Rimbaud in java
"Jamie James' Rimbaud in Java is a delightful work on many levels."
-- Nigel Barley, Times Literary Supplement

In A Season in Hell, at the age of eighteen, the French poet Arthur Rimbaud predicted the rest of his life: “My day is done; I’m leaving Europe. The sea air will burn my lungs; lost climes will tan my skin.” Three years later, in 1876, Rimbaud joined the Royal Army of the Dutch Indies as an infantryman and sailed for Java, where he promptly deserted his post and fled into the jungle. It was the most enigmatic passage in a life crowded with puzzles and contrarieties.

For over a century almost nothing was known about what Rimbaud did and where he went while he was in Java. Now Editions Didier Millet, the small press based in Singapore and Paris, has published Rimbaud in Java, the new book by Jamie James, the first book devoted to the poet’s lost voyage to the Far East. James, an American novelist and critic resident in Indonesia since 1999, reviews everything that is known about this mysterious episode. To fill in the tantalizing gaps, he imaginatively reconstructs what the poet must have seen and informed speculation about what he might have done on his voyage to the tropics, vividly recreating life in nineteenth century Java along the way. Rimbaud in Java concludes with an inquiry into what the Orient represented in the poet's imagination, with a scandalous, amusing sketch history of French orientalism.

Rimbaud had an incalculable impact on world literature – and beyond. By the age of twenty, he had essentially invented modernist literature; later, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and the Surrealists would acknowledge him as their master. Rimbaud created the archetype of the artist as rebel, becoming an inspirational hero to iconoclastic pop stars such as Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith. The major avant garde art movements of the twentieth century owed more to Rimbaud, perhaps, than to any painter or sculptor. Yet by the time he came to Java as mercenary soldier, the difficult young genius had abandoned literature for good, and soon made his way to the Horn of Africa, where he ended his life as a trader in gold, ivory, and guns.

James’ surprising book, richly illustrated in colour and black and white, blends biography, criticism, and thought-travel in a unique, wide-ranging essay that brings into sharp focus this brief encounter between a great writer and a vanished world.