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Rave review in the Huffington Post
"Long before Rambo, there was Rimbaud"
In fact, the poet Arthur Rimbaud can be seen as a kind of anti-Rambo: a literary child prodigy, army deserter, and blue-eyed French fop who was up for adventure tourism some two centuries before annual swarms of young backpackers would dare to go abroad, clutching the Lonely Planet and their cell phones... read more
Times Literary Supplement, 11 November 2011
"Lived at Hazard," by Nigel Barley
Jamie James's Rimbaud in Java is a delightful work on many levels. In the age of the Kindle, it comes as a pleasant surprise to encounter a book whose production values are so high. From its sepia prints to its bevelled edges, it evokes a lightly self-mocking and nostalgic charm that precisely echoes that of its prose.
James introduces the bad boy of French poetry by listing his accomplishments by the age of twenty-one, when he embarked on the lost voyage of the title. Apart from writing the classics of modern literature that made him the toast of Paris, Rimbaud had found time to seduce Paul Verlaine away from wife and child and torture him to the point of attempted murder, had brawled, idled, smoked hashish, drunk absinthe, been arrested, wandered across Europe, wallowed in the violent excesses of the Commune, enlisted in and deserted from the Carlist army, and renounced literature. He also learnt to play the piano. In the light of this frenetic activity, his subsequent gap year in Java has been a tantalizing empty space, but one central to his passage from the visionary child prodigy to the prosaic arms dealer, interested in engineering, photography and science, that he would become in the Horn of Africa. At the core of the Rimbaud enigma lies his extraordinary walking away from his own prodigious talent... read more
Harper’s Magazine, October 2011
- By Zadie Smith
There was no one wilder than Rimbaud. Before he was twenty-one, the boy-poet had crossed the Alps on foot, worked as a longshoreman in Leghorn, fallen in love with Verlaine (and been shot in the wrist by him, and seen the older poet go to jail for two years), enlisted as a mercenary, slept on the streets, lived in a flophouse drinking absinthe daily, walked from Charleville to Paris — oh, and written A Season in Hell, in which he predicted his next move: "My day is done; I’m leaving Europe. The sea air will burn my lungs; lost climes will tan my skin." Next he joined the Dutch Colonial Army and sailed to Java, where he soon deserted, vanishing into the jungle. He stayed a few months and no one knows anything at all about what he did there.
Jamie James, a former art critic for The New Yorker, has written a necessarily short, delightful book about this "lost Rimbaud." RIMBAUD IN JAVA (Editions Didier Millet, $14.95) was intended as a novel, but James, despairing of putting dialogue in the mouth of the protagonist, veered into non-fiction: a sensible decision. His alternate route is still a high-wire performance. It’s not an academic book and it’s not really a history either; nor is it — God help us — a "meditation." It generally spares its readers the pointless formulation: If Rimbaud had been here he most probably would have . . . Instead it offers a more honest motivation for writing, stripped of the veneer of "professionalization": love.
.. read more
Review by Matthew Gurewitsch
Beyond Criticism, posted 27 November 2011
Jamie James knows a thing or two about obsession. "There are thousands
of people (we know who we are)," he writes, "who would take a lively
interest if a pair of socks turned up in an old chest in Harar that could be
proved to have belonged to Arthur Rimbaud." Where's Harar?
You've guessed it: though cognizant of Rimbaud's stature as a forerunner
of the Surrealists, the amour fou he shared in his gilded teenage years with
the much older, not-pretty-at-all Paul Verlaine, and his part in inspiring
Frederick Ashton's bewitching ballet "Illuminations" (to the Benjamin
Britten score), I am not one of James's thousands. But as Daniel Mendelsohn's
delicious New Yorker review of Bruce Duffy's
biography "Disaster Was My God" recently proved, reading about Rimbaud
can be great fun. No less was to be expected from Jamie James, whom I edited
(full disclosure!) at Connoisseur in the 1980s and whom I count today as a
friend. In years past, I have delighted in his account of a visit with Jorge
Luis Borges, his exposé of waste at PBS, and his book-length
study on the topos of the harmony of the spheres. Since 1999, James has
been living in Bali, whence occasional bulletins and curiosa flow, always in
his trademark deadpan style, encyclopedically informed, tartly undeceived.
