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I Burn Paris by Bruno Jasieński
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I Burn Paris (1929)

by Bruno Jasieński

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I BURN PARIS is a 1928 science fiction novel by a Polish Futurist, which became a best seller in the early Soviet era. I have to admit that I picked it up as a curiosity, and was ready for a challenging reading experience but instead found myself rapidly pulled into a headlong action narrative. A madman releases a deadly plague into the water supply. The city of Paris is rapidly quarantined, and effectively besieged, and quickly breaks down into warring ethnic and political factions. Jasienski's prose, as translated here, is highly readable, shows the clear influence of early cinema and is packed with vivid and jarring images. One thinks of the Futurist and Dadaist visual artists of his era, George Grosz perhaps most of all. The city and the economic forces that drive it are depicted as an implacable machine. Characters are sacrificed to the logic of the plot with a ruthlessness that made me think of Stewart Home's anarchist satires, but they are never merely caricatures, whatever faction they represent. The action powers on, building relentlessly to an apocalyptic, revolutionary climax.

For some years now, Twisted Spoon Press of Prague have been publishing superb English language translations of writing from the Czech republic and further afield. Their books are beautifully designed, but attractively priced. I BURN PARIS is perhaps their finest production yet, a smart little illustrated hardback in an angular jacket design that is both modern and in keeping with the period of the text. They are soon to follow this volume with THE LEGS OF IZOLDA MORGAN, a collection of Jasienski's earlier Futurist writings - I look forward to it. ( )
4 vote Soukesian | Aug 17, 2012 |
I have a lot of sympathy for the early Marxism of Central/Eastern Europe, and I believe that some of the most profoundly humanist and moral writing emerged from writers involved in it
 
This novel, a pointed and less-then-subtle tribute to the communards of 1871, [..] touched a nerve in the uncertain atmosphere of the interwar years.
 
I Burn Paris is clearly a modern novel, in the sense of the modernism of the 1920s. It's not hard to imagine why it would have made Jasieński a villain in Paris and a hero in Russia. But the novel has aged well and maintains its uncanny point of view and shocking sensibility. It is a vital addition to Central European literature in English.
added by Soukesian | editPrague Post, Stephan Delbos (Jun 13, 2012)
 
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I Burn Paris has remained one of Poland's most uncomfortable masterstrokes of literature since its initial and controversial serialization by Henri Barbusse in 1928 in L'Humanité (for which Jasieński was deported for disseminating subversive literature). It tells the story of a disgruntled factory worker who, finding himself on the streets, takes the opportunity to poison Paris's water supply. With the deaths piling up, we encounter Chinese communists, rabbis, disillusioned scientists, embittered Russian émigrés, French communards and royalists, American millionaires and a host of others as the city sections off into ethnic enclaves and everyone plots their route of escape. At the heart of the cosmopolitan city is a deep-rooted xenophobia and hatred — the one thread that binds all these groups together. As Paris is brought to ruin, Jasienski issues a rallying cry to the downtrodden of the world, mixing strains of "The Internationale" with a broadcast of popular music.

With its montage strategies reminiscent of early avant-garde cinema and fist-to-the-gut metaphors, I Burn Paris has lost none of its vitality and vigor. Ruthlessly dissecting various utopian fantasies, Jasienski is out to disorient, and he has a seemingly limitless ability to transform the Parisian landscape into the product of disease-addled minds. An exquisite example of literary Futurism and Catastrophism, the novel presents a filthy, degenerated world where factories and machines have replaced the human and economic relationships have turned just about everyone into a prostitute. Yet rather than cliché and simplistic propaganda, there is an immediacy to the writing, and the modern metropolis is starkly depicted as only superficially cosmopolitan, as hostile and animalistic at its core.

This English translation of I Burn Paris fills a major gap in the availability of works from the interwar Polish avant-garde.
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