Moravagine - Blaise Cendrars

NYRB Classics


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Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars, introduction by Paul La Farge, translated from the French by Alan Brown / 256-page paperback from New York Review Books Classics / ISBN 9781590170632

See my ancient posts about Cendrars on 50 Watts


At once truly appalling and appallingly funny, Blaise Cendrars's Moravagine bears comparison with Naked Lunch—except that it's a lot more entertaining to read. Heir to an immense aristocratic fortune, mental and physical mutant Moravagine is a monster, a man in pursuit of a theorem that will justify his every desire. Released from a hospital for the criminally insane by his starstruck psychiatrist (the narrator of the book), who foresees a companionship in crime that will also be an unprecedented scientific collaboration, Moravagine travels from Moscow to San Antonio to deepest Amazonia, engaged in schemes and scams as, among other things, terrorist, speculator, gold prospector, and pilot. He also enjoys a busy sideline in rape and murder. At last, the two friends return to Europe—just in time for World War I, when "the whole world was doing a Moravagine."

This new edition of Cendrars's underground classic is the first in English to include the author's afterword, "How I Wrote Moravagine."

An excerpt, in the voice of Moravagine himself, losing his mind in prison: "First, the five vowels, wild, apprehensive, watchful as vicugna: then, following down the spiral of the corridor, ever narrower and lower, the edentate consonants, rolled in a ball in a scaly carapace, sleeping, wintering through the long months; farther still, the fricative consonants, smooth as eels, nibbling at my finger-tips; then the weak ones, flabby, blind, often slobbering like white worms, and these I pinched with my nails, scratching their fibrils of prehistoric turf; then the hollow consonants, cold, cutting, corticate, which I gathered on the sand and collected like shells; and, at the very bottom, flat on my belly, leaning over a fissure, there among the roots, I felt God knows what poisoned air whipping at me, stinging my face, while tiny animalcules skittered over my skin in the most ticklish places; they were spiral-shaped and shaggy like a butterfly's proboscis and let off sudden, raucous, husky sounds."

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