Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa

Charles Nicholl

Published by Jonathan Cape, 1997
ISBN 10: 0224043765 / ISBN 13: 9780224043762
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Synopsis: At the age of twenty-five, Arthur Rimbaud—the infamous author of A Season in Hell, the pioneer of modernism, the lover and destroyer of Verlaine, the "hoodlum poet" celebrated a century later by Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison—turned his back on poetry, France, and fame, for a life of wandering in East Africa.

In this compelling biography, Charles Nicholl pieces together the shadowy story of Rimbaud's life as a trader, explorer, and gunrunner in Africa. Following his fascinating journey, Nicholl shows how Rimbaud lived out that mysterious pronouncement of his teenage years: "Je est un autre"—I is somebody else.

"Rimbaud's fear of stasis never left him. 'I should like to wander over the face of the whole world,' he told his sister, Isobelle, 'then perhaps I'd find a place that would please me a little.' The tragedy of Rimbaud's later life, superbly chronicled by Nicholl, is that he never really did."—London Guardian

"Nicholl has excavated a mosaic of semi-legendary anecdotes to show that they were an essential part of the poet's journey to become 'somebody else.' Not quite biography, not quite travel book, in the end Somebody Else transcends both genres."—Sara Wheeler, Daily Telegraph

"At the end of Somebody Else Rimbaud is more interesting and more various than before: he is not less mysterious, but he is more real."—Susannah Clapp, Observer Review

From Kirkus Reviews: Nicholl fuses the genres of biography and travelogue to tell an emotional story of Arthur Rimbaud's ten years in Africa, unveiling the mystery of the leading French symbolist's post-poetry period. Rimbaud gained world renown for his symbolist verse and for a brief but tumultuous homosexual relationship with Paul Verlaine, who left his family to join the teenage Rimbaud (only to shoot him after the younger poet jilted him). However, the man who was hailed as the founder of a new poetic movement dismissed his own talent as an adolescent hobby. He stopped writing verse at age 21 and from then on sought to erase his bohemian past. Rimbaud's vagabond instinct led him to the exotic East, and he arrived in Aden in 1880, after short sojourns in Java and Cyprus. For the next decade, he would shuttle ceaselessly between modern-day Yemen, Ethiopia, and Egypt, trading in coffee, skins, guns, and even, according to some less than reliable accounts, slaves. Tireless despite his volatile health, driven by a spirit of adventure, Rimbaud walked hundreds of miles at the head of trading caravans through dangerous lands. He found his calling exploring uncharted territories and learning the language, religion, and culture of local peoples. His expertise was acknowledged when the French Geographical Society deemed his commercial and geographical report on East Africa worthy of publication. Drawing on Rimbaud's massive correspondence, Nicholl portrays him as always on the run, physically and psychologically, ever in search of new experiences but never attaining happiness. An enormous, cancerous swelling of the knee finally forced him to return to France. Nicholl's narrative culminates in a powerful description of the agony Rimbaud endured between the amputation of his right leg and his death a few months later. Rimbaud is a fascinating personality, but Nicholl's (The Creature in the Map: A Journey to El Dorado, 1996, etc.) account offers more: poetry, historical documents, and personal impressions unite in a general statement about human ambition and limitations. (38 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Title: Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication Date: 1997
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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Book Description Jonathan Cape, London, 1997. 1st. Edition. 335pp, map, 39 illustrations Fine in Fine dustjacket, as NEW. The story of Rimbaud's 'lost years' after he turned his back on poetry, fame and France, for a life of wandering and obscurity in Africa. 55. Bookseller Inventory # 13485

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