Albert Cossery (1913–2008) was a Cairo-born French writer of Lebanese and Greek Orthodox Syrian descent who settled in Paris at the end of the Second World War and lived there for the rest of his life. The son of an illiterate mother and a newspaper-reading father with a private income from inherited property, Cossery was educated from a young age in French schools, where he received his baccalauréat and developed a love of classical literature. At age seventeen he made a trip to the French capital with the intention of continuing his studies there. Instead he joined the Egyptian merchant marine, eventually serving as chief steward on the Port Said–New York line. When he was twenty-seven his first book, Men God Forgot, was published in Cairo and, with the help of Henry Miller, in the United States. In 1945 he returned to Paris to write and live alongside some of the most influential writers and artists of the last century, including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tristan Tzara, Alberto Giacometti, Lawrence Durrell, and Jean Genet. He was also, briefly, married to the actress Monique Chaumette. In 1990 Cossery was awarded the Grand Prix de la francophonie de l’Académie française and in 2005 the Grand Prix Poncetton de la Société des gens de lettres. In recent years several of his books have been newly translated into English, including A Splendid Conspiracy, The Colors of Infamy, and The Jokers (which is available as an NYRB Classic).
Cossery’s proud beggars—a former university professor, a hashish-dealing poet, and a would-be revolutionary office-clerk—live on the fringes of Cairo society, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Each is suspected in the death of a young prostitute, but the detective charged with getting to the truth of the crime finds that he is no match for this band of outsiders.
In an unnamed Middle-Eastern city in a country ruled by a tyrannical buffoon, a small band of renegades concocts a plot to fight power with parody. “Cossery’s books are saturated with a mordant, savage humor which makes one laugh and weep at the same time.” —Henry Miller