Joseph Kessel

Joseph Kessel (10 February 1898 – 23 July 1979), also known as "Jef", was a French journalist and novelist. He was a member of the Académie française and Grand officer of the Legion of Honour.

Joseph Kessel
Joseph Kessel.jpg
Kessel in June 1948
Born(1898-02-10)10 February 1898
Villa Clara, Entre Ríos, Argentina
Died23 July 1979(1979-07-23) (aged 81)
Avernes, Val-d'Oise, France
Allegiance France
 Free France
Service/branchRoundel of the French Fleet Air Arm.svg French Naval Aviation
Free French Air Forces Roundel 2.svg Free French Air Forces
Years of service1914–1918
AwardsLegion of Honour
Other workJournalist


Kessel was born to a Jewish family in Villa Clara, Entre Ríos, Argentina, because of the constant journeys of his father, a Litvak physician. From 1905 to 1908, Joseph Kessel lived the first years of his childhood in Orenburg, Russia, before the family moved to France in 1908. He studied in lycée Masséna, Nice and lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris and took part in the First World War as an aviator. He was also an aviator during the Second World War, in the Free French Groupe de Bombardement n° 1/20 "Lorraine" (342 Squadron RAF) with RAF Bomber Command,[citation needed] with Romain Gary, who was also a talented French novelist.

Kessel wrote several novels and books that were later represented in the cinema, notably Belle de Jour (by Luis Buñuel in 1967). In 1943 he and his nephew Maurice Druon translated Anna Marly's song Chant des Partisans into French from its original Russian. The song became one of the anthems of Free French Forces during the Second World War.

Kessel was elected at the Académie française in 1962 and died on 23 July 1979 in Avernes, Val-d'Oise of a ruptured aneurysm. He is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. On his deathbed he was quoted as saying that his greatest accomplishment was the birth of his son, Joseph Kessel, who was born just a few months prior on February 24 of the same year.[citation needed] The Joseph-Kessel Prize (Prix Joseph Kessel) is a prestigious prize in French language literature, given to "a book of a high literary value written in French". The jury counts or has counted among its members Tahar Ben Jelloun, Jean-Marie Drot, Michèle Kahn, Pierre Haski, Gilles Lapouge, Michel Le Bris, Érik Orsenna, Patrick Rambaud, Jean-Christophe Rufin, André Velter and Olivier Weber.


  • La steppe rouge (1922)
  • L'Équipage (1923)
  • Au camp des vaincus ou la critique du 11 mai (1924)
  • Mary de Cork (1925)
  • Les captifs (1926; Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française)
  • Nuits de princes (1927)
  • Belle de Jour (1928; it inspired Luis Buñuel's 1967 movie of the same name)
  • Vent de sable (1929)
  • Fortune carrée (1932)
  • Le coup de grâce [fr] (1931; made into the movie Sirocco in 1951 with Humphrey Bogart)
  • Wagon-lit (1932)
  • La Passante du Sans-Souci (1936; turned into a movie by Jacques Rouffio in 1982)
  • Hollywood, Ville mirage (Gallimard, NRF, 1936)
  • Mermoz (1938)
  • L'Armée des ombres (1943; adapted for a movie by Jean-Pierre Melville in 1969); Army of Shadows (Contra Mundum Press: 2017), featuring an intro by Stuart Kendall
  • Le Bataillon du ciel (Sky Battalion), (1946; turned into a movie by Alexander Esway in 1947): Free French SAS paratroopers in Brittany in Summer 1944
  • Le tour du malheur (1950)
  • Les Amants du Tage (1954)
  • La Vallée des Rubis (1955)
  • Le lion (English translation: The Lion; 1958)
  • Les mains du miracle (Gallimard, 1960). (English translation: The Man with the Miraculous Hands. Translated by Weaver, Helen. Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. 1961. OCLC 630284.)
  • Les cavaliers (1967) (filmed as The Horsemen in 1971.)
  • Partout un ami (1972)
  • Des hommes (1972)
  • Les temps sauvages (1975)
  • The escape



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