970s by Franco-Italian cinematic co-productions, most notably comedies and crime films, two genres to which the universe of San-Antonio owes a great deal. The covers of the Italian editions of San-Antonio recall the striking figure of Jean-Paul Belmondo. San-Antonio also responded to the wide demand for entertaining and “light” literature and, perhaps the most significant factor of all: with Mondadori the San-Antonio novels found in Italy what had been the key to their popularity in France: A powerful publisher that dominated the popular fiction market. Fleuve Noir in France, Mondadori in Italy. In many ways the more prestigious, better established and more internationally connected, Mondadori offered a better platform than Fleuve Noir. So ideal, in fact, that San-Antonio in Italy may have become a victim of its own success. After all, what series’ characters can keep pace with a new novel released every month for 90 straight months?

This was the rhythm adopted by publisher Fayard (“Le Livre Populaire”), for the original Fantômas series by Souvestre & Allain. But it had lasted “only” for 32 novels, from February 1911 to September 1913. The 1970’s Italian public was offered more than three times this number of San-Antonio novels for almost an entire decade.

Is some modicum of readers’ fatigue not to be expected? By 1978, Mondadori had called it quits and handed San-Antonio over to two successive publishing houses, Editoriale ERRE and Edizioni Rosa & Nero. Neither would ever recapture the early commercial success of Sanantonio. Both houses were directed by Gianni Rizzoni, who had played a decisive role in Mondadori’s translations of San-Antonio. Of the eight translators who were responsible for translating San-Antonio to Italian between 1970 and 1986, Rizzoni ranks second behind only Bruno Just Lazzari for the quantity of texts translated.[1] However, Rizzoni’s activities in the promotion of San-Antonio in Italy far exceed translation, and it is no exaggeration to see in him the series’ main Italian “fixer”. In a 1986 article in Il Corriere della Sera, Alfredo Barberis presented Rizzoni to its readers, on the occasion of his second creation of a publishing house (Edizioni Rosa & Nero) with a view to once more attempt to revive Sanantonio’s fortunes[2].

The publication of “Champagne per tutti” (…) celebrates the return of Frédéric Dard, Sanantonio under his pen name, the most phenomenal mystery writer of recent years. In a totally invented language – a mixture of Rabelais, Céline and Merlin the cook – which his Italian translator-tutor, Gianni Rizzoni, makes particularly funny thanks to his entertaining glottological research, Sanantonio tells of a Roman adventure of Béru & Co. with a cocktail as improbable as it is irresistible of scientists, light-hearted girls and mafiosi. Just a detail: for the first time the author also addresses his well-known digressions (which are not really in the style of Montaigne or Alain) to a hypothetical female reader. Such is the power of feminism.

By calling him a translator-tutor (i.e. also a guide, protector, support), Barberis finally chose to blow Gianni Rizzoni’s cover, and to reveal to readers of the Corriere della Sera that he in fact is the man behind Sanantonio’s success in Italy; the mediator between the commissioner and his readership, the intermediary without whom Italians likely would have never heard of this French detective, and the man who has invested the most in his adventures over the years. Above all, Rizzoni is cemented as the “father” of Sanantonio’s language in Italian, and the true “memory” of the Italian Sanantonio.

Gianni Rizzoni was a professor of French literature, who had written on Baudelaire, Delacroix, and the Dreyfus Affair. He translated Signé Furax, a trilogy by humourists Pierre Dac and Francis Blanche, and a crime trilogy by master of slang Auguste Le Breton (the author of Riffifi) published with Mondadori, in the Giallo series.[3] For the screen, Rizzoni adapted the Italian version of Bertrand Blier’s Valseuses. His name, however, is not mentioned in any of the first three Sanantonio books published from July to September 1970: La Gioconda in blu (Pass me the Mona Lisa), La quarta zucca è bianca (Don’t eat the instructions) and Sanà fra i duri (Gentlemen!). The translation/adaptation (Traduzione e adapamento dal francese) is credited to Jean Barbet and Giuseppina Pisani Futacchi, a French teacher and a young Italian teacher.

In her 1990 dissertation on “Il caso San-Antonio”, Luciana Cisbani, discovered that when Mondadori bought the rights to publish the San-Antonio series, Alberto Tedeschi, director of the Crime Series submitted them to Gianni Rizzoni, who ended up completely rewriting  them. Rizzoni described this process in an interview with Cisbani :

… they had struggled to translate literally, they had looked for literary solutions for each sentence, but the result was very heavy. (…) So I rewrote the whole translation and anchored the use of certain slang terms. Notably because neither Pisani Futacchi nor Barbet had any idea what Italian slang was, while I had gained some knowledge of terminology in the matter, from my experience as a translator of Auguste Le Breton.

