Monday, October 12, 2015

"Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian" by Boris Vian (Translated by Julia Older)

ISBN: 9780985612290 Black Widow Press

I have thought of Boris Vian and his work everyday for the last 25 years.  I published all his major works in English, and spent a personal fortune in getting his books out to the world.  I did it, because I love him.  I love him and I love his work.  So, it's very odd for me to see "Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian," because I had nothing to do with its production.  Still, what a pleasure to read these series of short stories, poems, and the occasional essay or two. Julia Older did a fantastic job in editing and translating the book, and I like it that "her" Vian is different from my world of Boris Vian.   Or is it?

I love many in literature, but there are only a few that really inspire my own writing.  Osamu Dazai, Robert Benchley, and of course Vian.  I look upon Vian, not only for his writing talent, but also his placement in post-war Paris life.   In many ways, it is so close to the American Beat culture that was taking place in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.   The only thing that separates the two cultures is the language itself.  Both loved jazz, movies, and pretty girls and boys.   So my appreciation of Vian is very much part of my family and upbringing.

To be picky about "Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian" is mostly editorial/design stuff.  The book is very much bi-lingual, meaning there is French on the left side and the English translation on the right side.   For poetry, I think this is a must, but I feel for the prose pieces it is not needed.  I think there should have been more fiction narratives, and maybe more essays by Vian in this package.  Boris' son Patrick (French prog rock 70s figure) introduction is charming, and the same for Julia's commentary on Vian's work.  But I also feel it need someone in the academic or literature world comment on the works as well.  There is very little commentary in English on Vian's work, and having another voice in the package I think would make this book stronger.  Also it would have been great if they had a Vernon Sullivan short story in the collection as well.  But it may have been issues of getting permission, rights, etc.

The good news is that the Black Widow Press (who published this book) normally do excellent poetry books - mostly by the French avant-garde (I'm a huge fan) poets and focusing on the greats such as Tristian Tzara, Andre Breton, and other Surrealist/DADA poets.  I think this may be the first time that they actually published some prose pieces.   So in their editorial thinking, it is clearly seems normal for them to do a French/English edition of their titles, besides this Vian collection.

The truth is, it's impossible for one volume to capture the entire genius of Boris Vian.  He was a man who was all over the map.  Translator, singer, trumpet player, essayist, jazz fanatic, songwriter, A&R for record label, and also a trained engineer.   To love Vian, you need to own the recordings he made, the music he loved, (from Duke Ellington to Serge Gainsbourg), his plays, science fiction works, Vernon Sullivan novels and short stories and so forth.   He's a major talent!  Just buy all of it!

I also love the Situationist-like take of Paris at the end of this book.  Where he makes plans for his "own" version of Paris.  Perfect.  I'm happy that this book is out, made, and it is ready for you guys to read. Just remember to buy my TamTam Books' Vian editions as well.

- Tosh Berman

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