Man from Babel

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The autobiography of Eugene Jolas, available for the first time nearly half a century after his death in 1952, is the story of a man who, as the editor of the expatriate American literary magazine Transition, was the first publisher of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and other signal works of the modernist period. Jolas' memoir provides often comical and compelling details about such leading modernist figures as Joyce, Stein, Hemingway, Breton, and Gide, and about the political, aesthetic, and social concerns of the Surrealists, the Expressionists, and other literary figures during the 1920s and 1930s. Man from Babel both enriches and challenges our view of international modernism and the historical avant-garde.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Jolas made his mark as a multilingual writer, editor and friend of James Joyce in 1920s and '30s Paris. Jolas worked persistently on this "novel--autobiography--my fact and fiction book" starting in the 1930s, but his death in 1952 prevented him from making final revisions. Although posterity does not remember Jolas's writings, he himself took them very seriously, and he writes much of the evolution of his poetic sensibility as a writer. There are a number of valuable insights here into literary friends like Gertrude Stein, who is quoted as telling him, that "Joyce is a third-rate Irish politician," and announcing that "[t]he greatest living writer of the age is Gertrude Stein." With Joyce, the approach is less anecdotal, given that great writer's taciturnity, but it's clear that Jolas understood the Irishman like few other friends. This would be a valuable text for its perceptions of prewar Paris alone, but fortunately Jolas continued the narrative to his work in postwar Germany, where his view of the defeated Axis powers just after the war is devastating in its total condemnation of all things Teutonic: "Along with his rapaciousness and cruelty the German's capacity for self-pity would appear to be inexhaustible." So acute are Jolas's aesthetic goals and so happy was he to discover new artistic achievement that we may easily forgive his own poems, which he quotes at length and, sadly, to little artistic effect. All told, this is a valuable memoir by someone who was there and knew everyone. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Jolas is now best remembered as founder of the modernist magazine transition and as the publisher of James Joyce and other avant-garde writers of the 1920s. But in this fascinating autobiography, compiled from drafts and journals, we meet a man who was a vital factor in the intellectual life of Europe and the United States. Raised in Alsace-Lorraine, Jolas grew up speaking French and German and later learned English as a newspaperman in this country. Although a journalist by trade, he immersed himself in the literary world of whatever city he lived in--New York, Chicago, Paris--and was a fluent poet in all his languages. His life in Paris between the two wars and his many friends among the Dadaists, Surrealists, Modernists, and others involved in his "revolution of the word" will interest most readers. The story of his later years as a World War II censor and newsman for the U.S. Army is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand postwar Germany and Europe. Highly recommended, especially for academic libraries.--Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale
Hugh Haughton
...[T]he story of Jolas as 'Neo-American poet' and avant-garde editor but...also a portrait of the journalist as hero, 'a romantic of the Gutenberg mythos.' The two roles seem uneasily related.
London Review of Books
Robert Kiely
The writing, even in this unfinished memoir, will strike any reader....If language was his neurosis, he turns his advantage as a reporter....Again and again, Jolas reveals not only his sharp eye and ready ear for a good story but also his sensitivity to human suffering and injustice.
The New York Times Book Review
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Chapter One


When I arrived in New York four decades ago, as an immigrant from Europe, I was really coming home to my native land; for I was born in one of the ramshackle farmhouses that used to dot the Palisades, near the New Jersey town of Union City, on the west bank of the Hudson river. There it was that, hardly four weeks old, I was baptized according to the rite of the Roman Catholic faith, to which I have adhered--with rebellious interruptions--throughout my life. Despite this act of faith on the part of my parents, I have also come to believe that there must be some accuracy in the auguries of the astrologers. For I came into the world under the zodiacal sign of the scorpion, and I do not remember that this symbol of restless migrations, with its contradictions of geographical, linguistic and psychic change, has ever ceased to make itself felt in my life.

