More remarkable reads and great discoveries.
‘The Asiatics’ by Frederic Prokosch is described on the cover by Andre Gide as ‘An astonishing feat of the imagination’, by Thomas Mann as ‘A most brilliant and original achievement’ and is also lauded by Albert Camus. High Praise indeed.
First published in 1935, this is that rare thing, a ‘travel novel’, about a young American who hitch-hikes across Asia, from Lebanon to the southern frontiers of China. According to the blurb, ‘he experiences drug smuggling in Trebizond, imprisonment in Khorasan, the perils of the Persian salt marshes, Baluchi bandits’ and many other remarkable adventures. A strange and wonderful adventure, hugely enjoyable. This Faber edition, published in 1983, ahs a cover designed by Pentagram and illustrated by Paul Leith.
Prokosch (1906-1929) is an extraordinary and interesting figure who wrote a long list of novels, memoirs, poems and books of criticism. He was a mysterious character, obsessed by tennis, squash and lepidoptery, who was involved at least twice in forgeries for profit.
See the interesting Wikipedia entry. the essay entitled ‘Collecting Fredric Prokosch, A Writer and a Minor Literary Scoundrel’ on the blog ‘The Books In My Life’, and his obituary in the New York Times.
‘The Trap’ by Dan Billany must be one of the most remarkable novels written about World War 2. Its power came as complete surprise. The early part of the book is set in Cornwall, and concerns a working class family whose daughter falls in love with a young man who is called up and sent to fight in the desert against Rommel’s army. Much of the book echoes Billany’s own wartime experiences; he was killed in mysterious circumstances in 1944. There is a great site and bio about him: ‘Dan Billany: Hull’s Lost Hero.
A Dream of Wessex by Christopher Priest is a wonderful piece of British sci-fi by an author perhaps best known for his novel The Prestige, which was made into a great film by Christopher Nolan. Lauded within the sci-fi world, his string of 11 remarkable novels are worth investigating. His work, steeped in the grand tradition of H.G. Wells and other British sci-fi masters, is genuinely original. This book concerns the Ridpath project, in which volunteers are transported into a strange alternative world. Priest is still very active as a novelist and journalist and you can find all about him on his website www.christopher-priest.co.uk
While England Sleeps by David Leavitt, set in England in the 1930s, concerns a gay relationship between Brian Botsford, a young upper-class writer and Edward Phelan, an idealistic Communist Party member who works on the London Underground. It brings to life the feeling of that time leading up to the Spanish civil war and explores in graphic detail their sexual relationship. Its a moving and haunting story that touches the heart.
Leavitt, an American writer, was sued in 1994-5 over this book by the poet Stephen Spender, who claimed that he had plagiarised his book ‘While England Sleeps’ and fictionalised his life. As a result, the first edition of this book was pulped. Leavitt discusses the lawsuit in a special preface in this revised edition, which was republished by Houghton Mifflin. He is currently a Professor at the Department of English at the University of Florida, where his cv can be found.