Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pitigrilli’s Addictive Cocaine

The cover of a 1945 Turkish edition.
Pitigrilli’s 1921 Cocaine, which I read in Eric Mosbacher’s translation from the original Italian Cocaina falls into a category of novels I seem to love, books about decadence between the World Wars that combine humor, soul searching, friends who become monks, and sad endings. Like Antal Szerb’s 1937 Journey by Moonlight, Cocaine also focuses on a young European man’s (mis)adventures at home and abroad: in Cocaine, Tito Arnaudi, who’s Italian, goes to Paris, where he gets a job as a journalist, gets involved with multiple women, and gets a cocaine habit.

The trajectory here is tragic—based on my reading, cocaine habits in novels generally do result in trouble—but most of the journey is ridiculously fun and carnivalistic, even with (or perhaps because of?) looming death. There’s even a revolver on page 36. And an orgy in a penguin room, a lover with a coffin, strawberries soaked in Champagne and ether, and a scandal because Tito invents a newspaper article about an execution and the article is published even though the execution is commuted. And there are lines like “Gambling is not the pleasure of winning, but a feeling that you are living intensely.” Which Tito does, with his Italian girlfriend Maud (née Maddalena) and his Armenian girlfriend Kalantan (she of the coffin), and what must amass to kilos of cocaine. I enjoyed Eric Mosbacher’s translation very much for its feel of another time and--perhaps even more important for the translator in me--a sense that he made lots of excellent decisions about how to handle Cocaine’s form, vocabulary (tepidarium, anyone?), and wonderful peculiarities.

For more on Cocaine:

M.A. Orthofer’s review on The Complete Review, which concludes, “Cynical, yes, and arguably offensively amoral, Cocaine is still grand entertainment, exceptionally well done.”

Peter Keough on, with this summary at the top: “Cocaine’s bleak and brilliant satire, lush and intoxicating prose, and sadistic playfulness remain as fresh and caustic as they were nine decades ago.”

A version of Alexander Stille’s afterword to Cocaine, from the NYRblog.

Up Next: Catherine O’Flynn’s Mr. Lynch’s Holiday, an interesting counterbalance to Cocaine

Disclosures: I received a galley copy of Cocaine from my local and very independent bookstore, Longfellow Books, which sells books from New Vessel Press, publisher of Cocaine. A smart move on their part for absolutely all concerned because a) I’d looked at Cocaine but it didn’t strike me at all in the store but b) it definitely struck me when I got home (!?) and c) I loved the book and d) I’m already planning to buy a couple copies for holiday gifts. (BTW: My purchase of a stack of books, many of which were translations, including a copy of Pedro Mairal’s The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra, also published by New Vessel, is what spurred the gift… This, dear people, is only one of many reasons I love my independent book store so much. They know me as a person and a reader not as a user name, password, and credit card history. Plus they host great events!)

1 comment:

  1. The effects of cocaine on the human health are absolutely devastating.they also make the addicts suffer from panic attacks. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who are addicted to this drug, making it one of the most popular drugs in some in and around the United States.