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The Death of Napoleon

The Death of Napoleon

by Simon Leys, translated from the French by Patricia Clancy

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As he bore a vague resemblance to the Emperor, the sailors on board the Hermann-Augustus Stoeffer had nicknamed him Napoleon. And so, for convenience, that is what we shall call him.
Besides, he was Napoleon… .

Napoleon has escaped from St. Helena, leaving a double behind him. Now disguised as the cabin hand Eugène Lenormand and enduring the mockery of the crew (Na­po­leon, they laughingly nickname the pudgy, hopelessly clumsy little man), he is on his way back to Europe, ready to make contact with the huge secret organization that will return him to power. But then the ship on which he sails is rerouted from Bordeaux to Antwerp. When Napoleon disembarks, he is on his own.

He revisits the battlefield of Waterloo, now a tourist destination. He makes his way to Paris. Mistakes, misunderstandings, and mishaps conduct our puzzled hero deeper and deeper into the mystery of Napoleon. by Simon Leys, translated from the French by Patricia Clancy

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781590178423
Pages: 144
Publication Date:


I am glad to report that Simon Leys's The Death of Napoleon has one hell of an idea—the absurdity of trying to retrieve time or glory—and is written with the grace of a poem.
—Edna O'Brien, The Sunday Times

Entertaining and clever, this is a sweetening reminder of the ephemerality of great achievements—and by implication those of the not so great.

Alternative enjoyable and at the same time, like all daydreaming, brings a sensation of guilt. But The Death of Napoleon is also a fable, and Simon Leys is an expert fabulist.
—Penelope Fitzgerald, The New York Times Book Review

An elegant and engaging piece of alternative history, gently tragic and wryly comic.
—D. J. Enright, The Times Literary Supplement

A small masterpiece. So much spirit, so much insolence, and so much emotion joined in so few pages overwhelmingly earn the reader's enthusiasm and praise. One closes the book regretfully, sincerely hoping that Simon Leys will not stop there.
—Corinne Desportes, Le Magazine Litteraire

Powerful, touching—and delightful, too—this invention of a post-Waterloo career led by Bonaparte—not on St. Helena.
—Francis Steegmuller

What a pleasure to read a real writer...The Death of Napoleon is utterly satisfying sentence by sentence and scene by scene, but it is also compulsively readable...By giving us a Napoleon who cannot find how to retrieve [his public] face, Simon Leys throws light on our universal need to bring inner and outer reality together, to understand who we really are.
—Gabriel Josipovici, The Times Literary Supplement

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