Tuesday, December 31, 2002

In 1932 C.L.R. James left his home in Trinidad for the first time and sailed to the United Kingdom to fulfil his literary ambitions. He was 31 years old. During his first weeks in London he wrote a series of vigorously opinionated essays for the Port of Spain Gazette, giving his impressions of the great city and its inhabitants, and describing his progress through the Bohemian circles of Bloomsbury.

Letters from London collects these essays for the first time in seventy years. It is an essential record of a crucial period in James’s life. His London is an intellectual ferment of politics and poetry and all-night conversations in boarding-house rooms, peopled by radical young Englishmen and liberated young Englishwomen, and students from every reach of the British Empire.

As the education and manners of his colonial upbringing are tested in this heady atmosphere, we sense the emergence of the revolutionary C.L.R. James who was to become a major intellectual figure not just of the West Indies but of the world.

— from the Letters from London book-jacket blurb.

The Express & the Guardian have finally run reviews (by Raymond Ramcharitar & Kim Johnson, respectively) of Letters from London, the small book of essays by C.L.R. James that I recently edited, scheduled for international publication in early 2003 but pre-released here in T&T (to catch hoped-for Christmas sales). I'd like to link to these, but the Express never bothers to put book reviews on its website, & the Guardian, of course, still has no online archive; so I'll content myself with a few choice snippets.

From Ramcharitar's review, in yesterday's Express:

"It is evident that the pieces were written with images fresh in the mind, and without much reflection — they were, after all, for a provincial newspaper. But it is this cinematic rather than literary narrative drive that gives the seven essays in this volume appeal and charm....

"What is espacially appealing ... is our privileged knowledge that James did not have: that the young man, at once awed and at home in the centre, amidst the art, the monuments, the bastions of power, would become one of the greatest of us. This adds to the pleasure of James's accounts of staying up and talking all night with the people he met in Bloomsbury, of the pleasure he got from getting the papers off the press and spending his Sunday mornings reading them in bed, and reading Pirandello's Six Characters with friends....

"If nothing else, they show that beneath the skin we all dream much the same dreams, and are frustrated by much the same things."

From Johnson's review, in today's Guardian:

"Letters from London has little for those who read James to be edified. But the James who is read for its own pleasure is there.

"There’s the James voice, now coming into its own. You can hear it: unselfconscious, confident, honest, playful. It is the conversation of a teacher, not in a classroom, but amongst his friends.

"The voice blends personal anecdote, opinion, observation and logic with an ease and frankness. It reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s more than anyone else. You feel that all of this man’s opinions are completely integrated with his morals, his experience and his vast knowledge."

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