The Lives of Elsa Triolet by Lachlan MacKinnon

One of the joys of holding a library ticket in Cornwall is that you can use it in any library in the county. So on a day trip to Truro I put my head around the library door and discovered a wonderful shelf of literary biography.

 This is the book that jumped off the shelf into my hands.

All I knew of Elsa Triolet’s was that her book “A Fine of Two Hundred Francs” had been published as a Virago Modern Classic, but it soon became clear that there was a lot more to her than that.

Elsa Triolet was born into the Jewish middle classes in Moscow in 1896. She and her sister were well educated and moved in literary and political circles.

She lived in Tahiti with her first husband, but left him and returned to Europe, joining the world of the Russian emigres.

In Paris she worked for some time, and with great success as a jeweller.

Her second husband was the surrealist writer Louis Aragon and she became an idol in literary France as the hero of his “Elsa” poems, as well as writing prolifically herself, and becoming the first woman to win the Prix Goncourt in 1946.

She was active in the French resistance and embraed Stalinism after the war.

Lives indeed! This was an extraordinary tale of a fascinating woman, who crossed paths with many remakable figures of her age.

A clear, thoughtful and well written biography

The woman who was Elsa Triolet remained unknowable though. Maybe because the author had no access to any of her personal papers. That felt right though

A shame though that more of her work isn’t available in translation.

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