Boris Vian discussion

Boris Vian's "I Spit On Your Graves"

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message 1: by Tosh (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
Boris Vian was a novelist, jazz musician, jazz critic, poet, playwright, a friend of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Raymond Queneau, Jean Cocteau, Louis Malle, Jean Paul Sartre, and numerous others of forties and fifties Parisian cultural society. He was also a French translator of American hard-boiled crime novels. One of his discoveries was an African-American writer by the name of Vernon Sullivan. Vian translated Sullivan's I Spit on Your Graves. The book is about a 'white Negro' who acts out an act of revenge against a small Southern town, in repayment for the death of his brother, who was lynched by an all white mob. Upon its release, I Spit on Your Graves became a bestseller in France, as well as a instruction manual for a copycat killer whose copy of I Spit on Your Graves was found by the murdered body of a prostitute with certain violent passages underlined. A censorship trail also came up where Sullivan as the author was held responsible for the material. It was later disclosed that Vian himself wrote the book and made up the identity of Vernon Sullivan!

This edition is a translation by Vian, that was never published in America. I Spit on Your Graves is an extremely violent sexy hard-boiled novel about racial and class prejudice, revenge, justice, and is itself a literary oddity due to the fact that it was written by a jazz-loving white Frenchman, who had never been to America.

More info:

message 2: by Tosh (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
For all you film geeks, no, this is not the "I Spit on Your Grave" that was out in the 70's. But saying that could it be a coincedence that both stories are revenage stories and both take place in the countryside?

A film was made out of this book in 1959. Vian hated the screenplay. In fact he sneaked into a screening of the film and got up during the screrening and said "what is this shit?" and then died of a heart attack right in the screening room.

I have the film, and... It's not too bad!

message 3: by Tosh (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
Yes. With respect to I Spit on Your Graves, it became a huge scandal.

Vian made a bet with a publisher friend of his that he can write a thriller over a certain period of time - like a weekend. So Vian wrote "I Spit on Your Graves," and decided to give credit to a made-up author Vernon Sullivan, who was a recluse Black American author who couldn't get his book published in the states due to the sex and violence in its pages. The book is about a white negro who passes as a white man - and he goes on a murder/sex rampage in a small town as an act of revenge due that his brother was lynched. Vian is credited as the 'translator.'

The book became successful due to certain members of the French govt. who were pissed off with the American influence that was hitting France with great force. For five or six years, no movies or literature due to the Occupation. All of sudden it was American Jazz, American movies, American literature (Faulkner and Chandler - who by the way Vian DID translate from English to French) hitting the coffee houses of Paris and elsewhere. So, something that is similar to the HUAC, the French Govt decided to prosecute the publisher and the author himself Vernon Sullivan. Vian as his 'translator' told the courts and presses that Sullivan is a very private man and a recluse and he will speak for him.

So basically as time goes by, the courts want to bust Sullivan for writing this dirty book. And actually the same people who tried to stop Henry Miller books. Anyway as the court sessions got hotter of course the book became a bestseller in France. Like a huge bestseller. On top of that a murder took place where the deceased female body had a copy of "I Spit on Your Graves" with all the violent rape sex scenes underlined.

Vian keeping up the lie that Sullivan was in hiding in the States, had to finally cough up the original English edition of the book. Of course that didn't exist! But Vian told the courts ‘sure; we will bring the manuscript at the next court session. So over the weekend him and a G.I. buddy roughly and quickly translated the book into English. This is the edition that I published!

Eventually Vian had to admit to the courts that he himself wrote the book and Vernon Sullivan, the reclusive Black American writer doesn't exist. Vian was fined and almost sent to prison - but due to friends in the right places he escaped prison duty.

So what we have is a book by a French man who never been to America, but heard about the racial problems via the French media, Jazz pals of Vian, as well as Faulkner novels. Similar to Kafka's Amerika!

message 4: by Tosh (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
Which by the way is a real shame because he is the ultimate French writer of the mid-20th Century. When Camus had his major blow-out with Sartre was at Vian's house. Actually at a party held at his house.

message 5: by Xio (new)

Xio (xioj) | 2 comments Where can I find out more about that night? That sounds like a hoot.

message 6: by Tosh (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
Xio you can read it here:

It's a very good book on the relationship between Sartre and Simone - and the first book in English that gives credit to Vian with respect to their 'world.' Vian's first wife ran off with Sartre, but I believe after their relationship ended - although I think they were still married.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I remember first reading "I spit on your graves/ J'irrai cracher sur vos tombes" when I was about 15. It was in my school library, and the librarian gave me a weird look when I signed t out! It wasn't to her liking! I read it in French (being a francophone) and I have to say that even after re-reading it, I still find that it is a gem. I of course have a quite complete Vian collection, complete with a fist edition (in a bad shape) of "Et on tuera tous les affreux" (I don't know how it translate-- could be something like "All the Ugly Ones Shall Be Killed") written and published under the name of Vernon Sullivan. Vian's writing style isn't the same whether he writes under his real name or his pseudonym. The latter really has an American feel to it: the style,the type of characters, the settings..."Et on tuera tous les affreux" is also quite an unlikely depiction of real life! Hilarious. For anyone who has never read Vian, I suggest reading both genres of course. one of my personal favorite would be "L'écume des jours", a very poetic novel about love.

message 8: by Tosh (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
Pamela "Et on tuera tous les affreux" will be the next Boris Vian release from my press. Hopefully the book will be out in January. The English translation will be "To Hell With The Ugly."

The translation by Paul Knobloch is finished, but now working on the design of the book. Unlike the other Vian releases this novel will have illustrations/art by the great artist Jessica Minckley. We're very excited about this book as well as THE DEAD ALL HAVE THE SAME SKIN.

message 9: by Xio (new)

Xio (xioj) | 2 comments (thanks Tosh)I'm scouring the used bookstores and libraries for anything Vian. In the meantime, rereading Our Lady of the Flowers is doing the trick, so to speak.

message 10: by Tosh (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
It is rather too complex to bring up my personal take of Vian in such a format like Goodreads. But lets say that Vian hit me on various levels. One, the stories I was writing were in a sense Vian like, but before I read or heard of Vian, and two he's a much better writer then me.

Also the fact that Vian died at such a young age, knowing that he would die young - he just went for the throat with respect to his work - the writing, the music, etc. And that reminds me of my Dad as well...

But yes Cal, there are two sides of Vian. One is the Foam/Autumn and I Spit/Dead all.. are different , yet clearly the same writer - but the attitude and I think goals are different. So I am interested in hearing your opinion.

message 11: by Tosh (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
San Diego is an area I don't know too much about. A lot of independent bookstores have my titles - and for sure Amazon, etc. And Book Soup in West Hollywood.

message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (nicolep) | 1 comments Another Vian virgin here and damn confused by it. I am usually pretty talented at seeking out incestuous circles in French literature. I cannot wait to pick up this book. I will be in San Francisco this week, can you recommend any bookstores in the Bay Area that would have Vian titles? If not, I guess I will have to order from Amazon and wait with bated breath. I haven't been this excited since I discovered Houellebecq (although his last novel was disappointing)

message 13: by Tosh (new)

Tosh | 47 comments Mod
I was disappointed with the last Houellebecq as well. And he actually made a film (yes he directed it) of this novel!

You can get my Vian books at City Lights Bookstore, which is North Beach/Chinatown area of San Francisco. And if you haven't been to City Lights - it's worth the trip to visit that bookstore. Fantastic store!

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