scarecrow reviews


The Astonished Man - Blaise Cendrars.

The Astonished Man - Blaise Cendrars.


In his candid preface Jeff Bursey quotes Blaise Cendrars from a letter to the painter Robert Delaunay circa 1917, in it Cendrars proclaims: "I don't want to be part of the gang. I am not behind, as you say, but ahead...It all belongs to yesterday, not to today. I will be visible tomorrow. Today, I'm working". This little snippet of pure Cendrars arrogance is the true crux to his thinking and his workman-like philosophy. For, indeed, Cendrars was a worker, a real writer who experienced life in all its various phases and then put pen to paper until he was happy with the result. And the end result? Well, think big, elongated works of surreal humour, deadpan caricature, heartbreaking melancholy and a virtuoso prose style matched by few. Blaise Cendrars never ceased working, he liked it that way and this fiery dynamo never gave in. So what is The Astonished Man? Well, it's a memoir with a difference - the simple difference being it was written by Blaise Cendrars. As a writers writer Blaise Cendrars knew many, he also mixed with actors, filmmakers, poets, artists and aristocrats; yet none are mentioned in this so called memoir. In The Astonished Man Cendrars litters his narrative, not with the artists of his generation but with the Gypsies he met on his travels, the pimps, the prostitutes, the thieves; he takes the reader from the First World War trenches across vast continents in sprawling, complex, sonorous sentences that lift the reader out of the humdrum. Blaise Cendrars wrote against the grain in a style that preceded Gonzo luminaries such as Hunter. S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe a good thirty years or so. His reportage was assiduous, garrulous and inimitable. Taciturn in nature with an honest voice that somehow manages to shine through all the vainglorious bombast and braggadocio. Admittedly this boastful book is difficult to absorb and at times quite antiquated in world views, but, as in most of his books, the unique structure and prose style lift you away from such thoughts, snatched in the blink of an eye, hoodwinked and press-ganged back for the remainder of his journey - like it or not. And for this Cendrars needs to be saluted; a man who created his own myth and then pissed all over it, a man who knew the power of form, a man who embellished a story for the sheer excitement it caused, a man whose tone and pitch could balance absurd reasoning with melancholic pathos without straining the weight of each measured line; and finally a man who lived for the written word/world and nothing else. Blaise Cendrars and The Astonished Man is worth reading for this if nothing else.

Lee Rourke © 2005.


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