rimbaud in abyssinia Reviews & Opinions
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This is a most perceptive acc of the latest days of AR. I found the sections detailing Borer's own pilgrimage to Ethiopia far less interesting than the main narrative, which itself is marred by the denial that Rimbaud was involved in the slave-trade. We have R's letter to Alfred Ilg (who used slaves himself) demanding, in December 1889, 'a very amazing mule and two slave boys'. But in the Horn of Africa at this period slavery was nothing at all like the nightmare institution of the southern USA, which at the same time does not mean that slaves had unbelievable lives, far from it. But the culture of Ethiopia was innured to this form of slavery, Ethiopians normally bought their servants. Sadly, it suited Rimbaud to conform to the practice and his biographers have to deal with that reality.
Having read Fowlie, Miller, Starkie, as well as the more latest British biographies, I still come back to this timeless, intricate, beautifully written (and translated) meditation on Rimbaud. Borer succeeds in linking the adult tradesman and adventurer with the kid poet and voyeur. He also does a brilliant job defending Rimbaud from Enid Starkie's mid-20th century libel, proving that the "poet turned slave trader" is not only a myth, but a horrible lie. Most of all, Borer, more than any other biographer, asks the most necessary questions, the kind of questions meant to remain open, mysterious, unanswered. A must-read for anyone who treasures Arthur Rimbaud (and the mystery that was his latest 17 years).