Obituary: Yves Gibeau

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Yves Gibeau, writer: born Bouzy 3 January 1916; died Roucy (Aisne) 14 October 1994.

ONE OF the most unforgettable films I have ever seen is Yves Boisset's Allons z'enfants. When it first came out in Paris in 1981, I was so overwhelmed by its defiant pacifist message that I saw it six times. The novel on which it was based was by Yves Gibeau, a writer after my own heart.

Gibeau was a born misfit. He was the bastard offspring of an unknown military man and a country girl who was abandoned by the father. She later married a sergeant in the colonial infantry, Alexandre Gibeau, who gave the little boy his name.

Yves was educated in a grim succession of authoritarian military schools and officer-training courses that he failed again and again. He was reviled by commanding officers and by his fellow trainees, who despised his incapacity for the military life. They mocked him for reading books, and tore up his film magazines.

In 1940, he was taken prisoner and in an East Prussian camp suffered the same inhuman treatment from his German captors. When he was liberated, he determined to spend the rest of his life opposing the imbecility of war and the inhuman conditions of military education and training for war.

He started writing and Raymond Aron, a great humanist, introduced him to Albert Camus, who gave him a job as a critic on his newspaper Combat, but Gibeau's acid pen caused advertisers to withdraw their support. He then took lowly jobs on various progressive periodicals, including L'Express, where he was to spend most of his life.

The first book, Le Grand Monome (1948), and Et La Fete Continue (1950) led to his first success, Allons z'enfants (1952). Gibeau wrote this book with great difficulty, often almost giving up in despair. Its theme is similiar to that of Jean Vigo's film Zero de Conduite - the spirited revolt of schoolboys against brutal and stupid regimentation. It is obviously autobiographical, the story of a sensitive boy driven to desperation and death by his lonely rebellion against a mean-spirited, pseudo- patriotic society he despises.

Yves Gibeau was still working for L'Express when he died, concocting the most entertaining cryptic crosswords in the French press. As with the best poems, one could hear the author's voice composing them in his still-rebellious mind, not on a soulless computer.