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Moravagine (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 31, 2004
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"Rip-roaring fiction and imaginative adventuring on all planes of experience."
— Times Literary Supplement
"Moravagine seeks damnation and extinction with a glee unequaled in literature. The only parallels that come to mind are Céline and Beckett."
— Sven Birkerts, New Boston Review
"An unbridled picaresque fantasy…full of tenderness, horror, and ink-black jokes of a visual intensity that recall Goya."
— Financial Times
"Savage, funny, wildly inventive."
— John Lehmann, Sunday Telegraph
About the Author
Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961) was the pseudonym of Frédéric Sauser, the Swiss son of a French Anabaptist father and a Scottish mother. As a young man he traveled widely, from St. Petersburg to New York and beyond, and these wanderings proved the inspiration of much of his later poetry and prose. Settled in Paris in 1912, Cendrars published two long poems, “Easter in New York” and “The Transsiberian,” which made him a major figure in the poetic avant-garde. At the outset of World War I, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, losing an arm in the battle of the Marnes. A prolific poet, Cendrars was also an exceptional novelist, the author of Moravagine, Gold, Rhum, and The Confessions of Dan Yack, among many other books.
Paul La Farge is the author of two novels: The Artist of the Missing, and Haussmann, or the Distinction, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 2001. His third book, The Facts of Winter, was in January 2005.
Top customer reviews
In this unprepossessing figure, first seen masturbating into a goldfish bowl, our narrator sees "the superb creature who was to lead me to a grandstand seat at a tremendous spectacle of revolution and transformation, the transvaluation of all social values and of life itself" and so he assists the superb creature from a psychiatric asylum (operated by Doctor Stein who lives "exclusively on curds of milk, steamed rice and buttered bananas...the initiator of the health-dress and hygienic camel-hair underwear"). Under orders from the sensationally effective and mysterious organisation of which they are members, the two swing across Russia, Europe and South America murdering and terrorising in the name of revolution.
"Here, then, are the new elements that were to pulverize the Empire.
The powerful explosive and the choking gas into which A.A.A. had poured all his will for destruction. The infernal machine, the subtly triggered bombs into which Z.Z. had put all his longing and desire for suicide. The meticulous preparation of the assassination, the place, the chosen date, the designation of our accomplices, the assignment of roles, our training programme, the necessary stimulants, the armament - into which Ro-Ro (our leader, Ropschin) had put all his will for power, all his love of risk, his energy, his tenacity, his mad temerity, his audacity, his decisiveness. We were trimmed for action and could not have reversed the process if we had wanted to."
Cendrars is a luminous, entrancing writer, the story is horrifically fascinating, and the prose dense and sublime. Moravagine is fifteen and in love -
"Everything around me became a voice, an articulation, an incantation, a tumescence. I could see the swaying of the tree-tops: the foliage of the park opened and closed, borrowing the gestures of voluptuous forms; the sky was tense and arched like a rump. I became extraordinarily sensitive. Everything was music to me. An orgy of colour. Vigour. Health. I was happy. Happy. I was aware of the profound life and ticklish root of the senses. I threw out my chest. I felt myself strong, all-powerful. I was jealous of all nature. Everything should give in to my desires, obey my whims, bend before the wind of my breath. I commanded trees to fly, flowers to rise in the air, I ordered the meadows and the house foundations to run, to about-face. Rivers, flow back to your source: let all things fly to the west to feed the furnace of the sky against which Rita soars like a pillar of perfume."
Unfortunately for Rita, "Woman is malignant. The history of all civilization shows us the devices put to work by men to defend themselves against flabbiness and effeminacy. Arts, religions, doctrines, laws and immortality itself are nothing but weapons invented by men to resist the universal prestige of women. Alas, these vain attempts are and always will be without the slightest effect, for woman triumphs over all abstractions". Women are "all-powerful", "masochistic", "malignant" and "engender death". So the intrepid couple do their best to cleanse the world of women, one at a time. Or at least Moravagine does the dirty work at which his companion never ceases to be amazed and amused.
The closest this book comes to humour is when part of the organisation's plan necessitates travelling by rail, each in a barrel of sauerkraut:-
"Loading and unloading can be very inconvenient for one anyone travelling in a barrel, for then he gets rolled, jarred and ricocheted and risks spending the rest of the voyage on his head. But all this has been thought of. Our barrels are carefully padded on the inside and an especially thick layer gives extra protection to the head and shoulders. The barrels are very spacious, you can live in them in relative comfort. They can be shut from the inside by a lever which is within reach of the hand. This system allows for ventilation on the way; the lever only pulled to during stops or trans-shipping. When the lever is locked the barrel is hermetically closed. At such times the traveller has two little rubber tubes at his disposal Through one of them he draws air from outside, through the other he breathes out air that has been used. It's important not to make a mistake, and it's rather awkward making use of these tubes, for as one is half-smothered by the fumes of the sauerkraut the tendency is to breathe normally. Above all one must keep one's mouth closed and breathe as slowly and regularly as possible. From the lever handle is suspended a little sack containing discs of pemmican, chocolate bars, a bottle of crème de menthe, a phial of ether and some sugar lumps."
And there is worse to be found than some rather soiled sauerkraut when the train reaches its destination. You have been warned.
Moravagine, the man and the novel, are fabulous, disgusting, verbose, audacious and absolutely nuts.