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Dan Yack - Blaise Cendrars

Dan Yack - Blaise Cendrars.

In 1973 The Times Literary supplement, upon the posthumous publication of Guillaume Apollinaire's 'Les Onze Mille Verges', commented: "...Apollinaire was very much Apollinaire". And after reading him this oddity makes perfect sense. Well, if this is the case then the very same can be said about our man Mr Blaise Cendrars - most certainly. So we start with Cendrars' alter-ego: Dan Yack, the wildly eccentric English shipping millionaire "hell-raiser" and all round "envy of St Petersburg" - that is until he is ceremoniously dumped by the love of his life and found drunkenly writhing in a puddle of horse piss in the street, upon which he walks into the nearest bar and promptly falls asleep under the nearest table, finally waking up to find it occupied by three men whom he persuades to join him on a round the world voyage on his ship. Strange stuff indeed. Cendrars was famous for writing himself into his fiction - quite an easy task being quite a fictional character himself. Blaise Cendrars being the nom de plume of Frederic-Louis Sauser, a man who's whole life seemed to be purposely mythologized and interwoven with poetic embellishments. Blaise Cendrars never openly revealed himself - never honestly anyway. We see just what he wanted us to see. On reading Blaise Cendrars he is at once erratic, spiritual, tender, vitriolic, malicious, lucid and confusing. He broke every literary rule in the book and then, in tune with the mystical cliche he created, rewrote every last one of them. A strange, odd being. Everything a writer should be. Dan Yack, as with all Blaise Cendrars fiction, mixes fiction with fact with outright flights of imagination, the resulting novel leaning more on side with the fantastic rather than the fictional. Is it a travel yarn? A Roman-a-clef? A raucous lament? Put your hard earned money on all three I say - and then some. The novel follows the voyage and exploits of Dan Yack and his three companions: the artists Arkadie Goischman, a Jewish poet; Ivan Sabakov, a peasant sculptor and Andre Lamont, a French musician. Of course the voyage is doomed from the very outset - it couldn't be anything but - and it isn't long until the good ship GREEN STAR becomes stranded in pack-ice. With foolish arrogance Dan Yack orders the entire crew onto land - and it is here the novel takes its maddening turn. Do they have enough provisions? Will they keep their sanity throughout the harsh polar winter? Not a chance. The ensemble is doomed from start to finish. Arkadie Goischman loses his mind, Ivan Sabakov becomes obsessed with Dan Yack and Andre Lamont decides to smash up everything in sight - all this while Dan Yack himself ponders the sorry fact that he has lost the love of his life: Hedwiga. Unrequited love is most definitely not a bore. Blaise Cendrars' prose is unquestionably unique - almost alarmingly so. Yet, at times it borders on literary cliche itself, but for the sheer inventiveness and imaginative leaps in narrative and voice that never fail in pulling the prose back from the brink just at the right moment - and for the reader this is just what makes a book by this author so rewarding. Blaise Cendrars, maybe it's his swirling imaginative mix, his heady fictional mish-mash, his being different anyway that helps. Not surprising, given his French/Swiss/Scottish ancestry. Whatever it is, whatever they put in his veins, Blaise Cendrars positively reeked of it and it poured out from every pour like liquid gold. Henry Miller once tried to explain: "Everything is written in blood, but a blood that is saturated with starlight. You can look clean through him and see the planets wheeling. The silence he creates is deafening. It takes you back to the beginning of the world, to that hush which is engraved on the face of mystery." Bravo Henry! I couldn't have put it better myself. This mish-mash mirrored Blaise Cendrars' self-mythologized life, his life being as hectic - if not more so - than any of his books, but still, somehow, set in concrete, still and defined - whether embellished incident or absolute fact. Where, exactly, hasn't this man been to? What, for instance, hasn't he done? A truly wondrous mystery. So why, oh why is Blaise Cendrars not up there with the big guns? Most people I've spoken to - and I'd drop them all into the little dusty folder in my head entitled: BOOK PEOPLE - have never heard of poor old Cendrars, let alone read anything by him. This utterly perplexes me, but maybe I'm just not mixing in the right circles, I don't know. I'm starting to babble, I'll stop. So back to Dan Yack: with his companions raving mad, the ice-caps melting, the advent of the First World War looming on the horizon and poor old broken hearted Dan Yack, the novel's hectic conclusion is somewhat fraught. Dan Yack is a marvellous book to read - a pure baptism of fire for a Blaise Cendrars virgin. Read it and weep long tears of happiness goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to every other writer you've ever admired. Seriously, because Blaise Cendrars is very much Blaise Cendrars.

LEE ROURKE © 2004.


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