    When I was two, and Jacques, my American-born brother, was one year old, my parents left for what was to have been a brief visit to their native Europe, from where, after a brief visit to the ancestral country, they planned to return to New York and settle there. They were armed for this journey with a passport signed by the then secretary of state, T. Willard Straight, requesting "all whom it may concern" to permit the citizen Eugene Jolas, accompanied by his wife and two babies, "safely and freely to pass and in case of need to give them all lawful Aid and Protection." But although they reached their destination without incident, fate intervened against their return to the New World. A third brother arriveda few months after they landed in Europe, and soon there was no longer sufficient cash to pay for another transatlantic voyage. Again and again the journey was envisaged, then reluctantly postponed, as the family continued to increase with almost rhythmic regularity. Finally the project became merely a dolorous fiction in the minds of our progenitors, although during my entire Lorraine boyhood I remember hearing my parents speak with deep nostalgia of their immigrant years in the New Jersey diaspora, where in retrospect they had been hopeful and lighthearted. Thus, although I was a native-born American, I became, paradoxically, a European, and it was not until adolescence that, like any other immigrant, I set out towards realization of the Columbian dream.

   I grew up, an American in exile, in the hybrid world of the Franco-German frontier, in a transitional region where people swayed to and fro in cultural and political oscillation, in the twilight zone of the German and French languages. We lived in Forbach, a small provincial town much like hundreds of others scattered throughout the eastern part of France, not far from the Luxembourg and Saar borders. In July 1870 a bloody battle was fought on the hills outside our town, and after having been a French community for over two hundred years, Forbach became German, as a result of the Treaty of Frankfurt. An integral part of Lorraine, it has changed political allegiance three times since then and is today once more part of the French nation and of the department of the Moselle. Four brothers and a sister were born in this anomalous and unstable orbit and have participated in its vertiginously changeful destiny. Despite strong family ties, there was already in our childhood an antithesis between the European and American members of the family, and sadly, unavoidably, this has grown with the years, history abetting. From the first, Jacques and I were aggressively conscious of our Atlantic heritage, and never wanted to be known as Europeans, but as Americans. Later, when the economic struggle threatened to overwhelm our little tribe, it was natural that our thoughts should turn hopefully toward the liberating vision of the overseas continent with the magic name.

    Although my father's maternal family had lived in Forbach for many centuries, he was actually born in nearby French Lorraine, not far from Verdun. As a youngster hardly out of his teens, he emigrated alone to America, worked as a machinist and in other capacities in and around Manhattan, and soon acquired a romantic love for his adopted land. He met my Rhenish mother, who had also emigrated as a young girl, at the home of American relatives of hers, and they were married a few years later. She was a woman both gay and deeply religious, typical of the people of her native province, and she raised her ever-growing family in the strict orthodox tenets of continental Catholicism. At home, we heard her speak her Rhenish German, and in the streets we learned a Franconian patois. Father preferred his native French. In addition, my parents often conversed in English, using probably a crude, immigrant speech, but which had a special sound that impinged happily on our ears, evoking as it did the far-off birthland of Jacques and myself. There was never any doubt about it: my parents had left their hearts in America. In Forbach father was known as "the American." From his years in the United States he retained a sense of democratic liberty, and his passion for individual freedom often led to clashes with the local authorities, who were saturated with Prussian nationalism.

    After his return to Europe, he worked for a number of years as foreman in one of the local coal mines, and I remember him coming home from work, his face smeared with coal dust, carrying a rude, pointed stick that echoed rhythmically on the hard macadam. After the death of his grandmother, who had reared him, he lost no time in establishing his independence. When he came into his inheritance, which consisted of a small sum of money, a house, a garden and a few acres of meadowland and grainfields, he became half farmer, half shopkeeper. He opened a general store to which he soon added a little book and stationery department, with a sideline of Catholic devotional articles, such as statues, prayer-books and rosaries. His customers were mostly peasants from the nearby, villages, as well as priests and teachers, many of whom were at heart still Frenchmen and had not forgotten the debacle of 1870.

    In the town there was a sharp cleavage between the pro-French and pro-German elements of the population, a cleavage that expressed itself not only in the linguistic sphere, but also in the opposed national sympathies. The old Lorrainers were, for the most part, inclined to think mournfully of the broken nexus with the history of France, and did not hide their dislike of the "Prussiens." They had a cult for Napoleon I, were Catholic and conservative, and remained strictly aloof. A few, however, were liberal republicans and read anti-clerical Paris newspapers. Others accepted the consequences of the Frankfurt Treaty and rallied to the Kaiser's regime. These were German patriots who voted centrist or conservative during the Reichstag elections. The German newcomers, who for the most part were bureaucrats and administrative officers from the other side of the Rhine, kept to themselves, and there was only an official contact between them and the local population. They were violently anti-French in spirit and utterance, and regarded the French language as a canker and a nuisance.

