The Conductor & Other Tales

The Conductor & Other Tales

Jean Ferry

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Translated, with an introduction, by Edward Gauvin / Illustrations by Claude Ballaré / November 2013 / 4.5 x 7, 176 pp. / 978-1-939663-01-6

First published in French in 1950 in a limited edition of 100 copies, then republished in 1953 (and enthusiastically praised by André Breton), The Conductor and Other Tales is Jean Ferry’s only published book of fiction. It is a collection of short prose narratives that offer a blend of pataphysical humor and surreal nightmare: secret societies so secret that one cannot know if one is a member or not, music-hall acts that walk a tightrope from humor to horror, childhood memories of a man never born, and correspondence from countries that are more states of mind than geographical locales. Lying somewhere between Kafka’s parables and the prose poems of Henri Michaux, Ferry’s tales read like pages from the journal of a stranger in a familiar land. Though extracts have appeared regularly in Surrealist anthologies over the decades, The Conductor has never been fully translated into English until now. This edition includes four stories not included in the original French edition and is illustrated throughout with collages by Claude Ballaré.

Jean Ferry (1906–1974) made his living as a screenwriter for such filmmakers as Luis Buñuel and Louis Malle, cowriting such classics as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Quai des orfèvres and script-doctoring Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis. He was the first serious scholar and exegete of the work of Raymond Roussel (on whom he published three books) and a member of the Collège de ’Pataphysique.


Shortlisted for the French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prize and for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

“[A] wonderful coffee-table book for Modern Strangers. This is a perfect one-a-day antidote for reality in all its clunky, gory glory.”
—Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column

“In a lovely pocket-sized (hurrah!) edition from Wakefield Press, this is a wonderful volume to dip back into even if one first reads it through in one go; the pieces are well worth revisiting. The collages by Claude Ballaré also strike the proper note.”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

“I opened The Conductor and Other Tales, by Jean Ferry, and found myself, to use one of those no-no words among serious reviewers, enchanted. In tone and subject matter, these two dozen very short stories may remind you of Italo Calvino or Steven Millhauser at their most beguiling.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“For fans of quirky, bleak, and short French fiction from the post-surrealist era, this book is a new must have.”
—Josh Coblentz, HTML Giant

“[A] surreal literary dream.”
World Literature Today

“[I]t’s a beautiful, compact book, and slipping in and out of each tale is a delight, even if the stories explore some of the darker areas of our mind.”
—Trevor Berrett, The Mookse and the Gripes

“These 25 stories have transient, wandering elements in which characters inhabit a place somewhere between fact and fiction, history and illusion, dream and reality of an eerie murkiness.”
—Matt Pincus, Necessary Fiction

“Ferry’s surreal, sliver-short stories are certainly wistful explorations of loss, as André Breton wrote; however, they are also absolutely incendiary in their delivery and emotional impact.”
—Leif Schenstead-Harris, Weird Fiction Review

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