Indeed, having under his belt translations of Rififi sulla Senna (Du rififi à Paname), Il Clan dei siciliani (Le Clan des Siciliens) and Brigata antigang (Brigades anti-gangs), Rizzoni had developed an extensive Italian-French vocabulary based on Le Breton’s slang. The fourth San-Antonio translation published by Mondadori, Siamo logici perdiana (Faut être logique) was entrusted to Bruno Just Lazzari, a “Triestinian ex-cavalry officer” who went on to become the most prolific Italian translator of Sanantonio, with 85 translated novels, as well as 2 comics, over nearly 10 years. Gianni Rizzoni’s name as a translator of Sanantonio appeared for the first time in January 1971, on the seventh translated novel, Il filo per tagliare il burro (The Thread That Cuts the Butter).

Rizzoni recently gave us more details on how the work was divided for subsequent Italian translations.

I must admit that – as the documentation indicates – first as an editorial manager, then as a collection manager, I used a lot the translations of my friend Lazzari, who had an extraordinary gift, that of fluidity. The narration, with him, was flowing freely. But this actually had very little to do – nothing at all – with any “translation strategy”. Let’s just say that I was the expert on French culture; at the same time, I was interested both in French slang (which Lazzari did not know) and in Italian slang. Having already translated the novels of Le Breton, I felt I could create neologisms and bizarre constructions to accommodate San-Antonio’s style: the Italian language of Sanantonio was my own. Bruno would translate the novels at full speed, in just a few days – that was one of the main attributes for which we liked so much working with him – and then I would step into the editing by inserting or emphasizing the Sanantonian language and stylistic features. I’ve always written the blurbs on the back covers in a Sanantonio style.

This echoes his 1989 interview with Luciana Cisbani :

with one or two exceptions, I have always revised all of Sanantonio’s Italian translations. (…) When the translator translated in another way a typical Bérurier sentence or one of the many bird names of Pinaud, I tried to standardise the term or the sentence with reference to the more traditional form in use. This, chiefly because the logic of these kinds of repetitive novels is to always provide the reader with new elements while maintaining a series of recurring gags and terms, which create an atmosphere of familiarity.

Rizzoni’s concern for continuity in the language used is one that guided his translation of Sanantonio. While San-Antonio in French rarely revisited the “neologisms” he created, the Italian translation was able to build a basic vocabulary that spanned the entire series that was identifiable to its readership, thus creating over time the idiosyncratic Italian language of Sanantonio.

Despite all this, it is quite clear from 1978 that Sanantonio’s popularity in Italy was in decline. The falling numbers of original translations offers an indication.

  • 1978: 7 original translations, including 1 “Hors Série” (Le vacanze di Berù / The holidays of Bérurier)
  • 1979: 7 original translations, including 2 “Hors Série” (Berù I ° il leone d´Africa + Sessualità / Béru-Béru + Sexuality)
  • 1980: 2 original translations, including 1 “Hors-Série” (Il galateo secondo Berù / The standing according to Bérurier)
  • 1981: 4 original translations, including 1 “Hors-Série” (La saga dei Cojon / Les Con)
  • 1982: 1 original translation
  • 1986: 3 original translations
  • 2001 – 2004: 6 original translations in 4 years

From 2000 to 2004, the publishers Casa Editrice Le Lettere published 6 original translations (by the couple Domitilla Marchi and Enzo Fileno Carabba) and a reprint of a translation by Lazzari and Rizzoni. Between 2013 and 2015, Edizioni E / O published 17 reprints of translations by Bruno Just Lazzari (assisted by Gianni Rizzoni), bringing the total number of Sanantonio releases in Italy to 190 (120 original editions, 68 reprints and 2 comics, published by Mondadori in 1973 (Olé! Sanantonio) and 1974 (Sanantonio in Scozia), respectively, both translated by Bruno Just Lazzari).

1980, the year after Mondadori decided to give up the series, marked the turning point for Sanantonio: a single novel in the series came out, in May, Bagni & Massacri, in addition to one novel outside the series, Il galateo secondo Berù. Around that time, a survey was conducted to celebrate the first 10 years of publication of San-Antonio in Italy (1970-1980). Apparently only 98 readers responded, and keeping this low response in mind, here are a few statistics which can be extrapolated from their responses.

