An independent spirit
Léon Werth was born in 1878, the son of a Jewish draper. He became an art historican and critic and led a Bohemian lifestyle. As a young man, he started long-lasting friendships with some of his most illustrious contemporaries such as Octave Mirbeau, Paul Signac, Lucien Febvre, Pierre Bonnard, Colette and many others.
In 1913, his first novel La Maison Blanche (The White House) narrowly missed winning the Prix Goncourt. In 1914 he was called up and spent fifteen months in the trenches. After being wounded, he left the front and was just as harsh in his condemnation of French colonialism, Stalin’s totalitarianism and the rise of the Nazism. He died in Paris in 1955. The independent spirit that runs through his works - a virulent antimilitarism in Clavel soldat or a not so fashionable anticolonialism, when Cochinchine was published - still causes intense controversy.
The great friend old Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In 1931, while visiting friends, Léon Werth met Saint-Exupéry. Werth and Saint-Exupéry’s friendship never faltered. And in 1943 "Tonio" dedicated Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) to him. What is more, "Letter to an Hostage" was first written as a preface to the American edition of Werths’s 33 Days. For unknown reasons, the American edition was never published by Bretano’s. But Antoine de Saint-Exupéry mentioned 33 Days as one of the greatest books he had never read. Nevertheless, Werth’s work had remained quite unknown ; his refusal of parties frightened publishers who feared that "this fierce independence" would not defend by the press.
2015 : Werth eventually discovered abroad
But a fantastical story around a great author never ends. In 2015, Dennis Johnson, director of Melville House, decided to publish 33 Days in the USA. He managed to find the unpublished preface of 33 days, "Letter to the friend", which is a first version of "Letter to an Hostage". The American press was enthusiastic and foreign publishers began to rediscover Léon Werth.