The Thief’s Journal

ISBN: 1596541377
ISBN 13: 9781596541375
By: Jean Genet

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About this book

Genet's fictionalized and distant account of his rambles through France, Czechoslavakia, Germany and elsewhere in the '30s and '40s, covering his time in prison, his relationships with men such as the one-armed Stilitano, along with erotic accounts of his lovers during the period, and interspersed with meditation and daydreams.

Reader's Thoughts

Alex Hogan

This book opened my eyes to how the world is viewed by different classes. It made me realise I was viewing the world from my comfortable middle class home. Jean Genet talks of his childhood and his life of crime and how differently he viewed it to the way we did. He showed how the laws of a country are made by the middle classes to protect the middle classes and so are only observed by the middle classes. If you live outside that middle class world the laws no longer are relevant to you and so there is little reason to obey them.People do not disobey the laws because they "want" to or because they are "bad" but because their needs clash with the laws. Needs are stronger than laws. If your need demands you break a law, then that law no longer is seen as relevant to you - it no longer protects you but endangers you - so you will break it.

John Wilson

A terrific account of the Parisian underworld and Genet's attempts to survive it. Theft, murder, jails. Quite humorous at times as when the cops discover Genet's crumpled tube of ass-fucking cream in his pocket. What's this?


Maybe it was just because my version had a bad translation, but somehow I just couldn't enjoy the book. I highly appreciate the story of Genet' but I have a real trouble to truly understand his point of views. Definitely going to read this in original language in the future.


Genet's masterpiece. Combined with Sarte's "Saint Genet", this book changed the way I understand art and how it works. This books is important for anyone who wants to understand evil and it's relationship to creativity, as well as the moral ambiguity of beauty.Genet's writing is very dense and forces you into abstraction, I found myself rereading very often. It's not an immediately accessible book and I found it philosophically complex, but incredibly rewarding. I would recommend that anyone interested in Jean Genet start with his books rather than his plays, either this one or "Our Lady of the Flowers".


Jean Genet's absorbing work of literary autobiography traverses the boundaries of genre with stunning ingenuity and imagination. This work is in some ways similar to Capote's use of the so-called "non-fiction novel," in that it recalls apparently true events through the lens of fiction. This is the reflection of a petty thief, and vagabond. Genet is a young man wandering Europe and immersing himself in a world of crime and depravity. He fuses his homosexuality with nefarious hooliganism to play off of our civilization's utter contempt for effeminate males. Genet blurs the boundary of morality with Nietzschean fury as he revels in his self projected "evil." Perhaps what is most astonishing about 'The Thief's Journal' is the way in which Jean Genet comments on his own commentary with startling frankness and lucidity. In many ways this work established many of the literary mechanics of what is now referred to as "post-modern," though Genet achieves the same level of complexity without sacrificing clarity or beauty in the process


I read another of Genet's novels recently (Our Lady Of The Flowers) and found this a little more accessible. It's not a novel as such - there is no linear plot, and just when you think something is about to happen it seems that Genet gets distracted or just loses interest. Some of the semi-philosophical musings are interesting, some of the descriptions entertaining, but it was still a struggle to work my way through it; and in the end, I don't suppose I'm much better off having read it. However, for the absolute fact that this book would never get published today (without glamourisation, dishonesty or celebritification) I believe it should be read.


This semi-autobiographical account of the time in the 1930's Jean Genet lived on the streets of Barcelona, Antwerp and Paris depicts his quest for psychic survival, helped by consciously embracing a set of anti-values. Rejecting a world that rejects him, Genet tells us ...the greater my guilt, the more totally assumed, the greater my freedom.What's unusual, besides the whole book, is Genet's particular trinity of anti-values: treachery, theft and homosexuality. He doesn't just live them passively, he pursues them with masochistic relish. This means taking an erotic pride in his shame before other people, shame for stealing, for turning against a friend, or for sucking off a cop. His first person account of a waif's solitude has some weaknesses and many strengths.The weak points of the story pertain to Genet's non-linear narrative, which jumps around a bit within a nine or ten year period. That's not a bad style; but it has the effect of narrowing the context in which events occur. The success of the book depends on our being able to relate to the main character, and the absence of context makes this hard to do. Other annoyances involve the use of too many parenthetical remarks and footnotes, and sometimes complicated sentences comprised of maddening nested phrases.The strong points of the book are the tone and quality with which Genet tells his story. The author's first-person account of his willful isolation on the margins of society is told with well chosen, almost lyrical sentences and paragraphs that draw attention to pages of exquisite composition. This is in fact the striking attraction of the story. The high quality and thoughtful control of prose that characterizes this book more than make up for its more ragged aspects. Making his task easier are the exotic turns by which Genet's mind pursues its dark side. Genet uses his talented prose to make a special exhibit of his mental state. I thought I might like this book, and the foreword by Sartre is quite an endorsement. This is my first book by Genet and I'd like to read a couple of others. I recommend The Thief's Journal to anyone interested in society's outliers and castoffs.


