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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depravity, Filth, and Ruin: Leppin's Decadent Masterpiece, March 8, 2010
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This review is from: Blaugast: A Novel of Decline (Paperback)
Paul Leppin (1878-1945) is best known for his earlier decadent works of the 1910s, especially Severin's Journey into the Dark (A Prague Ghost Story). "Blaugast," written in the 1930s and not published until 1984, is Leppin's magnum opus. It bridges the sexual perversities and personal deterioration of decadence with the emotional intensity of expressionism. It is therefore astounding that Leppin's manuscripts, including "Blaugast," were discarded like trash on the sidewalk outside of his home after WWII. Supposedly, an anonymous individual discovered and donated Leppin's papers to the Museum of Czech Literature. Without this unknown person, Leppin's later works might not exist.

For those unfamiliar with Leppin's prose, it is poetic and often beautiful. This is remarkable considering his attraction to bleak and sordid subject matter. Leppin's talent is in crafting atmosphere; not plot. He focuses on conveying dark moods, sexual obsessions, lonely despair, and the ugliness of life. He paints Prague as a dismal and putrid city of weary prostitutes, debauched noblemen, cruel tavern patrons, and grimy beggars. In "Severin's Journey..." Leppin romanticizes angst and suffering. In "Blaugast," the suffering is unglorified and painfully real. "Blaugast" may be Leppin's grittiest and most disgusting work. Whether it's through actual scenic detail or colorful metaphors, Leppin does not shy away from the grotesque and fetid.

Fingernail clippings and pubic hair, urine-saturated beds, masturbating onto a plate, faces buried in feces, and a world of muck and sewage are prominent. In describing a particular room, Leppin writes: "Vermin swarmed over the garishly green-washed walls: beetles, disgusting woodlice and spiders, whose swollen bellies streaked watery tracks on the mottled plaster..." Sadomasochism is briefly described including the squashing of a frog and pricking a woman's body with needles for sexual gratification. In spite of the attention to ugly detail, Leppin's descriptions of the sexual content are not pornographic. Even when orgies and sexual intercourse occur, Leppin is subtle and metaphoric, preferring to leave the nuances to the reader's imagination.

"Blaugast" chronicles the downfall of Klaudius Blaugast, a burned-out office clerk who spends his nights drinking at pubs and bringing home prostitutes. It is through Schobotzki, an old friend from school and a connoisseur of debauchery, that Blaugast meets the sadistic prostitute, Wanda. Leppin aptly labels her the "Apocalyptic woman," and she malevolently takes advantage of Blaugast's lust. He quits his job and spirals into a world of orgies and sloth. Eventually, Wanda moves into his house and plies her trade there; she takes on a dominatrix role and transforms Blaugast into "a shoeshiner for whores."

It gets worse. Blaugast's physical and mental state deteriorates from syphilis and he becomes broke and homeless. He gradually mutates into a filthy and degenerate bum whose life is hell: he exposes himself to young school girls, performs humiliating and sickening acts to entertain drunkards, and even receives a brutal beating that leaves him face-first in dung. Interspersed between the narrative of his ruination are youthful memories of his earliest sexual acts, as well as surrealistic and hallucinatory dreams. One dream concerns a prostitute who murdered her newborn infant - the chapter containing the dream is so poignant and nightmarish that Leppin saw fit to publish it as a separate short story. The only element of goodness in Blaugast's world is the good-hearted Johanna, a prostitute who sympathizes with his plight. Surprisingly, the story ends with a glimmer of hope, which is unusual considering Leppin's proclivity for bleak endings.

Bottom line: "Blaugast" is the most decadent, repulsive, and distressing of Leppin's work. It is not for the faint of heart or the optimist, even though the end is touchingly hopeful. Leppin scholar, Dierk O. Hoffmann, states: "In Blaugast, the everyday world and the realm of shadows, fears, and anxieties merge... Images of rats, pus, sores, and excrement evoke disgust. Such images either compels the reader to throw the book to the floor or become sucked into its world, a world that men and women have turned into a hell for one another. Just a tiny flicker of hope is all that remains. Sometimes, it just may happen that a character reaches out, that someone understands rather than accuses, that life's confusion is overcome and a transcendental harmony achieved."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars prague literature, December 14, 2010
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This review is from: Blaugast: A Novel of Decline (Paperback)
I really loved this book and I owe it all to my travels in Prague and my new found addiction to the prague post who ran a feture on Blaugast and Paul Leppin. I have not really been able to find other books by him that could quite live up to Blaugast.
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Blaugast: A Novel of Decline
Blaugast: A Novel of Decline by Paul Leppin (Paperback - Nov. 2007)
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