    The Lorraine-Saar region, being rich in iron and coal mines, attracted workers from every part of Europe, and already in my childhood Italian, Polish, Serbian, Austrian and German laborers had founded families and intermingled with the native population. It was a veritable linguistic melting-pot, like the one I was to know in America years later, with the difference, however, that in this chaotic frontier-land the problem of a crucible language apparently has yet to be solved.

    Thus, I was early made aware of the primordial importance of language and its flux, and this had already become something of an obsession when, in school, I experienced the antithesis of our patois and "High" German. Later, when French words entered my vocabulary, the bilingual conflict was a daily one. For we saw France and Germany confronting each other, tunneling each other's crypts, parrying each other's blows in the continuation of age-old paradoxes. We watched the hopeless attempts by first one, then the other of the two antagonistic cultures to create a living amalgam in the souls of the people. In this nerve-tremulous landscape between the Moselle and the Saar Rivers, hemmed in by languages and dialects ready to spring at each other's throats; in this area where two nations combated each other in a subtle conspiracy of vocabularies and grammars, I grew up in the medley of Europe's decadence. Here I saw life across the spite-fences of history, fences that were linguistic and religious as well as political. As a child I watched the drama of misunderstanding through the confusion that hovered over inimical words. Around me I heard the clash between the Latin and Teutonic vocables. I witnessed, at first hand, the impact of two tongues in daily life. I saw how they changed inwardly, how they fled each other, how they went through alternations of love and hate.

    Historically, the problem of the two languages has long been a thorny one. The conflict has persisted in fact for more than two centuries, fanned now by one, now by the other neighbor. And since all discussion as to the origin and psyche of the people in the frontier provinces is inevitably related to the question of language, interest in this internecine phenomenon has been pronounced, the more so because the linguistic and political frontiers have hardly ever coincided. For this reason, the nation in the saddle has usually tried to merge them: the French attempted to push the enemy speech beyond the Moselle, Nied and Saar rivers, while the Germans tried to maintain their language in the Vosges, and even to extend it west of the three rivers. When the war of 1870 broke out, the French language had made considerable progress in Lorraine. It was spoken throughout the province, both officially and privately, and was also taught in the schools. But after 1872, the Germans did not encourage the use of French by native Lorrainers, and rammed, instead, a bureaucratic German idiom down their throats.

    As little children we prattled in a dialect related to that of Luxembourg and the Flemish countries. Things and persons invented in infant musing were not real to us, until we had found names for them in this frontier patois. We listened to the legend-words of old women who knew countless incantatory rhymes. All the ABC inventions which every child makes in his early life were cast by us in the well-pitched vocables of our home idiom, in the jarring and discordant words of Forbach. "Voulez-vous vous wegschere', petits voyous," shouted Madame Frank when we made too much noise near her house.

    French, my father's native tongue, remained pure sound for many years. It thrust itself into my consciousness by slow degrees, opened up gleaming horizons, floated about me like an occult aura. For many Lorrainers before 1914, it had the timbre of a lost cause wafted tenderly from across the nearby frontier. It brought vibrations of a romantic past, memories of shared experiences, evocations of a collective nostalgia. My father spoke it with the village teachers and priests, and with visiting relatives from over the border, especially with his own father, or with friends who had not lived down the rankle of the Franco-Prussian cataclysm. We heard it, too, scattered in shreds and fragments through the speech of the people. It went its stubborn way, nurtured by local irredentists, seductively invading both the dialect and the High German vocabulary.

    But the German language remained the dominating medium of communication. We heard it in school, we heard it from the arrogant officials who had invaded the land from "inner Germany." The yawping commands of the military brought it to our attention when the border garrison practiced the goose-step on the parade-ground. The German soldiers stationed in our town were usually from North Germany, and their grunting speech was a constant source of resentment to many of us; they, in turn, did not like the French words and phrases with which the local speech was dotted. The older people of the town, most of whom still remembered the easy French regime before 1870, displayed sullen irritation at the raucous dialogues of the outsiders.

