Prisoner of Love

Jean Genet's final book, which was posthumously published from manuscripts he was working on at the time of his death. The book is a memoir of Genet's encounters with Palestinian fighters and Black Panthers, after having spent two years in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan from 1970, and is a beautifully observed description of that time. Visiting Beirut in September 1982, he found himself in the midst of the Israeli invasion of the city, and was one of the first foreigners to enter the Shatila refugee camp after the massacre of hundreds of its inhabitants. Prisoner of Love has been described as mapping the space where oppression, terror and desire intersect. Part anti-Zionist tract, part memoir and philosophical discourse, this uninhibited cascade of images and associations is less a political document than a map of Genet's mental landscape.

Throughout his early novels, Genet worked to subvert the moral values of his assumed readership; celebrating a beauty in darkness, emphasizing a right to singularity, raising criminals and outlaws to icons, fabricating elaborate scenes of betrayal, and playing with preconceptions about the encrypted fluency of gay gestures and cultural coding. Prisoner of Love is his most overtly political, and also his most personal work. An outlaw in early life, later a prostitute, and finally a writer and activist, Genet’s path to recognition was greatly facilitated by the support of Jean Paul Satre, and his essay The Studio of Giacometti is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. His writing is like nothing else – pulling open a kind of dissident, lyrical accuracy through a painfully perceptive mode of watching and being in the world. He was also deigned to be a rare male example of ‘Écriture feminine’ by Hélène Cixous. And he’s the subject of David Bowie’s song Gean Jenie, if you’re into Bowie.

Jean Genet
New York Review Books

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