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The Death of Napoleon
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“Ladies and gentlemen, alas! The Emperor is dead.” The news from St Helena goes out across Europe, but in fact Napoleon has not died. By means of an ingenious escape, he has returned to the Continent, leaving an impersonator on St Helena, and it is this double who has unexpectedly and very problematically passed away. Traveling incognito, the emperor experiences a series of bizarre adventures that bring him face-to-face with the myth of Napoleon as it is disconcertingly played out in everyday life. After a visit to Waterloo and a near arrest at the French border, he eventually arrives in Paris, where he falls in with some veteran Bonapartists and visits an asylum where most of the inmates are laboring under the mistaken impression that they are he. Will Napoleon ever recapture his true identity? Who, in the end, is he, now that “the Emperor is dead”? Simon Leys’s truculent, delightful fable poses these and other questions in a rare work of fiction that is continually surprising and effervescent.
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