    For me, German was my mother tongue and French my father tongue, and from infancy I had to face the problem of sound-shifting in the two languages. In addition, many phonetic shades occurred from village to village, from town to town, and there were a number of communities where one section spoke a French patois, while the other used a German dialect. I might, however, have eventually liberated myself from the European burden and made a choice between French and German had not the American language joined the fray in my adolescent years. But emigration only brought further disorder, a sort of glotto-pathology for which there has seemed to be no permanent remedy.

    My first schooling was in a salle d'asile run by Sisters of the Divine Providence. It was a Catholic kindergarten where we were taught communal prayers, relieved by children's songs and games in both German and French. Here I seem to have given early manifestation of certain heretical tendencies, and there was a school incident that became legendary in the family. I was little more than four years old, so the story went, when one day I was reproved by the nun in charge for some minor transgression. She grew, in fact, so irritated at my mutinous behavior that she punished me by making me stand in a corner. Suddenly I turned on her, tore the large black cross from her white plastron, and screamed my displeasure in no uncertain terms. There was an uproar in the classroom and the Superior had to be called in to restore order. That night the nun told my mother gravely: "That child needs watching; he has the devil in him."

    Grammar school remains a nightmare in my memory. Our teachers were for the most part immigres from Prussia--"Preyss," as they were called by the Lorrainers--Teutons of the military type, gruff, pedantic, ponderous, tyrannical, who sought to instill into our young minds their conviction of German superiority. The school was just opposite our house, and from the window of our living room we could look directly into the spacious classroom where the three Rs were taught in the snarling idiom of the German barracks, and the bamboo cane was used with considerable frequency and savagery. Group singing of patriotic German songs was an important part of the curriculum, and often we were made to march through the streets in military formation--always in military rhythm--singing marching songs in German.

    After attending elementary school, I was transferred to the college, where the Imperial German educational system was in full sway. Except for a very few native Alsatians or Lorrainers, all the teachers were from northern Germany. They brought with them a harsh, guttural speech and abrupt, staccato gestures, well suited to the apodictic phrases they hurled at us. I recall one of these men, our history professor--known out of school as a secret tippler and coureur de femmes--who taught us fantastically spurious versions of events since the time of Charlemagne, in a continuous distortion of history. Indeed it was not until a number of years later, in America, that I was able to check his statements and satisfy myself that his interpretation --which was the official German one--was a form of national lying. The revival of antique Germanism was the constant mot d'ordre, and denigration of France--the Erbfeind or "hereditary enemy"--became a militant slogan, presented with grossly simplified accounts of victories in the latest war. Our school-books fairly ranted about Germany's might and the greatness of the Hohenzollern leadership. Our teacher quoted the historian Treitschke as saying: "A state that renounces war and submits to the demands of an international tribunal renounces thereby its sovereign power, that is, itself.... The most terrible weapons are absolutely legitimate."

    Education under the Prussian regime continued to be strict, even puritanical. Nineteenth-century conventions were still adhered to, and faith in the omniscience of a supreme state authority was fostered with iron determination. Men wore grotesque beards and mustaches above ludicrously high wing collars, and their role in family life was feudal and dictatorial. Women wore cumbersome corsets stiffened with whalebone, and spent their lives in a position of accepted inferiority. Sex was never discussed openly, a veil of hypocrisy covering all erotic manifestations. Class consciousness was marked, and professors cultivated a pretentious social hierarchy, frequently resulting in life-long enmities among their dull, stodgy wives. The idea of European concord was throttled by the slave-theory of a militaristic hegemony.

    The great military and civilian event of the year was the Kaiser's birthday, for which preparations were made many weeks ahead. In school, at a gathering of all the classes assembled for the event, there were recitations by the pupils and stiff patriotic speeches by the teachers. There was also on that day--January 27th, usually marked by heavy snow--a big military parade. On this occasion soldiers marched in goose-step down the street to the market-place, where a celebration was held outdoors, however bitter the weather. The Governor of Metz was present, and after officially acknowledging the honors, he made a brief speech. Then the commanding officer, in a peremptory Prussian tone, barked his eulogy of the Oberste Kriegsherr--the Supreme Warlord.

