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Signed book, First edition

Joseph KESSEL Mermoz



Librairie Hachette, Paris 1938, 13,5x20,5cm, relié.

First edition, one of only a handful of hors commerce copies printed for Joseph Kessel on yellow paper (papier maïs), most limited issue after 2 copies on hollande, also hors commerce.
One of the very rare name copies on papier maïs, ours being specially printed for Joseph Kessel's great friend and fellow adventurer, Charles Edouard Lablache Combier.
Grey half long-grain shagreen binding, smooth spine, author, title and date stamped in palladium, gray metallized paper boards evoking airplaine fuselage, paper endpapers and pastedowns, original wrappers preserved, binding signed Thomas Boichot.
Complete with folding map at rear.
With a touching signed inscription by Joseph Kessel below the colophon: “Te souviens-tu de Mermoz sur la péniche? Son ami Jef" (Do you remember Mermoz on the barge? His friend Jef).

In 1926, Kessel first met Lablache Combier, then a young lieutenant, in an exotic brothel in Palmyra. “One night in Beirut” was enough for Kessel to form “a solid friendship” with this “naval officer with velvet eyes and a jazz voice”, as he described him three years later in Vent de sable.
Lablache Combier was the first companion on Kessel's great adventure in the footsteps of slave traders. The idea for this very journey was born in Palmyra when they met. He also introduced Henry de Monfreid to the small group of adventurers: "Not only did I track him down, but I got him on the phone! Henry de Monfreid is in Paris for a few days. I've invited him to my barge. Gentlemen, tonight we dine with the pirate of the Red Sea. Luck is with us!"

"That Lablache should live on a barge, that Kessel should want to uncover the secrets of slave traders, that he should have the means to organize an expedition with nothing less than a naval officer, a méhariste doctor [Emile Peyré] and an opium-addicted poet [Gilbert Charles], delighted the adventurous quinquagenarian"(Yves Courriere , Joseph Kessel ou sur la piste du lion).

It was on this great journey through the Issa and Danakis deserts with Lablache that Kessel became an adventurer:

"I could go on and on, as if in a strange tale of adventure, about the moonlit walks, the campsites under the stars, the brushwood fire lit between three stones, the tracks lost and found again, the intoxication of fatigue and the astonishing physical well-being that allows us, after ten hours on the road, after a meal of rice and murky water, after a sleep on a bed of pebbles, to wake up at dawn without a ache and to set off again with joy towards new risks. But, in truth, we had only one goal, only one purpose, and that the sun, the desert, the fatigue carried to the point of obsession: to join the slave caravan."
(Joseph Kessel, Marchés d'esclaves)

The title Fortune carrée [translated as Crossroads, first published in 1932] was inspired by Lablache's talent as a sailor, who saved Joseph Kessel during a crossing of the Red Sea to Yemen. A heroic maneuver that the novelist later fictitiously attributed to Henry de Monfreid, better known to the general public.
In his biography, Yves Courrière recalls the writer's nostalgia for these years of adventure and friendship in 1956: 

"Of a lifetime of reporting, the one that left him with the best memories was La piste des esclaves.  Not only because of the intensity of its subject matter and the rugged beauty of the lands it traversed, but also because he had experienced it in the company of friends who had either disappeared or moved away, recreating such a magnetic team [...] had become impossible.”

As it were, his friend Lablache Combier mysteriously disappeared in 1941 after joining the Free French Forces then the Royal Navy. Under the name of Paul Lewis Claire, he carried out numerous missions in Spain and Gibraltar, where he is said to have surreptitiously boarded the liner Empire Hurst, sunk by Nazi aircraft on August 11, 1941. However, there is another theory surrounding his death. Lablache would have been captured and killed by the British after confiding to a French military attaché his refusal to return to England. This version is undoubtedly worthy of a detective story: with MI6 chloroform abduction, escape, pursuit and assassination of the fugitive, before being subsequently disguised as a drowning. The incredible double agent affair would have been then hushed up by a certain naval intelligence agent named Ian Fleming. Kessel's friend was nevertheless declared killed in action, and his widow received a pension from the British government for the rest of her life.

In this intimate inscription, Kessel reveals that it was on Lablache's barge that he took the famous aviator Mermoz, whom he had just met in 1930, on the eve of their great Abyssinian adventure.
A unique copy that brings together two of Joseph Kessel's greatest friendships and his greatest adventure, inscribed on one of the very few name copies on yellow paper.


10 000 €

Réf : 85926



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