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Savage Coast (Lost & Found Elsewhere) Paperback – May 7, 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"At first Savage Coast is a train-of-fools comedy; later, it’s a cross-cultural love story Hemingway would have envied for its suddenness." —New York Times Book Review

"Rejected by her publisher in 1937, poet Rukeyser’s newly discovered autobiographical novel is both an absorbing read and an important contribution to 20th-century history.... Ironically, the factors that led to the novel’s rejection—Rukeyser’s avant-garde impressionistic prose style, alternating with realistic scenes of brutal death and a few descriptions of sexual congress—are what make the book appealing today."—Publisher's Weekly

"...Evokes a powerful sensory landscape, as if Gerda Taro were working at a long-duration shutter speed, capturing the movement of light on her photographic paper. . . . Rukeyser manages, throughout, to avoid both sentimentality and propaganda—no mean feat, especially in the 1930s, the heyday of propagandist literature." —The Daily Beast

"A passionate, callow, self-indulgent, rambling, sporadically dazzling personal essay, or perhaps piece of proto-New Journalism. Rukeyser’s sharp ear for dialogue and a filmic skill at evoking atmosphere are on full display, and Helen is a convincing, fully-rounded protagonist." —The Kenyon Review

"...Savage Coast also allows its reader to identify with Helen’s journey of self-discovery without chiding us for our own naïveté. It forms a snapshot of the strange period between American involvement in two European wars, and of the anxieties of this inter-war generation. . . . Rukeyser’s text proves unique not just because she is an American and a woman but also because we all know who won the war. Savage Coast shows what it meant to be a witness to it." —Open Letters Monthly

“What a treasure! Muriel Rukeyser takes us back to those crucial days when Spain became the first international battleground against fascism and hope for democracy, to tell a powerful story of personal, sexual, and political awakening. Savage Coast is bound to be an instant classic.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

“Muriel Rukeyser’s stature as a major poet was recognized in the 1980s largely through the work of feminist writers and critics. Now, the research of a younger critic Rowena Kennedy-Epstein brings us Rukeyser’s modernist novel of the Spanish Civil War’s beginning. Rooted in a germinal moment of the poet's life, its acute social and political observations weave the bildungsroman of a young American woman in Europe at a vital historical moment.”—Marilyn Hacker, author of Presentation Piece

Savage Coast is an astonishing book, too long lost, now a treasure for historians of the Spanish Civil War, equally a pouch of rubies for poets. Rukeyser captures the intensity of the moment—personal, political, and still contemporary.”—Peter N. Carroll, author of The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

“Muriel Rukeyser spoke of Spain as the place where she began to say what she believed. At the time, Hemingway’s and Orwell’s male-centered blood and guts novels were greedily devoured, while a woman writing a sexually explicit, gender truthful and politically radical narrative against a background of war was inevitably ignored. Spain changed Rukeyser and her protagonist, Helen. This novel will change the reader. An extraordinary gift!”—Margaret Randall, author of To Change the World: My Years in Cuba

"Savage Coast now joins the lost brother and sisterhood of Spanish Civil War classics, from Arthur Koestler's Dialogue with Death, the desolate modernist novels of the Catalan writer Merce Rodereda, Andre Malraux's Man's Hope, Josephine Herbst's The Starched Blue Sky of Spain, and the reportage of Martha Gellhorn. Rowena Kennedy-Epstein has rescued and edited a great story. Helen and Otto are not Emma and Sasha, nor are they Karl and Rosa, but the American radical poet who tells her story speaks to all of us.”—Jane Marcus, Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies, CUNY Graduate Center and the City College of New York

About the Author

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) was a prolific American writer and political activist. Defying gender, genre and disciplinary boundaries, she wrote poems, plays, screenplays, essays, translations, biographies, history, journalism and fiction, at times combining multiple forms, on an equally wide variety of subjects. In 1935 her first collection of poetry, Theory of Flight, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and she went on to publish twelve more volumes of poetry. Coming of age in the radical 1930s, she used the documentary style of social realism, and often the documents themselves, while at the same time deploying aesthetic and experimental modernist techniques. Her work consistently documented, contextualized and archived stories of injustice, resistance, interconnection, invention and possibility, stories of the people and histories that were marginalized by the master narratives of war, capitalism, patriarchy and nationalism. She witnessed and wrote on the trial of the Scottsboro nine, the Spanish Civil War, the Vietnam war, and the imprisonment of poet Kim Chi-Ha in South Korea, to name only a few examples, and became a key figure for the women’s liberation movement. She taught at the California Labor School in 1945, was a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College from 1955-1967, and served as the president of the P.E.N. American Center from 1975-76. There is no doubt that throughout her life she remained at the forefront of 20th-century political and artistic culture, influencing Ann Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Marilyn Hacker, to name a few. Despite a cold-war backlash and long-term FBI surveillance, she continued to write, teach and publish, receiving a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Levison Prize for Poetry, and the Shelly Memorial Award, among other accolades. The Life of Poetry (1949), perhaps her most famous work, is very much a text of the cold-war era, and in it Rukeyser challenges us to examine the violent binaries that produce wars and prevent thinking, calls us to look for the “history of possibility” that exists always, “around and above and under” the other histories. That the text resonates still is an indication not only of her extraordinary critique of the nature of art in times of crisis, but also an indication that the times have changed not nearly enough.