    I saw the Kaiser several times in those early years. One occasion was when he was on his way to spend a holiday at the Chateau d'Urville, near Metz. His snow-white train stopped at our station, where all the schoolchildren were lined up well before the appointed hour. He appeared at the window and looked down on us as we fluttered our little flags. "Hoch! Hoch! Hoch!" we shouted. He never smiled. On another occasion we were taken to the town of Morhange--the scene of one of the first frontier battles of the early months of 1914--where we had to wait for many hours in the blazing heat for him to pass by. It was a pompous affair. Gold-braided generals on horseback clattered down the beflagged street while hundreds of soldiers goose-stepped behind. The Kaiser finally appeared, mounted on a white horse, his withered right arm hanging limply, his uniform a cameo of glittering medals. Once more I was struck by the condescending dullness of his gaze.

    As I muse over those years, in the European ambiance of pre-1914, I remember many books that were given me for Christmas or on other feastdays, and over which linger a glamour, a golden haze that I like to recapture in moments when time is abolished and I am catapulted again into the vanished era of childhood and the discovery of the world. I recall particularly certain romantic books; the Marchen or magic tales of Brentano, Bechstein, Grimm and Andersen, as well as lyrical poems, among which Tieck's lines: "Wunderbare Mondennacht. / Steig empor mit alter Pracht!" impressed themselves upon my mind with incantatory force. But I also devoured other books of a more robustly magical nature, such as Robinson Crusoe, Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, Gerstacker's The River Pirates, Karl May's Winnetou, Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Those were the days when an Ameromantic vocabulary excited my youthful dreams, when I began to use such words as "savannah," "prairie," "lasso," "tomahawk," "paleface," "Indian," "calumet," "trapper," "coureur des bois," "medicine man," and other exotic terms that evoked a distant Wonderland. Then there were the fantastic tales of the pays messin--known then as Lothringen, with Metz as its capital--in which the Grauli dragon on the Gothic cathedral of Metz played an outstanding part. Among the many books I read in my early years, I believe, however, that Adalbert Stifter's Studien, Nachsommer and Witiko made the deepest impression upon me; this prose writer of genius knew how to describe landscapes and the season's changes in a way that I, as a youngster, had experienced them.

    In a style modeled on that of Tieck, I soon began to evoke in sophomoric verse the medieval background of the SchloBberg, the macabre solitude of cemeteries, the first girl's "mystery-smoldering" eyes, far-off landscapes:

Ich sehne mich nach blauen Weiten,
Nach Inseln, wo die Palmen weh'n,
Wo schone Frauen traumend geh'n
In schmelzend weichen Sommerzeiten.

    Later, I devoured not only poetry but certain popularized treatises on the new evolutionary doctrines of Darwin, which Ernst Haeckel presented in a series entitled "Riddles of the World." German and French books by Barres, Hauptmann, Holz, Liliencron were also favorites, and I gradually drifted into the individualistic exaggerations that dominated the writing of that period. There were a few German boys in school who shared my literary enthusiasms, and like myself refused to join in with those students who roared "gaudeamus igitur" in the local taverns in order to demonstrate their solidarity with academic customs from the other side of the Rhine.

    More and more fascinated by the printed word, I began to write little lyrical sketches for the local newspaper, Der Grenzbote, or Frontier Messenger, which was edited by a friend of my family, Heinrich Neumann. Neumann had a keen intelligence and a newspaperman's temperament, both of which impressed me. To be sure, the paper was somewhat parochial, but in his perceptive editorials Neumann undoubtedly did seek to build a bridge with the western neighbor, much to the disgust of the Germanophiles. I don't recall reading any real news in the little sheet, but that was true of most European newspapers of the time. (Many years later, in occupied Germany, I was to combat this shortcoming, although unsuccessfully.) Neumann worked in a dust-flecked little Redaktion on the main street, where I often tarried in order to watch the proceedings. The musty, spider-web-hung composing-room with its two linotype machines was the place in which I liked most to loiter, captivated as I was by the mysteries of journalistic technique. For already I knew that one day I would become a newspaperman, that I would be a worker in this word-factory in which, as Neumann warned me, "nerves of steel" were required.

    Our teacher talked to us of the inner tensions in Alsatian intellectual life. A magazine called La Revue Alsacienne, edited by Dr. Bucher, encouraged a regional culture in the French idiom, while such younger men as Rene Schickele and Ernst Stadler used German as their instrument of expression. A third group, composed of French idealists, tried to construct a spiritual bridge over the Rhine, in the face of strong opposition. But a horde of fatuous pan-German professors-pilloried later by the local caricaturist, Hansi--covered the land with arrogant assertions which had the authority of official sanction.

