André Breton’s “Nadja”


“She calls herself Nadja, she says, ‘because in Russian it’s the beginning of the word hope, and because it’s only the beginning.”

Breton André, Nadja, p.66

Nadja is a book I wanted to read since this summer after reading a critique Simone De Beauvoir wrote concerning the ways in which women are portrayed in literature. Well this was actually the second reason why I was so eager to read it as the first was that the title of the book -and the main character of the book- is Nadja which actually reminds me of my own name, so I guess while reading I was also looking for similarities between her and me. I know it sounds silly but I believe that having this in mind, my attitude towards the book was different.

“Life is other than what one writes.”

Breton André, Nadja, p.71

Essentially, this book is a “love story” between the writer and a young woman who, as the title suggests, is called Nadja. As Breton is one of the most characteristic surrealist writers, the book has surrealistic elements and is created by blending autobiographical facts with memories and imagination. For those who are not used to reading these kind of texts it can be a little hard to follow the writer’s stream of thought as it continuously progresses. I found it quite tiring myself as I have to admit that concentration was necessary in order to keep pace with the names, the streets and the events occurring . As a result it took me a lot longer to read the book than expected due to lack of time and concentration.

“André? André? … You will write a novel about me. I’m sure you will. Don’t say you won’t. Be careful; everything fades, everything vanishes. Something must remain of us…” Breton André, Nadja, p.100

 The book is divided in two parts, the first one is before the writer’s encounter with Nadja but it offers a mental tour in the streets of Paris during the 1920s. My edition of the book, which I strongly recommend, had pictures of several places the author describes, portraits of people he talks about and posters, giving a glimpse of what it would feel like living as Breton did. In my opinion, the second part of the book, where Nadja is actually introduced is a lot more interesting. Breton has a unique way of presenting her both through his eyes and her words that enchants the reader. In that case De Beauvoir was right, as Breton describes the female character as something unreachable that belongs to the fantasy word and exists in order to validate his existence.

“A kiss is so quickly forgotten.” Breton André, Nadja, p.80

Generally I liked the book because it was a different love story, it was an unconventional one and as a result it was more interesting despite the “difficulties” of reading it. I believe that people who like modernism and surrealism will find it a lot easier to read. In addition the photos provided along with their explanations made me feel like I was part of Breton’s word and I must admit that I found his way of writing very interesting and intriguing at the same time. It is as if you are constantly in someone’s thoughts and by doing so you feel closer to the writer, especially in this case where there are autobiographical elements. Of course the original language is french but I read it in English so I must admit that probably the book is better in its original writting but I could definitely not handle surrealism and french. But for those who can and want to read something rather different from the “ordinary classics” Nadja is the ideal book.

“Since you exist, as you alone know how to exist, it was perhaps not so necessary that this book should exist.” Breton André, Nadja, p.158