A majority of respondents (88%) were either teenagers or under 40 years old; 72% were men; most were living in northern Italy (65%); 3% lived abroad: the Italian Sanantonio was also distributed in Switzerland, Germany, Australia and Canada, and in Arab countries (where volumes were often seized because of the “obscene nature of the covers”), Latin America, Belgium and the United States.

Predictably for such a cohort, readers rated their loyalty to San-Antonio’s adventures at 95%. Readers main motivations for reading San-Antonio were first the humorous content (84%), then the language (80%), and lastly because of the Giallo (crime) content (43%)…

Despite the support of a commercially robust publishing house and an outstanding team of translators, San-Antonio collapsed in Italy after 10 years. What explanations can we find and what lessons can we learn from them?

First of all, San-Antonio was possibly victim of a kind of bottleneck effect. By publishing practically one book per month for several years against three or four books per year for the French San-Antonio, soon the French production could not keep up the pace with Italian translations’ rhythm, resulting in an “exhaustion” of new material to translate.

The Italian reprints of the first volumes translated were a solution to keep pace with monthly publications as much as possible. At first it worked, but then reprint sales started to decline, dropping from monthly print runs of around 30,000 copies at the peak of the series, to 8 or 10,000 (still not a bad figure, although not enough). At that time, the main problem for Editoriale ERRE was inventory management of around 150,000 volumes (since the sale of novels in newsstands required a large inventory), in other words, significant management of costs.

Faced with declining sales, the collection’s accounts began to fall into the red. Any publishing house must pass on a share of overhead costs on each product but, above all, it cannot afford to waste its time and resources on a product that is difficult to relaunch, except by investing heavily in promotion (i.e. a cost recovery estimated at around 3-400 million lire for the time, more or less 150-210,000 euros of today). The only alternative would have been for all remaining prints to be remaindered. To spare San-Antonio this indignity, Gianni Rizzoni decided to throw everything he had in the fight.

When Mondadori’s senior management decided to stop the publication, Rizzoni managed, albeit with difficulty, to convince the company and its director, Leonardo Mondadori, to allow him to create the publishing house Editorial ERRE, whose sole purpose was to ensure the survival of Sanantonio, where he was director of collections.

While responsibilities for the printing of volumes, warehousing and distribution remained with Mondadori (which could thus better control the flow and still derive some profit from it), Rizzoni assumed all of the entrepreneurial risk.

Rizzoni then left Mondadori to move to Fabbri, while being authorized to retain his editorial autonomy and being responsible for managing the translation rights contracts (mainly entrusted to Lazzari), proofreading, printing, as well as storage, distribution, promotion, etc. At this point, Rizzoni had become the one-man band on whom Sanantonio’s survival depended.

Faced with the ever-pressing issue of unwanted stocks, Rizzoni came up with the idea of ​​combining the unsold items with the summer promotions of Rizzoli magazines, in particular “L’Europeo” and “Playboy“.

But in the end, none of this was enough and Rizzoni’s impressive personal commitment became increasingly impossible to justify and in 1983 he too decided to throw the towel.

Il Mondo, in its September 5, 1983 edition published an article titled “Sanantonio è KO”. It alludes to another development which could have prolonged the life of Sanantonio after all: over its last few months, the series had been kept on a drip in the hope that RAI (the Italian public radio-television) would broadcast a radio-play based on Sanantonio (for which contracts had apparently already been signed), as part of an international production. This venture, which had the possibility of allowing the series to survive, ultimately fell through.

But Gianni Rizzoni still held the translation rights. He decided in 1985 to try once more, with yet another publishing house (Edizioni Rosa & Nero) and a new formula: neater, large format books, printed on better paper. The Sanantonio books were no longer to be distributed in newsstands but in bookstores, with photographic clichés on the cover. This was all accompanied by large-scale advertising campaigns in the main newspapers of the time.

This new venture found support with some journalists, such as Alfredo Barberis, who wrote:

Dard-Sanantonio is far from being as “naive” as he wants us to believe: he is a cultivated writer, who has his roots in the learned tradition of the buffoons of French and European literature.

