In the black heart of the Great Depression, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler rose to power, Louis-Ferdinand Cèline set the French literary scene afire with Journey to the End of the Night. By turns darkly comical, hallucinatory, and picaresque, the novel charts the misadventures of Bardamu. From the trenches of the First World War to French colonial Africa to New York City and Detroit, Bardamu experiences each place with his own jaundiced eyes. Eventually he returns back to suburban Paris, a small-time doctor working with impoverished patients. Bardamu is not alone. His friend, one Robinson, accompanies him as he deals with corrupt colonial officers, sleazy showgirls, and asylum inmates.
Céline would later gain notoriety as a Vichy collaborator, anti-Semite, and Fascist sympathizer. Journey, his first novel, while not an anti-Semitic work, is a misanthropic work. Bardamu, a thinly veiled version of Céline, is a pessimist and a nihilist. The pessimism and nihilism gives the work a comedic edge, similar to the darkly comical work of Bill Hicks. Unlike Hicks, Céline lacks humanitarianism in this novel. He can be seen as a cold-eyed Cassandra, only seeing the worse in people, yet Journey also exhibits a Rabelaisian excess and energy.