UK publisher Old Street Books has just released the first English translation of Scarred Hearts, a 1937 novel written by the Romanian-Jewish novelist, Max Blecher. The publisher provides the following precis on the novel:
It is Paris in the 1930s and Emanuel, a young Romanian student, finds himself dangerously ill with spinal tuberculosis. He is sent to a sanatorium near the French coast where for a year he remains wrapped in a plaster body cast – the conventional treatment for his disease in the thirties.
In the eerie, isolated world of the sanatorium Emanuel discovers that life goes on. He suffers his horrendous cure and his body slowly deteriorates – but, unexpectedly, he falls in love. This tender, doomed love affair between two patients is at the emotional core of an rare, unforgettable novel that leaves the reader with a fresh understanding of what it means to be human.
In his introduction to the book, Paul Bailey calls it, “… a masterpiece, and all the more poignant for being so beadily accurate about human behaviour in extremis. It is a book to live with, to read again and again, as only great literature demands us to.” Its recent German translation has sold well and been cited as a notable work by several papers.
Writing in the The Independent, on the other hand, Mark Thwaite rates it, “… a weak pastiche of Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Sadly, this is a lost classic that did not need to be found.” The Financial Times reviewer found it, “an elegant and powerful rejoinder to Emmanuel’s despair at lifeâ€™s futility.” The always fair-minded Complete Review takes a more balanced view:
Like many books in the briefly flourishing sanatorium-genre (think The Magic Mountain), Inimi cicatrizate [the original Romanian title] describes an isolated world standing almost still, full of longueurs and the frustration of not being able to move towards a future, many of the patients almost completely immobilized in a body-armour that keeps the world even more at bay. Blecher conveys this atmosphere more convincingly than most: presumably writing from experience helps, though occasionally he seems almost too close to his material, trying but unable to maintain the distance that he’s trying to achieve in this fiction.
A site visitor alerted me to another work by Blecher now available in English–in this case for free, from www.maxblecher.org. Titled Adventures in Immediate Unreality (from the Romanian original ÃŽntÃ¢mplÄƒri Ã®n irealitate imediatÄƒ ), it’s translated by Jeanie Han and available in an easy-to-read 97-page PDF file.