And again, Gianni Rizzoni did not shy away from the venture, getting directly involved not only in terms of editorial, intellectual, translation work, but also financially, investing a lot of his personal resources and time in the publishing of the novels of Sanantonio. It cost more than it earned, leading Gianni Rizzoni to conclude:

I ended up completely losing interest in Sanantonio…. A kind of exhaustion after so much effort and fatigue …

This disinterest and fatigue, coupled also with his other editorial responsibilities (editorial director at Fabbri, managing director of Sole 24 Ore editions, editorial director at Giorgio Mondadori) resulted in Gianni Rizzoni never really claiming paternity for his invention of the Italian language of Sanantonio. But even if San-Antonio is hardly read today in Italy, it would be interesting to rediscover and study this language. And beyond it, to reflect on the invention of a popular transalpine language for the communication between French and Italian cultural industries in the second half of the twentieth century, and thus on an original contribution to an imagined European Community.

To discover more about the Italian Sanantonio, see http://www.commissariosanantonio.it/

San-Antonio in Russia : http://san-a.ru

For a selection of translated works see :http://francois.kersulec.free.fr/

For a timeline of San-Antonio translations worldwide see : https://ahssqub.padlet.org/djeannerod/arahc6wt83z6gvhc

See also: San-Antonio International – Circulation et imaginaire d’une série policière française, by Loïc Artiaga, Dominique Jeannerod (dir.), PULIM, 2020: http://www.pulim.unilim.fr/index.php/notre-catalogue/fiche-detaillee?task=view&id=958


[1] The other six translators were Jean Barbet, Giuseppina Pisani Futacchi, Ersilia Borri, Guy Kaufmann, Gigi Rosa and Salvatore Di Rosa

[2] Corriere della Sera, Wednesday, May 28, 1986. Alfredo Barberis has conducted interviews with Pier Paolo Pasolini for the daily Il Giorno and with Primo Levi for Il Corriere della sera, and directed several newspapers, as well as the literary magazine Millelibri published by Giorgio Mondadori, until 1993. He is also a crime fiction specialist.

[3] Auguste Le Breton, Brigata Anti-Gang, Giallo Mondadori, n. 1085, 16 novembre 1969, 250 Lire


Crime Fiction, Comics and the Daily Press

Berceuse

 

Today see’s the long-awaited publication  of Henry Blanc’s  1973 comic strips adaptation of Berceuse pour Bérurier,  the 1960 San-Antonio novel.  Originally published in the French daily newspaper France Soir,  whose circulation was, back then, well over one million copies a day (1 300 000, in 1963) Henry Blanc’s  strips appear now, some 46 years later,  for the first time as a volume, in a limited edition, restricted to 160 copies (numbered by hand from 1 to 160), thanks to a non-business entity “Les Amis de San-Antonio”.  This collector’s item has been carefully and admirably curated by Thierry Gautier, Didier Poiret and Jean-François Pribile,  founding and long-serving members of said entity, dedicated to furthering the knowledge of San-Antonio’s work.

The comparison of figures and places suggests a widening gap between a publishing industry of which San-Antonio was once, around the middle of the past century a stalwart, a dependable source of massive income, but which has now moved on, and the world of  erudite and nostalgic readers, with their necessary and irreplaceable contribution. Once a big business, and by all accounts a hard-nosed one at that,   San-Antonio has now become mostly a labor of love. While  San-Antonio’s literature, which found in mass-market circulation its raison d’être, always depended on its readers for its very existence, it now seems that San-Antonio’s survival from oblivion, and the question of his legacy hinges more than ever on the dedication of readers taking over their free time (or devoting their retirement) to locate and browse through increasingly fragile archives to bridge gaps in knowledge, piecing together traces left in media long discarded and retracing a history based on material artifacts now almost forgotten, or  whose last remains, like in this case, are archived in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Indeed, Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s edition, with its detailed, erudite and rewarding introduction and the wealth of original documents it reproduces in its appendices,  goes much beyond a tribute to the adaption of San-Antonio as  comics, or to Blanc’s skills as an illustrator, or Robert Mallard ‘s (author of the texts under the strips) as a storyteller. It captures a moment of French cultural history, re-inscribing San-Antonio within a history of the successive forms and media it borrowed to reach its millions of readers over an entire era. As such, this edition continues to illustrate the productivity of the “cultural turn” advocated a decade ago (Jeannerod, San-Antonio et son double, PUF, 2010 ; Rullier, Gautier, Jeannerod & Lagorgette, San-Antonio et la culture française, PUS, 2010). Shifting away from the sole preserves of linguisitics and literary  studies, cultural studies approaches help apprehending the multi-faceted and transmedia dimension of San-Antonio production, and articulating them with existing social conditions, representations, ideologies and industrial structures.

