Born in the Bronx to a Jewish family, Milton Hindus (1916-1998) became professor of literature at Brandeis University. Although Hindus published on subjects from poet Charles Reznikoff to the Lower East Side, he is mostly remembered for more sinister fare.
In the 1930s, Hindus became a fan of the ferociously anti-Semitic French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s literary modernism and after the war, tried to advance Céline’s career before realizing his error. Hindus’s view of the relationship is available in his memoir “The Crippled Giant,”.
In February, Gallimard published a new edition of the Frenchman’s side in “Céline: Letters to Milton Hindus 1947-1949).” The image of Hindus that emerges is a naïve, oft-clueless scholar, hampered by imperfect French. Hindus writes to Céline only in English, confesses to difficulty in reading some of Céline’s French texts, and when they meet, the two speak in English. Hindus repeatedly misinterprets nuances in Céline’s letters, as when the author, in forced exile in Denmark due to accusations of French war crimes, ironically exclaims that he needs a visa to escape to Chile. Hindus takes this literally and tries to secure a Chilean visa for the reprobate author.