In A Season in Hell, at the age of eighteen, the French poet Arthur Rimbaud predicted the rest of his life: "My day is done; I'm leaving Europe. The sea air will burn my lungs; lost climes will tan my skin." Three years later, in 1876, he joined the Royal Army of the Dutch Indies as an infantryman and sailed for Java, where he promptly deserted and fled into the jungle. It was the most enigmatic passage in a life crowded with puzzles and contrarieties.
In the first book devoted to Rimbaud's lost voyage to Asia; novelist and critic Jamie James reviews everything that is known about the episode; from there, he imaginatively spirals into a reconstruction of what the poet must have seen, and informed speculation about what he might have done, vividly recreating life in nineteenth-century Java along the way. Rimbaud in Java concludes with an inquiry into what the Orient represented in the poet's imagination, with a scandalous, amusing history of French orientalism. James surprising book is a richly concentrated blend of biography, criticism and thought-travel, which brings into sharp focus this brief encounter between a great writer and a vanished world.
Rimbaud in Java
... a high-wire performance ... the spectacle of reading someone write beautifully about something he finds, well, beautiful ... The book shines a torch down the well of the nineteenth century and illuminates a little patch on an inner wall near the bottom ... Microhistory? If it's the beginning of a trend I won't complain.
- Zadie Smith
Jamie James' Rimbaud in Java is a thoroughly delightful work on many levels.
The Times Literary Supplement
- Nigel Barley
I loved it. Jamie James is a very interesting author at every moment.
- Edmund White
... an intriguing new book about this wild child poet that leaps boundaries.
- Jan McGirk
In 1999, Jamie James resigned his post as an art critic for The New Yorkerand moved to Indonesia. In thirteen years' residence in Bali and Jakarta he has published two novels, Andrew and Joey: A Tale of Baliand The Java Man, and a non-fiction book, The Snake Charmer, a biography of the legendary American field biologist Joe Slowinski. During this time, James has also broadened his work as a critic in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times and periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly, The American Scholar and Lapham's Quarterly. He continues to write about culture and travel in Asia for popular magazines including Men's Journal and Conde Nast Traveller. Jamie James' previous non-fiction books include The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science and the Order of the Universe (Grove Press, 1993) and A study of Pop Art for Phaidon Press, published in 1996. He and his partner live in Kerobokan, Bali, where they own two restaurants.
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