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This is a biographical study of Arthur Rimbaud's "lost years", the years after he turned his back on poetry, fame and France, for a life of wandering and obscurity in the wilds of East Africa. Charles Nicholl pieces together the story of Rimbaud's life as a trader, explorer and gun-runner in Africa. We follow his trail across the Somali desert, through the backstreets of Djibouti, and into the highlands of Ethiopia. We glimpse him with his Abyssinian mistress in Aden, walking the "souks" of Cairo with 20 pounds of gold around his waist, and crossing the desert with a camel-train of Remington rifles. The journey leads also into the strange psychological terrain of Rimbaud's desire to escape.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099767718
ISBN-10: 0099767716
Format: Paperback
(196mm x 132mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-May-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » When Rimbaud was just 25, he turned his back on his blossoming reputation as a poet and began a life of wandering obscurity in East Africa, becoming a trader, explorer and gun-runner. Nicholl retraces Rimbaud's footsteps in an attempt to reconstruct what went on in the life of the poet during those years. An essential read for Rimbaud fans and the general reader alike. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » 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. Rimband'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. (Kirkus Reviews)


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