Rowena Kennedy-Epstein is the editor of Muriel Rukeyser’s novel Savage Coast and the edition “Barcelona, 1936” & Selections from the Spanish Civil War Archive (Lost & Found 2011). Her scholarship and writing have appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, The Journal of Narrative Theory, and The Paris Review Daily, among others. She received her PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center, and teaches at the University of Bristol.

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Product Details

  • Series: Lost & Found Elsewhere
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558618201
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558618206
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #402,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It's rare to stumble upon an old work that carries a freshness to it; the story is dated decades, but the style carries a contemporary voice. In Rukeyser's story, she places her female protagonist in Spain near the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The political and emotional climates are therefore tense. But the story does not focus on the war. Instead, the plot follows Helen - the central character - through personal awakenings. Rukeyser's prose is beautifully crafted and genuine, easing the reader along with Helen. We meet Hans, the German athlete with whom Helen begins a romantic relationship. We meet Peter and Olive, train companions.

The characters meet aboard this train, immediately placing the story within the context of motion: moving forward, progressing, advancing. And yet ironically, for the majority of the novel, the train is stationary. Instead, their personal and social stories carry the momentum.

"As she shut her eyes, knowing the train lay dead in a dead station, she felt a powerful muscular motion around her: the train, the secret hills, the country, the whole world of war rushing down the tracks, headfirst in conflict like a sea, unshakable, the momentum adding until the need burst through all other barriers" (78).

The social climate is changing, and by grounding the story with the train, Rukeyser reminds the reader. Europe is ripping apart by the seams: the Nationalist movement in Spain mirrors the Fascism to the East. Rukeyser carefully weaves the universality of the conflict into Helen's encounters. She repeatedly struggles against language barriers, searching to express herself. And yet, since many of the other characters are struggling with the same issue, Helen perseveres. When the characters cross paths, they cross stories. Share stories.
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This a find, a manuscript refused by publishers in the 1930s, found after her death in Rukeyser's Papers. It is a novelized account of her journey by traintfrom France to Spain in August 1936 as a 22 year old reporter to cover the freedom Olympics in Barcelona, a counter event to the official Berlin games at the time. Franco's revolt brought out armed conflict which stopped the train in a town before Barcelona. She describes the experience of being trapped, not knowing what is going on, aware of insurgent committees, firing in the hills, and very much adied by friendly townspeople. After two days the passengers get to Barcelona by truck.
It is also the atuhor's bildungsroman as she comes abruptly to a new maturity faced with political and moral choices. Excellent introduction and notes.
Evokes the hopes and uncertainties of the first days of the Spanish Civil War that some of her fellow passengers expected would lead to a new Europe. But that hope was dashed after this book and the author's few days in that heady environment end.
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This is a memoir of the poet Muriel Rukeyser's coming of age. The young American Vassar graduate goes as an impassioned leftist to the Spanish Civil War (at its very beginning), on a slender freelance arrangement with a London paper. The train she boards to Barcelona is stopped at a town perhaps 40 kilometers away, by the first onrush of Franco's rebellion using African troops from the Spanish colonies. She and the other passengers make do, seek food in the village, but soon conditions are bad and the news from Barcelona is dire. She meets and falls into her first affair with a young German socialist, on the same train to volunteer with the International Brigade; he clearly sees it is his duty to fight fascism and Hitler. Finally, the young Muriel reaches Barcelona and well describes the chaos, shortages, but also exhilarated feeling of defending the Republic that prevails there. Her German lover goes off with Republican troops and is almost immediately killed near Saragossa in one of the war's first major battles. She has, almost against her will, grown up and seen a darker side of humanity that will color her work all her life.
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