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In the Land of Painby Alphonse Daudet
Synopses & Reviews
As Julian Barnes writes in the introduction to his superb translation of Alphonse Daudet's La Doulou, the mostly forgotten writer nowadays ate at the top literary table during his lifetime (1840-1897). Henry James described him as "the happiest novelist" and "the most charming story-teller" of his day. Yet if Daudet dined in the highest company, he was also a member of a less enviable nineteenth-century French club: that of literary syphilitics. In the Land of Pain — notes toward a book never written — is his timelessly resonant response to the disease.
In quick, sharp, unflinching strokes of his pen, Daudet wrote about his symptoms ("This is me: the one-man-band of pain") and his treatments ("Mor-phine nights...thick black waves, sleepless on the surface of life, the void beneath"); about his fears and reflections ("Pain, you must be everything for me. Let me find in you all those foreign lands you will not let me visit. Be my philosophy, be my science"); his impressions of the patients, himself included, and their strange life at curative baths and spas ("Russians, both men and women, go into the baths naked...Alarm among the Southerners"); and about the "clever way in which death cuts us down, but makes it look like just a thinning-out."
Given Barnes's crystalline translation, these notes comprise a record — at once shattering and lighthearted, haunting and beguiling — of both the banal and the transformative experience of physical suffering, and a testament to the complex resiliency of the human spirit.
"Daudet's descriptions of his physical ailment are palpably horrifying, and the feelings of isolation and inadequacy that result give readers a new understanding of the psychology of illness. Of the 'sheer torture' of his pain, Daudet ultimately concludes that there are no words, 'only howls.'" Publishers Weekly
"For devoted readers of Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain and Baudelaire's fevered journals, a 19th-century account of slow death by syphilis...is not for the tender of sensibility....Harrowing and altogether memorable." Kirkus Reviews
From Julian Barnes: a superb translation — the first ever — of the notes kept by the 19th-century French writer Alphonse Daudet as he succumbed to syphilis. A literary fascination, it is also a beguiling testament to the complex resiliency of the human spirit. 4 illustrations.
About the Author
Alphonse Daudet was born in Nîmes, France, in 1840. Novelist, playwright, and journalist, his success came through his novels and stories. He contracted syphilis at the age of seventeen and died at the age of fifty-seven.
Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, a book of stories, and a collection of essays. He is the recipient of the Prix Femina, and in 1988 was made an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London.
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