Marcus Mennes's Reviews > Autumn in Peking

Autumn in Peking by Boris Vian
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Jul 13, 09

Recommended for: sociopaths

Autumn in Peking – Boris Vian

A few years ago I met a thirty something Frenchman in a youth hostel in Bariloche, Argentina and he confessed to me he had read everything by Boris Vian – including many works yet to be translated into English – but had read them a long time ago, during his University years, and that he hasn’t revisited them since. Vian represents a period author for my French friend; specifically young adulthood. Similar to say Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Ayn Rand, or Hermann Hesse for young readers in the U.S. (if indeed these are still viable youth magnets today...?). I know when I was 19 years old I carried around a rumpled paperback of Hesse’s “Narcissus and Goldmund” in my back pocket as I strode across the college green. As a young man I was drawn to tales of vagabonds traveling the open road, as well as works of a jaded literary humor, i.e. “Catcher in the Rye” “The Crying of Lot 49” “Cat’s Cradle” etc.

I didn’t discover Vian until my late 20’s, and, I suppose as I am currently still immature for my age, I can state with sincere confidence how much I continue to appreciate and enjoy entering the hip, weird, edgy world of Boris Vian’s fictions. The publisher Tam Tam Books has made it their mission to bring Vian to the English speaking world, and their efforts deserve our gratitude:

http://www.tamtambooks.com/

http://tamtambooks-tosh.blogspot.com/

Although Paul Knobloch conjures admirable magic with his inspired, fun, readable translation, a work like “Autumn in Peking” with the author’s idiosyncratic wordplay, fantasy and innuendo, questions the validity of literary translation, at least on a linguistic level. In his preface the translator admits “Translation is a tricky business, and translating Vian can be downright daunting.”The story itself with its otherworldly setting and absurd events translates well, and the Tam Tam edition is a fantastic romp. Vian’s imagination lives in translation, and since I’m someone that doesn’t read French, I can only speculate as to the depth and nuance present in the original text.

I’ll try to avoid cheap comparisons in this review, but the single work Vian’s “Autumn in Peking” most reminds me of isn’t a book at all, but Terry Gilliam’s film “Brazil.” It’s large, imaginative, subversive, slapstick...pick your adjective, the book is that clever. For the Vian newbie, I’d recommend beginning with his surrealistic masterpiece “Foam of the Daze” but for the adept, the Vian veteran, or just someone that enjoys a challenging work of imaginative writing, “Autumn in Peking” is a fascinating, extended belly laugh of a book...
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