Friday, January 25, 2013

All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani

First further revised printing of All About H. Hatterr from 1970
First published in England in 1948, Pakistani author G.V. Desani's only novel remains a strange, whimsical masterpiece following the title character's journey toward spiritual mastery and enlightenment. Hatterr, an Anglo-Malay living in Calcutta, seeks out seven different Sages in seven cities of the Far East to obtain their wisdom in various areas of living. Each section begins with Hatterr recounting the Sage's "instruction," then the "presumption" about the instruction, and concludes with Hatterr's "life-encounter" about the lesson wherein some hilarity and absurdities ensue. All About H. Hatterr has been praised by literary luminaries like Anthony Burgess (who wrote the introduction for this edition), Saul Bellow, and T.S. Eliot, all of whom regard Desani's only novel as an amazing comic and linguistic feat—which it definitely is. Desani's novel is filled with bizarre and unique slang, hilarious dialogue, and excellent wordplay that makes fun of anything close to a spiritual quest. The Sages, various tricksters, and other travelers Hatterr encounters are particularly ridiculous, and are some of the book's funniest moments. With excellent jacket design by Catherine Smolich for this edition published by FSG, All About H. Hatterr is a great, entertaining book that has somehow fallen through a lot of cracks, but definitely deserves to be read.

Rear cover with photograph of author G.V. Desani

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Cool World by Warren Miller

Second edition paperback copy of The Cool World from 1964 
First published in 1959, The Cool World is the most famous of Warren Miller's work (all of which is relatively unknown) about a youth gang called the "Crocadiles" in 1950's Harlem, New York City. Narrated in the first person by the protagonist and Crocadile member Duke, The Cool World recounts the story of Duke and his gang's adventures and travails as they deal with street life in the ghetto and a rival gang called the Wolves. Drug dealing, fights, prostitution, guns, and gambling are rampant throughout this engaging, slim novel that rarely has a dull moment. Written entirely in African-American street vernacular of the time, Miller—a caucasian academic—accomplished a great, and mostly unnoticed, linguistic and narrative feat with this novel. The Cool World has been out of print since the late 1960's, but paperback copies aren't too difficult to come by—the featured copy above was published by Crest Books, a subsidiary of Little, Brown. Slightly better known than Miller's novel is a film adaptation by Shirley Clarke of the same name, also from 1964, which happens to be playing at Film Forum in New York on January 13th and 14th. I strongly suggest seeing it if you live in the five boroughs, as well as locating a copy of this forgotten novel.