San-Antonio might nowadays appear as a relic from a past increasingly inscrutable and difficult to comprehend. Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s tireless work in finding, selecting, reproducing and contextualising the strips (Berceuse pour Bérurier, the story published today, is merely one of twenty novels which served as a basis for the strips, published continuously between September 10, 1963 and March 12,  1975, amounting to a respectable  total of 3536) sheds light into a moment of press and popular publishing industry which, at that stage was hard for anyone living in France to ignore, but which has  slipped off almost everybody’s radar since.

From the narrower point of view of San-Antonio’s commercial success, it is easy to point out the coincidence between the start of the France Soir publication in 1963  and the recognition of the “San-Antonio phenomenon” in the following years. His 1964 book L’Histoire de France vue par San-Antonio was a best seller with 350 000 copies  sold that year and became  his  first to sell over a million copies;  in 1965 Robert Escarpit  dedicated his seminar in the University of Bordeaux to the first Conference on San-Antonio. The continuous numbering of the 3536 strips re-frames the adventures of San-Antonio and gives a new dimension to their serial nature, merging the series of novels in an uninterrupted duration, emphasizing a sense of timelessness.  It is now possible, based on Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s precise research of concordances  between the novels and the strips ( pp. 13-14) to establish the following correspondence between the novels (implicitly) adapted and the strips published in France Soir  under a solely generic title  (as “Les Enquêtes du commissaire San-Antonio” and then (from 1970, after strip 2210)  “Les Enquêtes de San Antonio” ). Only the last three novels  in the list below were adapted under their  title:

France Soir 1963/1964                         Du sirop pour les guêpes, Fleuve Noir, 1960

France Soir   1964                                Du brut pour les brutes, Fleuve Noir, 1960

France Soir   1964/1965                       Entre la vie et la morgue, Fleuve Noir, 1959

France Soir   1964/1965                       De « A » jusqu’à « Z », Fleuve Noir, 1961

France Soir   1965/1966                       Bérurier au sérail, Fleuve Noir, 1964

France Soir   1966                                Des gueules d’enterrement, Fleuve Noir, 1957

France Soir   1966/1967                       San-Antonio Polka, Fleuve Noir, 1962

France Soir   1967                                Messieurs les Hommes, Fleuve Noir, 1955

France Soir 1967/1968                       On t’enverra du monde, Fleuve Noir, 1959

France Soir  1968                               Du mouron à se faire,  Fleuve Noir, 1955

France Soir  1968/1969                     Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Fleuve Noir, 1959

France Soir 1969/1970                       Le loup habillé en grand-mère, Fleuve Noir, 1962

France Soir  1970                               Descendez-le à la prochaine, Fleuve Noir, 1953

France Soir 1970/ 1971                       Fais gaffe à tes os,  Fleuve Noir, 1956

France Soir 1971/ 1972                        Viva Bertaga, Fleuve Noir, 1968

France Soir 1972/ 1973                        En long, en large et en travers, Fleuve Noir, 1958

France Soir 1973                                  Emballage cadeau, Fleuve Noir, 1972

France Soir 1973                                  Berceuse pour Bérurier, Fleuve Noir, 1960

France Soir 1973/1974                         Ça ne s’invente pas, Fleuve Noir, 1973

France Soir  1974/1975                       Sérénade pour une souris défunte,  Fleuve Noir, 1954

 

Petitmarcel

 

Henry Blanc, San-Antonio, Berceuse pour Bérurier,  Édition établie et présentée
par Thierry Gautier, Jean-François Pribile et Didier Poiret, Gardanne, Les Amis de San-Antonio, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The”unknown author” who sold 200 Million Books

Souris défunte

 

An encouraging article by Dalya Alberge in The Observer marks the first publication in English of one of the “Novels of the night” (romans de la nuit) by Frédéric Dard. The much anticipated Bird in a Cage, (Le Monte Charge), translated by David Bellos, is out this month, published by Pushkin Vertigo. Continue reading

An Anticapitalist in China

Mausolée pour une garce chinois

北方妇女儿童出版社, 1988 (Frédéric Dard, Mausolée pour une garce, originally published as Les Derniers mystères de Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1958)

