From the New York Times
“Disaster Was My God” delivers a Rimbaud who forces literary true believers to ponder an unwelcome thought: that artistic ambition may sometimes be, as the guidance counselors say, just a phase that troubled teens — even geniuses — go through.
Review on Amazon
“Disaster Was My God” is a blazing trip through fascinating characters, the tortured trajectory of a brilliant man’s life, and the revolution in poetry brought on by Arthur Rimbaud. Bruce Duffy has a knack for writing about pain and extreme awkwardness in a style that keeps it light and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The characters in this book, they are characters. Rimbaud is first a child prodigy, then a poet who changes the fundamentals of poetry, then a gun runner in Africa. Duffy finds a way to do what I thought could not be done- connect the seemingly unconnectable dots that form Rimbaud’s life. This book is about a bizarre and unique man, and about all of us. It is about what can happen when we emerge from the unrealistic thinking of our adolescence and bump up clumsily against the adult reality of the outside world. Read the book. He says it better than me. Then there is Rimbaud’s mother, the mother of all mothers, who apparently could have written the book on controlling, narcissistic, queen-of-martyrdom parenting. If I was a Hollywood actress of a certain age, I would be putting this book down, calling my agent, and saying “Get this book. I want to be Rimbaud’s mother.” And finally, Verlaine, who brings Rimbaud to Paris, and is honest enough to admit that he fell for him and got kicked in the teeth. I have never read a funnier tragic book.
Arthur Rimbaud, the enfant terrible of French letters, more than holds his own with Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde in terms of bold writing and salacious interest. In the space of one year—1871—with a handful of startling poems he transformed himself from a teenaged bumpkin into the literary sensation of Paris. He was taken up, then taken in, by the older and married poet Paul Verlaine in a passionate affair. When Rimbaud sought to end it, Verlaine, in a jealous rage, shot him. Shortly thereafter, Rimbaud—just shy of his twentieth birthday—declared himself finished with literature. His resignation notice was his immortal prose poem A Season in Hell. In time, Rimbaud wound up a prosperous trader and arms dealer in Ethiopia. But a cancerous leg forced him to return to France, to the family farm, with his sister and loving but overbearing mother. He died at thirty-seven.
Bruce Duffy takes the bare facts of Rimbaud’s fascinating existence and brings them vividly to life in a story rich with people, places, and paradox. In this unprecedented work of fictional biography, Duffy conveys, as few ever have, the inner turmoil of this calculating genius of outrage, whose work and untidy life essentially anticipated and created the twentieth century’s culture of rebellion. It helps us see why such protean rock figures as Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Patti Smith adopted Rimbaud as their idol.
Disaster Was My God: A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud, by Bruce Duffy
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (July 19, 2011)