    It was at this same period that I passed through the religious crisis that decided my parents, at the suggestion of a clerical friend, to have me study for the priesthood. In a way it was a relief to be sent to the Catholic seminary at Montigny, near Metz, where the French language and French civilization dominated, and where I was conscious of absorbing a more humanistic culture. Yet even in these sheltered surroundings I could not but notice that the political horizon in Europe had become gusty with forebodings. In the schoolyard, conversation often turned to the subject of the next war. Memories of the 1871 siege persisted in the talk of our elders, and occasionally, during our communal walks in the Val de Metz, we students visited the battlefields of Mars-la-Tour, St.-Hubert or St.-Privat, where we were plunged into the temper of the 1870 conflagrations. When the first Zeppelin passed over Metz, the silver flash and the machine's rumble were like a sibylline omen to the frontier-people, and there was a real international incident when the airship flew over the nearby French border. Even the youngest of us sensed a smell of powder in the air.

    There was something about the long summer vacations of those years that still lives in my memory: the scent of fresh hay, dreamy, lazy meanderings through valleys and forests, geographical daydreams and, more than all else, the discovery of history. The European's love of the past is a form of fetishism that contrasts with the American's more realistic attitude. Henry Ford's famous dictum--"history is bunk"--expresses well the American pioneer's contempt for European commemorations of dynastic wars, religious discords, frontier transformations; a contempt that has its roots in a dynamic acceptance of the time and in the devaluation of inherited traditions. But we who grew up in the heart of the continent where evolution was measured in terms of thousands of years had a reverence for dates and relics, and we learned to distinguish the great epochs of national change by remembering place-names associated with war, slaughter and torture. During our grandes vacances, we were shown battlefields and ruined castles, Gallo-Roman museums, the scarred remains of Burgen once occupied by robber barons, the remnants of villages and towns annihilated during the Thirty Years' War. The dusty vaults of Gothic cathedrals and the local relics of the limes, the ancient Roman border fortresses along the Rhine, all these were presented to us with reverence, and left us awed by their great age.

    As economic conditions at home worsened, it became necessary to withdraw me from the Metz seminary. On my return to Forbach, what was my joy to find that plans for sending me to America were under discussion. Germany's aggressive attitude towards France and England seemed to foreshadow war. In three years I would be of military age. The American saga soon became for me a feverish, almost hysterical fiction, nurtured by my father's stories, by my own reading about Columbus and Pizarro, and by my Atlantic-hungry imagination. In the attic I unearthed all the dustcovered English books, magazines and newspapers that Father had brought back from America, and, with the help of a dictionary, laboriously studied their contents. Thus began a journey into language that was to last many years. Slowly I picked my way through the syntactical puzzle of the new tongue, which captivated me with its humor and precision. I learned about the New England Pilgrims, about Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, as well as about Columbus, whose heroic myth fascinated me. I learned about the great achievements of the pioneers who had pushed back the frontier ever further towards the West, and gradually the European frontier began to recede in my mind. I read about the modern builders of skyscrapers, the constructors of railroads and bridges, the inventor of the telephone. Soon I had created a Super-America of my own, fable-clothed and wonderful.

    But increasingly hard times made my trip to America impossible of realization for the moment. Then, one day, a letter arrived from my mother's sister in New York. Aunt Theresa related the latest family events and distributed transatlantically God's blessing over our home. She enclosed several family photographs: snapshots of the fourteen-story building on Central Park West in which they were living, of Uncle John and of Cousin Madeleine. Her letter gave me an idea. I wrote her immediately, proposing that she send me a steamship ticket, which I promised to repay as soon as I should have found work. Although I had hardly expected it, a reply containing a second-class ticket and innumerable exhortations arrived in due course. My father expressed pleased surprise, in which relief that there would now be one less mouth to feed seemed to predominate. Mother wept at the thought of our separation. I was happy and eager to go.

