At the age of 21 Malraux left for Cambodia with his new wife Clara Goldschmidt. In Cambodia, Malraux undertook an exploratory expedition into the Cambodian jungle, and on his return was arrested by French colonial authorities for removing bas-reliefs from one of the temples he visited, Banteay Srei.
On his return to France, he published The Temptation of the West (1926) an exchange of letters between a Westerner and an Asian comparing aspects of the two cultures. This was followed by his first novel The Conquerors (1928), then by The Royal Way (1930) which drew in part on his Cambodian experience, and then by Man's Fate (La Condition Humaine). For La Condition Humaine, a powerful novel about a communist uprising in Shanghai, he won the 1933 Prix Goncourt.
In the 1930s Malraux was active in the anti-Fascist Popular Front in France. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he joined the Republican forces in Spain, serving in, and helping to organise, their fledging air force. His squadron became something of a legend after his claims of nearly annihilating part of the Nationalist army at Medellín. According to Curtis Cate, his biographer, he was lightly wounded twice during efforts to stop the Falangists' takeover of Madrid, but Hugh Tomas denies that fact. He also toured the United States to raise funds for the Spanish Republicans. A novel drawing on his Spanish war experiences, Man's Hope, (L'Espoir) appeared in 1938.
Malraux's motivations behind his involvement in the Spanish Civil War are questioned by Antony Beevor in The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Quoting from the Russian State Military Archive, Beevor raises suspicions that "he had recruited the pilots and technicians himself in France. Most of them have come here in order to make good money." In Beevor's own words, "Malraux stands out, not just because he was a mythomaniac in his claims of martial heroism - in Spain and later in the French Resistance - but because he cynically exploited the opportunity for intellectual heroism in the legend of the Spanish Republic."
At the outbreak of Second World War Malraux joined the French Army. He was captured in 1940 during the Western Offensive but escaped and later joined the French Resistance. He was captured by the Gestapo in 1944 and underwent a mock execution. He later led the tank unit Brigade Alsace-Lorraine in defence of Strasbourg and in the attack on German Stuttgart. He was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance, the Croix de Guerre, and the British Distinguished Service Order.
During the war he worked on a long novel, The Struggle with the Angel, the manuscript of which was destroyed by the Gestapo after his capture in 1944. A surviving first part, which he entitled The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, was published after the war.
Malraux and his first wife were divorced in the 1940s. His daughter from this marriage, Florence (b.1933), married the filmmaker Alain Resnais.)
Malraux had two sons by his second wife Josette Clotis: Pierre-Gauthier (1940-1961) and Vincent (1943-1961). In 1944 while Malraux was fighting in Alsace, Josette died when she slipped while boarding a train. His two sons were killed in a 1961 automobile accident.
After the war, General Charles de Gaulle appointed Malraux as his Minister for Information (1945-1946). During this post-war period, Malraux also worked on the first of his books on art, The Psychology of Art which was published in three volumes over the period 1947 to 1949. The work was subsequently re-published in one volume, somewhat revised, as The Voices of Silence (Les Voix du Silence). Malraux became a Minister of State in De Gaulle's 1958-1959 government and France's first Minister of Cultural Affairs from 1959 to 1969, serving during all of De Gaulle's presidency. Among many other initiatives, he created maisons de la culture in a number of provincial cities and worked to preserve France's national heritage. In 1960 Malraux launched,as editor, the series Arts of Mankind, an ambitious survey of world art that spans over thirty large illustrated volumes.
During the 1960s, Malraux published the first volume of a trilogy on art entitled The Metamorphosis of the Gods, with the second two volumes (not yet translated into English) appearing shortly before he died. He also began publishing a series of semi-autobiographical works, the first of which was Antimémoires. One of these, Lazarus, is a reflection on death following one of his own final illnesses. Malraux died in Créteil, near Paris, on 23 November 1976, and was buried in the Verrières-le-Buisson (Essonne) cemetery. In honor of his contributions to French culture, his ashes were moved to the Panthéon in Paris in 1996, on the twentieth anniversary of his passing.
An international Malraux Society was founded in the United States in 1968. There is also an active association based in Paris, the Amitiés internationales André Malraux.
"What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets."
For a more complete biography see the site of the Amitiés internationales André Malraux