Les Genêts du malJouer avec la matière du passé, la modeler avec lyrisme, l'héroisant presque. Un exercice autobiographique des plus sincères. Cri et murmure, vérité et mensonge, Jean Genet vole ses souvenirs, pour la beauté du mal, et de l'amour."Nous savons que notre langage est incapable de rappeler même le reflet de ces états défunts, étrangers. Il en serait de même pour tout ce journal s'il devait être la notation de qui je fus. Je préciserai donc qu'il doit renseigner sur qui je suis, aujourd'hui que je l'écris. Il n'est pas une recherche du temps passé, mais une œuvre d'art dont la matière-prétexte est ma vie d'autrefois. Il sera un présent fixé à l'aide du passé, non l'inverse. Qu'on sache donc que les faits furent ce que je les dis, mais l'interprétation que j'en tire c'est ce que je suis - devenu."Ainsi est ce journal où les fragments d'une vie d'errance, de vol et d'amour se heurtent les uns aux autres, formant un alliage brut, étincelant. Il les répète (beaucoup), il les inverse, il les transcende, il les redéfinie. Poète, esthète, Genet taille les mots, ses mots pour livrer une déclaration d'âme, d'amour au vol et aux hommes beaux et forts. Il livre en vrac sa légende, non pas une vie, mais l'interprétation d'une vie où la trahison est magnifique et magnifiée, où les corps sont forts, une existence vers une sainteté, où l'âme est forgée dans la honte et dans l'orgueil. Le voleur trouve la beauté la plus divine dans les choses les plus veules, à l'envers de notre monde, nous à qui il s'adresse parfois comme si nous vivions dans deux univers différents, notre monde auquel il viendra se joindre, duquel il fait partie lorsqu'il noircit ces pages. Cependant, à la lecture de ce journal, on plonge dans le terrier, dans un pays des merveilles qui n'est pas supposé en être un, et pourtant. Oui, et pourtant. Le livre fermé, j'ai eu un sentiment viscéral d'avoir volé, trahi et aimé. Et ce monde de salauds que je réalise n'avoir fait que visiter l'espace et le temps de quelques pages, ce monde où les bagnards sont des fleurs, et le bagne, un paradis rêvé, idéalisé, ce monde me manque. Oui, l'Espagne me manque."Je parle de quelqu'un (...) mort depuis toujours, c'est-à-dire fixé, car je refuse de vivre pour une autre fin que celle même que je trouvais contenir le premier malheur: que ma vie doit être légende c'est-à-dire lisible et sa lecture donner naissance à quelque émotion nouvelle que je nomme poésie. Je ne suis plus rien, qu'un prétexte." (conclusion d'une merveilleuse tirade, un des moments forts du livre)

Michael D.

Morality is overrated. If you're beauty is you, then context is only "lice" on the cake.


The central tenet of this book is that being gay (and an impoverished orphan), our hero is consigned to a disrespected life. Rather than attempt to meet the demands of a society which rejects him, he clothes himself in an armor of utter depravity. If he cannot be the perfect prince he will be the perfect pauper and criminal. After the first 70 or so pages in which I struggled with the incredible egotism of the book (from Sartre’s introduction: “not all who would be are Narcissus;” as you might imagine, Genet achieves such heights) I was caught on the torrential power of our hero’s glorious rise/descent and of Genet’s prose. This book is a love story in which the object of love changes many times but the nature of the emotion remains real and conflicted, obsessive and transcendent, submissive, powerful, and radiant. It is also a radical text about what it means to be a rejected member of society. Both the beauty and the sudden moments of anger are astounding. Recommended. Definitely a winter read. I look forward to the biography. (Thanks Scott!)


Without a doubt one in a proper life needs to be obsessed with the early Kinks, a love of Howlin' Wolf, read the entire works of Oscar Wilde, to know that there is a big difference between Brian Jones era Rolling Stones to the current Ron Wood years, the love of Charles Shaw brand of wine, and this novel by Jean Genet.It's a must for every young man and woman to read as a teenager. For old men like me it brings a tear to my eye. And why is it that?There is something so incredibly romantic about Genet - and it goes beyond the gay or straight world - it's just a great twilight world where these people live. If you haven't read 'The Thief's Journal, do so. It's a great adventure of sorts.

