A picaresque 20th-century Jewish literary life is being celebrated with a vibrant new biography. The novelist Jean Malaquais, born Vladimir Jan Pavel Israël Pinkus Malacki in Warsaw in 1908, is the subject of “The Rebellious Malaquais” by Geneviève Nakach, out from Les éditions Le Cherche Midi in November.
Malaquais’ first novella, “Marianka,” about an anti-Semitic pogrom in the Ukraine, was published in 1936 in France, a country he chose to move to in order to escape discrimination in Poland. Poverty forced Malacki to survive by manual labor in factories and a coal mine. The latter experience inspired his 1939 novel “Men From Nowhere,” a gritty narrative based on slang terms of popular speech. Malaquais’ underdog émigré characters led some critics to liken him to another literary evoker of the downtrodden, Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Yet one discerning critic, Leon Trotsky, who reviewed Malaquais’ novel for The Fourth International, a New York Communist publication, differentiated the two writers: