The Distant Southern Sky

Original title: Au loin le ciel du sud

Author: Andras, Joseph

Publication Date:

April 2021



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Territories Sold

Greece (Ekdoseis tou Eikostou Protou)



The Distant Southern Sky

Original title: Au loin le ciel du sud

Author: Andras, Joseph


For Joesph Andras, literature is necessarily linked to the political field. His writing in no way sacrifices form for the sake of his ideas, it is, in fact, animated with a classic eloquence which contrasts with the heat of poetic desires. – Lire Magazine Littéraire

‘Here, the archives speak with a fanciful tone and the blanks rustle with questions. This style is literature’s homage to the truth.’ – LH Le Magazine

Just before the end of the First World War (the date is uncertain), the young man who was not yet thirty and who did not yet go by the name Hô Chi Minh lived for a few years in Paris. Using various aliases including Nguyên Tât Thanh and Nguyên Ai Quôc, he frequented the city’s militants, workers, poets and anarchists. He joined the SFIO (the French Section of the Workers’ International) and made the acquaintance of various political figures to whom he championed the aims of the expatriate association known as the Groupe des Patriotes Annamites, before engaging in a more individual capacity in the campaign to liberate the colonies. From the moment he arrived on French soil (and doubtless even prior to that), the expatriate whom Kateb Yacine dubbed ‘the rubber sandal man’ was placed under surveillance and appeared in many a police report.

Drawing on archives, personal testimonies and various biographies, Joseph Andras tries to get closer to the exile with the gentle features and the committed militant who used to stammer when speaking in public, tracing the genesis, halting development and eventual elaboration of a political philosophy. During his Parisian days, the young anti-colonialist honed the ideological framework that would underpin the revolution that he would later lead in ‘Indochina’ before he was caught up in the Realpolitik of power.

This revisiting of his life a century on is also an opportunity to wander through the neighbourhoods where the future Hô Chi Minh lived (the 11th, 13th, 18th and Montreuil) in search of traces of the past in the streets of today. On his walks, the author encounters the echoes of other angry histories and injustices (including the terrorist attacks of November 2015, the tents of the homeless, and the Gilets jaunes demonstrations), at which point the book becomes a meditation on what contributes to the grandeur of the humble, the free, the poor and the rebellious – the men and women whose names will never grace a plaque or a statue but without whom history could not be written.

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