Richard C.

Amazed how modern and fresh the book is. Could have been written yesterday, not decades ago. I think that's because most literary themes are about the darkness lurking behind "the white picket fence." This was entirely the inverse - the poetry and salvation and "light" lurking behind the darkness of the underground. Some writers try this, and to my mind fail, but Genet pulls it off because he lived and profoundly believed in the "alternative" life style. In parts - particularly in the middle - it got a little French-verbose and preachy-philosophical, but as soon as Genet focused on the characters, I was mesmerized. A great 20th century classic and just 80 cents on Kindle. One of the best book buys I have ever found.


Fictionalized autobiography of Jean Genet's career as a petty thief in the 1930s, part of a series of works that self-analyze Genet's life and his impressions of who he is/was and what he did to meet the exigent requirements of survival and find "meaning" in living as an outlaw. The life depicted is strikingly at odds with the startlingly lucid and vibrant prose, calling into question all assumptions generally made about those we normally judge as ignominious.Samuel R. Delany has in his works made a point of identifying poets with criminals, both, if serious about their craft, representing outlaw elements which society coexists with uneasily. It seems evident that a good deal of Delany's inspiration for this image was drawn from Genet, who makes a compelling case for an alternative moral dimension to the outlaw's life, codes, and responses. By the end of the narrative you see what we might define as ordinary morality as in a mirror, and not a flat one at that. Circumstance dictates self-image as much as anything and the luxury of making of yourself what you wish to be is not restricted to "lucky" people.A difficult story at times, chronicling a life of poverty, borderline nihilism, and a struggle to find love where available and in ways some would find abhorrent, it is a rich journey through a layer of the world most of us know nothing about.


Despite the fact that this seems to jump about all over the place and doesn't really have a narrative as such, I did enjoy it. I particularly enjoyed reading the descriptions of old Barcelona, which the author brings to life very well. I wish I could read it in the original language because I can't help feeling a few things were lost in translation with the version I was reading (which oddly has the footnotes interspliced at random points in the text.)I warmed to the author greatly through reading the book, despite, or perhaps because of its haphazard nature. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book though, all things considered.


"Eğer derin bir yapıt, korkunç bir biçimde kendi içine batmış bir insanın haykırışıysa, insanlarınbu yapıttan uzaklaşmaları hayırlıdır," demiş yazar. Bu biraz insanların kötü olanı görmemezlikten gelip, üç maymunu oynamasına benziyor. Bunun neresi hayırlıdır ve gerçekçi midir bilinmez ama bu kitabın sizin önyargılarınızı ve size öğretilen onca "iyi şey"i silkip atabileceği bir gerçek. Çocukluğunu yetiştirme yurtlarında, gençliğini ise sokaklarda hırsızlık ve fahişelik yaparak geçirmiş bir adamın yaşadıklarına tanık oluyoruz. Bu kitap bir hesaplaşma değil bana göre. Yazar sadece olayları tüm berbatlıklarıyla ve o berbatlıkların içinde şaşırtıcı da olsa bulunabilen güzelliklerle anlatmış. En çok aşklarını anlatmış ki aşkları da bir o kadar aşağılıkmış aslında, o güzelliği aşağılık olanda bulmuş. O'na her ihanet ettiklerinde o daha çok aşık olmuş. Ve tüm bunları bizim o minik beyaz çiçekler, pembe panjurlu evler hayal eden akıl almaz beynimizle alay ederek anlatmış. Yani kitabı okurken küçük düşen biri varsa o da okuyucunun ta kendisi oluyor.Bu kitaba 5 yıldız vermek istemedim çünkü beğenilsin diye yazılan bir kitap olmadığını düşünüyorum. Yazar biz onu takdir edelim ya da hayran olalım diye anlatmıyor, aksine rahatsız etmek için anlatıyor. Bir de yazarların kendi ağızlarından anlattıkları hikayeleri pek sevemiyorum, düşüncelerine hiç ara vermeden okuyup katlanabildiğim birkaç yazar var.Yeraltı edebiyatının kaba dilini de pek sevmiyorum. Çok haşır neşir olmadığım bir tür ama gerçekten farklı bir kitap okumak istiyorsanız tavsiye ederim.

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