Jukka's Reviews > Nadja

Nadja by André Breton
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Mar 04, 2010

bookshelves: continental-novel, recent-reads
Read from March 04 to April 06, 2010

Nadja (1928) - André Breton
I was feeling good but i wasn't drunk. It was a small party, twenty or so people, hosted by a work friend R---. This was about
twenty five years ago. I met Mary there and there was an immediate intense feeling of closeness between us. She had been in the hospital and was recovering from another surgery. We didn't spend the whole evening together, but the arc was clear to us both. It was the way we interacted -- the sparks, and you don't know why; your feelings, her's and your's, each feeding the other's.

The party had pretty much cleared out. Mary's friend B--- who came with Mary, no doubt felt it her duty to keep Mary out of trouble, and was trying to get us apart and Mary to go home. Mary made it clear to B--- everything was fine and she would do as she pleased. Mary and i sat together, on the kitchen counter(!), tenderly holding each other. She was telling me about Colorado, and i said i'd never been but i always want to get there someday.

"Well let's go. I'll go with you and show you around."

"You're serious?"



"How about tomorrow morning?"

She was quite insistent on it being tomorrow. Well i had a job, and a house, and i couldn't just go. I am the practical sort, and the message, the doubt came to me is that you don't just meet a person and the next day take off with her.

The next week in the office i told R--- and asked him about Mary, and he laughed and said, "Yeah that's just Mary."

But still now i wonder? In some ways i feel that i betrayed myself and more importantly that i betrayed Mary. That i didn't take her seriously, in the same way that R--- and B--- didn't. That not taking the inspiration closed a door.

I was laid off from the job within four months, and i sold the house and moved out of state within a year. Over the years i've lost track of Mary and to this day i've never been to Colorado.

This book is described as a 'surrealist novel'. I don't think it is either. Perhaps what makes this 'surrealist' and sets it apart is something that is a more regular part of stories today. I can think of quite a few modern books i've read, that are very much like it.

The book is what i would call memoir, though maybe someone else knows better.

I really wish there was more detail to the story of adoration. Breton is fairly sparse with this, but he explains why, so it's choice not an error of omission. The detail of Paris and the time are quite special.

Interesting to consider again the serendipity of this read for me. I had not picked this book or expected it to be companion to my upcoming book club read of Tender is the Night (see my rexiew), but there are parallel's in both theme and the time period here. I picked this book to follow-up on the subject of Dada literature brought up in Travesties by Tom Stoppard.

The first part of the book is difficult, i found myself diagramming sentences to figure them out. (Not sure of the role of translation in this.) It reminded me of The Politics of Experience by R. D. Laing. Interesting to consider the parallel of themes here. To show you let me quote from later in the book, page 140. (When he says 'sanitariums' this is equivalent to our current expression 'psychiatric hospitals'.)

"The atmosphere of sanitariums is such that it cannot fail to exercise the most debilitating, the most pernicious influence upon those it shelters, and this in the very direction their initial debilitation has lead them; further complicated by the fact that any demand, any protest, any movement of resistance merely raises charges of insociability (for, however paradoxically, even in this realm one must be sociable), serves only to charge you with a new symptom, by it's nature not only prevents your cure but even keeps your state from remaining stable and rapidly deteriorates it instead."

There is a very interesting use of art, pictures and photographs integrated with the story in the main part of this work. It reminds me of Schwindel Gefuhle U.S. title Vertigo by W.G. Sebald a book i absolutely love; but you probably won't.

I am very glad to have exposed myself to and experienced this book.
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