With thanks to Didier Poiret, Thierry Gautier & Yue Ma,

As its original title suggested (Les Derniers mystères de Paris) the book  whose Chinese cover is shown above was conceived by its author, Frédéric Dard, as a great popular novel in the tradition of Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris. Sue’s was one of the first novels serialised in the French press (it was published in the Journal des Débats between June 1842 and October 1843). Its latent ideologies were vigorously criticised by Karl Marx, who debunked ( in The Holy Family, 1845),  its  paternalist views and  bourgeois moralism.
It is therefore surprising and more than a little ironic that Dard’s homage to Sue,  published in Chinese in 1988 by Northern China Women & Children Publishing House in Chang Chun (in the north-eastern Province of Jilin) should be presented as a criticism of bourgeois society. The novel is prefaced in this edition by a short introduction which frames it ideologically, blaming capitalist worldviews for the corruption and ultimate demise of Agnes, the  “garce” (i.e.  the bitch) of the original title.

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Abstract Landscapes, Train Stations and Crime Fiction: Buffet, Carzou, San-Antonio

 

Carzou rails

Jean Carzou (1907-2000), Les Caténaires, 1967

In a short passage which appears at first glance to encapsulate his populist views on art, bestselling French crime author San-Antonio likens the British Museum, which he professed to hate (“that most abhorrent place on earth, the most sinister ! A quintessential cemetery!”) to the Paris train station Saint-Lazare “with its smell of coal, pee and sweat”. While, according to him, in the Museum’s  “cold light, the work of men becomes inhuman”,  Saint-Lazare station, “full of cries and kisses” reminds him, “with its black beams that crisscross in the smoke” of “a drawing by Carzou”  (San-Antonio, Y’a de l’action,  Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1967; see the original French below). Continue reading

Visions of Paris Suburbs in San-Antonio

Buffet

Bernard Buffet (1928-1999), Buildings en banlieue, 1970

San-Antonio, France’s most popular author of crime fiction of the past 50 years, was fascinated with the bleakness of the Parisian suburbs, where he moved to in 1949. His prolific oeuvre documents this morbid fascination, somewhere between horror and nostalgia. His novels are full of notations and recurring observations about the suburban tragic  as the author experienced it. Suspending the investigation he his conducting, the first person narrator, Commissaire San-Antonio turns his attention momentarily to the representation of the surrounding space, the banlieues which were then rapidly sprawling around Paris. Continue reading

Kaput in Argentina

Kaput1 Arg Kaput 1 p4e

(Images courtesy of François Kersulec) 

(Click to enlarge)

In 1955-6 Frédéric Dard, the author of the famous, best selling San-Antonio adventures, also published in the same series (Spécial Police, Fleuve Noir) four novels of pure violence, which he signed “Kaput”. This is also the name of the protagonist. Frantically brutal and death-driven, the stories race through their plots straight to the inescapable culmination in the last novel, titled Mise à mort (1956). When republished in France in the 1990s, they  were presented as ” the dark side of an immense writer”. Prior to that, two had been translated into Spanish and published in Argentina in 1964. There, they were advertised as “Mas violento que Rififi!”, presumably capitalizing on the international success of Jules Dassin’s film, rather than on Auguste Le Breton’s original novel (Du Rififi chez les hommes).

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Y a-t-il un Français…

Français

Frédéric Dard dit San-Antonio, Y a-t-il un Français dans la boîte à gants ?, Paris, Omnibus, May 2015, ISBN : 9782258116726 .

The two books which have just been published together in the prestigious Omnibus edition are a landmark in the career of France’s most successful crime fiction author. This is where San-Antonio officially meets Frédéric Dard, and where the two faces of the prolific double-author merge. Signed (on their original publication) ‘San-Antonio’, even though the eponymous character of the San-Antonio series does not feature, the books are closer to the dark and despairing atmosphere of the books previously signed ‘Dard’ (the “Romans de la nuit”). Published respectively in 1979 and 1981, one before and one after the election of François Mitterrand, the first socialist President of the 5th Republic, their subject matter is politics. Conspicuously however, they don’t contain any of the huge sense of anticipation which Mitterrand’s election triggered in the social discourse at the time. Rather, they reflect the social unrest and atmosphere of scandals and corruption in the final years of the presidency of Mitterrand’s predecessor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. They tell the story of an ambitious career politician, who hides a terrible secret, the legacy of an unsavoury past, buried in his home. Continue reading