Bruce Duffy fictionalizes the extravagant, unlikely life of Arthur Rimbaud
Disaster Was My God:
A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud
by Bruce Duffy
$27.95 List Price
Patti Smith shoplifted a volume of his poems and found revelation. Jim Morrison earnestly corresponded with his English translator. On first reading the work, Bob Dylan reports that “bells went off.” Throw in Salinger, Dylan Thomas, and most of the Beats, and you’ve got a good idea of Arthur Rimbaud’s enduring fan base: rebels besotted with language. That all of these rockers and writers fell in love with the author when they were adolescents or just a little older is no surprise—the French Symbolist wrote all of his legendary poems before turning twenty-one. But Rimbaud’s heroic stature has always posed a problem to the young and the restless. While he revolutionized poetry—if not an entire cultural sensibility—at a tender age, he then retreated from the bohemian barricades to spend the rest of his life as colonialist merchant, indeed something of a gun runner, whose pen only found work in a ledger book of accounts received. In short, the Orphic blasphemer and sexual renegade became the worst kind of businessman.
In Disaster Was My God, Bruce Duffy takes a novelist’s liberties with biographical fact to offer a psychologically attuned account of Rimbaud’s bifurcated life, vexatious family, and radical art. Although the novel’s chronology shifts between the poet’s last weeks in Ethiopia, his childhood in rural Charleville, and his adolescent years in Paris, all the familiar high points are given their due: the prodigy who amazes teachers by reciting two hundred lines of Homer in Greek; the seventeen-year-old who arrives in the capital with a sheaf of poems including “First