So Albert Cossery begins his novel, The Jokers, a tale that, from its opening sentence, is packed with charged wit and barbed satire. The Jokers, an NYRB Classics Original appearing in its first English translation, has been making headlines since its July publication.
The San Francisco Chronicle includes The Jokers on its list of July “Grabbers”: new books with gripping first sentences. And Benjamin Moser, in the August edition of Harper’s Magazine, writes a resounding description of the novel:
“We’re in a country much like Cossery’s native Egypt, which he left in 1931 to spend most of the rest of his life in a Parisian hotel. There, at a rate of one novel per decade (one sentence per week, he claimed), he composed a body of work whose primary theme is the relation of power to powerlessness.
The Jokers describes how a motley group of fainéants conspire to bring down an odious governor by printing and distributing posters that praise him so extravagantly that even the police, whose job it is to ensure oleaginous devotion to their boss, grow concerned…As the conspirators begin to score successes against the governor, who is increasingly enchanted by his own propaganda, Cossery introduces a Dostoevskyan figure, Taher, whose former friend Karim, the author of the seditiously ass-kicking poster, was once, like Taher, a hardened revolutionary. Now Karim dedicates himself to political tomfoolery and leisurely dalliances with prostitutes; Taher is outraged that the police think he and his comrades would have anything to do with such frivolity. ‘They make us look ridiculous to the police. And I don’t like that. We’re not pranksters!’”
The “grabbing” satirical edge of Cossery’s novel invites mayhem, laughter, and reflection—it promises, in other words, to be an exceptionally torrid read.