First published as a sprawling feuilleton in the newspaper Le National in 1850, Les Faux Saulniers was political and topical. With nods to Diderot and Sterne, this protean digressive satire deals less with contraband salt smugglers and more with questions of subversion, transgression, censorship, and marginality. The Salt Smugglers is an unearthed pre-postmodern gem. By writing a first-person narrative detailing his dizzying quest for an elusive book holding the history of the Abbé de Bucquoy, Nerval was able to dance with the censors of the day who forbid fiction to appear in newspaper serials while questioning and opening the borders between fact and fiction.
If ever a writer . . . sought to define himself painstakingly to himself, to grasp and bring light to the murky shadings, the deepest laws and most elusive impressions of the human soul, it was Gérard de Nerval.
— Marcel Proust
There are individuals who are illuminated by the absolute and who flood the universe of relations with light. . . . Gérard de Nerval points us to the bold trajectories of these human meteors while at the same time opening our ears to the voices of legends and folksongs. . . . Love, the spirit of revolution, adventure, a certain form of mysticism—he takes all this and makes it converge toward a single point and an ultimate liberation, which he discovered first in madness and then in suicide.
— Michel Leiris
What an amiably digressive tale, à la Laurence Sterne! The Salt Smugglers leads off with an irresistible hunt for a rare book and continues full of high adventure, often involving collisions with an absurdly wrong-headed judicial system. Yet the narrator's tongue-in-cheek sincerity and his jibes at the government are startlingly modern. Richard Sieburth has rescued a lovely book from obscurity or perhaps even virtual oblivion.
— Lydia Davis
Every intelligent English-speaking reader must be grateful to Richard Sieburth and Archipelago Books for rescuing from oblivion this gem of factual fiction, revealing a Nerval poised somewhere between the subversive Diderot and the vitriolic Voltaire. The Salt Smugglers now has pride of place in my ideal library.
— Alberto Manguel
The Salt Smugglers is also a delight, because in it we encounter a Nerval who seems relaxed, urbane, witty and even chipper, his mind clear, his intelligence unclouded.
— Stephen Romer, The Times Literary Supplement
De Nerval has this way of startling the reader into a reverie, startling fiction into history and back again, and startling prose into poetry.
— Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut
The Salt Smugglers is a gem and is as much for the casual reader as for students of French literature or Nerval.
— Ahmad Saidullah, The Quarterly Conversation