And so it is with "Rimbaud in Java," which James conceived as a novel
but retrofitted to nonfiction, recognizing the futility of attempting to project
himself into a mind as unfathomable as Rimbaud's. Instead he starts out by
serving up just the facts, ma'am, slim pickens as they are. As Rimbaldians
(ahem!) know, their idol sailed to Java as a fusilier in the Dutch Colonial
Army. The fabled isle was the apogee of his life's journey. No sooner had he
arrived, however, than he deserted, leaving a lacuna in his biography that
James fills with an imaginative excursus on the Orient in the 19th-century
European mind. Sprinklings of sex, pulp fiction, bogus science, and a cameo
by Queen Victoria add spice to James's rijsftafel of guilty pleasures. In addition,
there are wonderful images, many of them rare, from his private collection,
plus generous helpings of Rimbaud's orphic poetry and prose as rendered in
James's punctilious English. No, he has no translation for "baou," but
then, neither has anyone else. James picks it up, pokes it, and turns it over,
but in the end the vocable just sits there, on Rimbaud's page, as inexplicable
as his thoughts and images.
Whether "Rimbaud in Java" will win Rimbaud new readers, as JAmes says
he hopes, is anybody's guess. I felt no such exploratory urge, honestly. On the
other hand, the book may very well inspire readers to dig deeper into the Jamie
James bibliography. Next on my list: "The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge."
As Heavy, As Light: Reading Rimbaud in Java
Elizabeth Bachner, in Bookslut
In my dream, the man I love came back for me. There he was, waiting. He had poison oak all over his calves, which were thin. He didn’t look so well, but it was unmistakably him. I lived somewhere not in New York City, somewhere with woods and the smell of old trees and a long, winding dirt road. He didn’t have any explanation for why he’d left or why he’d come back. Even in my dream, I hefted my bag over my shoulder and I was ready to go with him, again, wherever we were going. Once I was awake I was reading Rimbaud in Java: The Lost Voyage by Jamie James, and thinking about the idea of arriving at the unknown through disordering all the senses, and thinking about how maybe I should go somewhere exotic, Yemen, Ethiopia, and thinking about how I’m going to quit writing. Then I wrote a scene where the character in my book (?) dreams of a lover coming back, with his legs covered with a rash, and then I opened Nicholas Royle’s The Uncanny to a random page and there was a chapter headed “Déjà vu,” and the Kafka aphorism, “A belief like a guillotine, just as heavy, just as light,” and a quote from Freud: “If I had my life to live over again I should devote myself to psychical research rather than to psychoanalysis.” ... read more
Jakarta Globe, 5 October 2011
"On the Trail of Rimbaud In Java," by Katrin Figge
"Rimbaud in Java" is an infectious read. Operating in the right historical context, James’s eloquent writing invites the reader to follow Rimbaud in his Javanese adventures. James effortlessly weaves native culture and tradition into a story that paints a vivid and colorful picture of how life must have looked on the island during the 19th century.
Readers who might not be familiar with Rimbaud’s life and work need not worry. James dedicates a whole chapter to introduce the poet at the age of 21, when he first set foot on Java ... read more
Tempo, 27 September 2011
Review by Terry Collins
As a critic, James brings a profound knowledge and “a consuming enthusiasm” for the life and works of Rimbaud. I am in some awe of what James has achieved with this slim volume, a book I shall continue to dip into, so as to explore and journey down some of the many paths.
If you are already an “enthusiast” for Rimbaud, then you will delight in this addition to your library. Moreover, it is a rare book, impeccably printed on quality ‘art’ paper with period illustrations and one that is a real pleasure to hold and possess ...read more