(Some Very Handsome) Books Acquired, 10.18.2011 (Melville House Debuts The Neversink Library)

The good people at Melville House, debut The Neversink Library this week, a line of international titles that have been overlooked, neglected, and under-appreciated, many languishing out of print for years. I was pleased as punch to get three from the fall line up (another Neversink title coming out this Fall is a new edition of Karel Capek’s War with the Newts, covered by Biblioklept affiliate Noquar just a few weeks ago). Pics of the titles below—you can see how handsome and unified the design is here.

20111018-170431.jpg

Georgi Vladimov’s Faithful Ruslan

Set in a remote Siberian depot immediately following the demolition of one of the gulag’s notorious camps and the emancipation of its prisoners, Faithful Ruslan is an embittered cri de oeur from a writer whose circumstances obliged him to resist the violence of arbitrary power. “Every writer who writes anything in this country is made to feel he has committed a crime,” Georgi Vladimov said. Dissident, he said, is a word that “they force on you.” His mother, a victim of Stalin’s anti-Semitic policy, had been interred for two years in one of the camps from which Vladimov derived the wrenching detail of Faithful Ruslan. The novel circulated in samizdat for more than a decade, often attributed to Solzhenitsyn, before its publication in the West led to Vladimov’s harassment and exile.

A starving stray, tortured and abandoned by the godlike “Master” whom he has unconditionally loved, Ruslan and his cadre of fellow guard dogs dutifully wait for the arrival of new prisoners—but the unexpected arrival of a work party provokes a climactic bloodletting. Fashioned from the perceptions of an uncomprehending animal, Vladimov’s insistently ironic indictment of the gulag spirals to encompass all of Man’s inexplicable cruelty.

20111018-170446.jpgThe President by Georges Simenon—

At 82, the former premier lives in alert and suspicious retirement— self exile—on the Normandy coast, writing his anxiously anticipated memoirs and receiving visits from statesman and biographers. In his library is the self-condemning, handwritten confession of the premier’s former attaché, Chalamont, hidden between the pages of a sumptuously produced work of privately printed pornography—a confession that the premier himself had dictated and forced Chalamont to sign. Now the long-thwarted Chalamont has been summoned to form a new coalition in the wake of the government’s collapse. The premier alone possesses the secret of Chalamont’s guilt, of his true character—and has publicly vowed: “He’ll never be Premier as long as I’m alive . . . Nor when I’m dead, either.”

Inspired by French Premier Georges Clemenceau, The President is a masterpiece of psychological suspense and a probing account of the decline of power.

20111018-170456.jpg

I think this is the one I’ll dip into first: The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies—

An untutored Welsh tramp who became a popular poet acclaimed by the conservative Georgians and the vanguard Ezra Pound alike, W. H. Davies surprised his contemporaries with the unlikeliest portrait of the artist as a young man ever written.

After a delinquent childhood Davies renounced home and apprenticeship and at twenty-two sailed to America—the first of more than a dozen Atlantic crossings, often made by cattle boat. From 1893 to 1899 he was schooled by the hard men of the road, disdaining regular work and subsisting by begging. Crossing Canada to join the “Klondyke” gold rush, Davies fell while hopping a train. His foot was crushed and his leg amputated. “All the wildness had been taken out of me,” Davies wrote, “and my adventures after this were not of my own seeking.”

Praised by Osbert Sitwell for his “primitive splendour and directness,” Davies evokes the beauty and frontier violence of turn-of-the-century America in prose that George Bernard Shaw commended to “literary experts for its style alone.” The insurgent wanderlust that found an American voice in Jack London and Jack Kerouac is expressed here in a raucous true adventure story by the man Shaw called “the incorrigible Supertramp who wrote this amazing book.”