    The date of departure was set for November. With it I experienced my first sensations of adult liberty. As I watched the soldiers on the Exerzierplatz going through their mechanical drill, I felt jubilant at the thought that I would never be pressed into the service of their loathsome machine. When the annual October Kermesse came round, I participated in its ritual with a mingled sense of ecstasy and sadness, convinced that it was for the last time.

    I was attracted as never before by the colored booths with toys and nougat, the Ferris Wheel, or lindau, the merry-go-round, the man with the blood-curdling posters describing fearful events in far-away countries, the enchanting images d'Epinal. All the marchands forains were French, from Nancy, and their attempts to speak the local patois produced guffaws of laughter from the listeners. Here we saw our first cinematographe. The films shown were rudimentary, but to us they were nothing short of magical, and I still recall the sharp smell of steam issuing from the long, low tent, the interior of which seemed mysterious and exotic. Usually Far-Western pictures were shown, horribly blurred, yet they found an echo in our Indian romancing.

    We were only five years from the First World War, and the mood of the festivity seemed to be fraught with a desperate joyousness. It was as though the people of Forbach knew what lay in store for them. A few more weeks and all this would be for me the European past. Occasionally I left the whirligig of the market-place and wandered alone through the fields and nearby forests, from where I could still hear the distant sounds of the merry-go-round organ playing its melancholy airs. Suddenly I felt a deep love for the Lorraine landscape; never had the sunsets seemed more beautiful to me.

    One day Father took me to the attic, selected a large oblong trunk from a heap of dusty boxes and knick-knacks, and opened it almost ritualistically. I knew it well: the lock was rusty and creaked, a colored photograph of the Statue of Liberty was pasted on the inside.

    "I guess it'll do for another trip," he said. We brought the trunk down and Mother began to pack my few belongings. On the top she placed my violin, a prayer book, a rosary, and some blessed images of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor. A few days before my departure, I made farewell calls on relatives and friends. I was a hero for a day.

    In the evening before the impatiently awaited day, I roamed the streets in our neighborhood for the last time. My town was drinking in the blue vapors of late autumn as the inhabitants sat gossiping on the low stoops of the houses. A woman was singing to a child. From time to time a locomotive puffed over the bridge that formed the horizon of our street. A drunken soldier reeled out of a tavern. When the Angelus tinkled over the gables, old women stiffened under their white bonnets and prayed rapidly: Ave Maria. Children shouted in the alleyways, their games tumbled through the courtyards.

    Before dawn Father and I had left the little frontier-town for Antwerp. Mother was in tears, my brothers and sister stood in the window, watching. It was still quite dark and rain was falling. Only a few coal miners were tramping through the street. The bell in the church tower rang for matins. Through the early morning gloom I saw my family for the last time, dimly. A neighbor called from a window. Then the gables of the houses disappeared. Woods and fields and all the familiar landscapes vanished in the morning mist. I said good-bye to my childhood.

    The train passed through Luxembourg, then Belgium. In Antwerp, having two days before us, Father and I visited the museums and churches, or simply wandered along the quays watching the harbor life. A thick fog lay over the Scheldt, where we saw freight being loaded for the Congo. Father and I exchanged few words, for there was a silent embarrassment between us. But I felt free, immensely so; free of paternal authority, of ecclesiastical tutelage, of political and military serfdom; free to go towards a new world, towards the distant horizons of my aerial imagination. I was carrying out the first and most important decision of my life. I had consciously chosen freedom, and now I was leaving parents and family in order to realize that choice.

    At dusk on the second day we said good-bye. I heard my father's last words with a slight quiver. His face looked pale. A brass band was playing. Handkerchiefs waved. Standing on the deck of the S.S. Finland, I watched the stooped figure of my father vanish into the Flemish fog.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations, ix
Introduction, xi
Acknowledgments, xxxiii
Note on the Text, xxxv
Prologue, 1
1 European Frontier World, 4
2 Immigrant into Neo-American, 18
3 Roving Reporter, 41
4 Return to the Old World, 53
5 Reporter in Paris, 65
6 Voyages of Discovery, 87
7 Quest for New Words, 107
8 Gog and Magog, 135
9 Ananke Strikes the Poet, 160
10 In the Maelstrom, 179
11 Journey Through Rubbleland, 215
12 News from Babel, 227
13 The Frontierless World, 259
Epilogue, 270
Notes to Front Matter, 275
Notes to Man from Babel, 281
Index, 319
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