A never-before-published novel of the Spanish Civil War.
Edited, with an introduction by Rowena Kennedy-Epstein
A young reporter in 1936, Muriel Rukeyser traveled to Barcelona to witness the first days of the Spanish Civil War. She turned this experience into an autobiographical novel so forward thinking for its time that it was never published. Recently discovered in her archive, this lyrical work charts her political and sexual awakening as she witnesses the popular front resistance to the fascist coup and falls in love with a German political exile who joins the first international brigade.
Rukeyser's narrative is a modernist investigation into the psychology of violence, activism, and desire; a documentary text detailing the start of the war; and a testimony to those who fought and died for freedom and justice during the first major battle against European fascism.
"At first Savage Coast is a train-of-fools comedy; later, it’s a cross-cultural love story Hemingway would have envied for its suddenness." —New York Times Book Review
"Rejected by her publisher in 1937, poet Rukeyser’s newly discovered autobiographical novel is both an absorbing read and an important contribution to 20th-century history. . . . Ironically, the factors that led to the novel’s rejection—Rukeyser’s avant-garde impressionistic prose style, alternating with realistic scenes of brutal death and a few descriptions of sexual congress—are what make the book appealing today." —Publishers Weekly
"Evokes a powerful sensory landscape, as if Gerda Taro were working at a long-duration shutter speed, capturing the movement of light on her photographic paper. . . . Rukeyser manages, throughout, to avoid both sentimentality and propaganda—no mean feat, especially in the 1930s, the heyday of propagandist literature." —Daily Beast
"A passionate, callow, self-indulgent, rambling, sporadically dazzling personal essay, or perhaps piece of proto–New Journalism. Rukeyser’s sharp ear for dialogue and a filmic skill at evoking atmosphere are on full display, and Helen is a convincing, fully-rounded protagonist." —Kenyon Review
"Savage Coast also allows its reader to identify with Helen’s journey of self-discovery without chiding us for our own naïveté. It forms a snapshot of the strange period between American involvement in two European wars, and of the anxieties of this inter-war generation. . . . Rukeyser’s text proves unique not just because she is an American and a woman but also because we all know who won the war. Savage Coast shows what it meant to be a witness to it." —Open Letters Monthly
“What a treasure! Muriel Rukeyser takes us back to those crucial days when Spain became the first international battleground against fascism and hope for democracy, to tell a powerful story of personal, sexual, and political awakening. Savage Coast is bound to be an instant classic.” —Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk
“Muriel Rukeyser’s stature as a major poet was recognized in the 1980s largely through the work of feminist writers and critics. Now, the research of a younger critic Rowena Kennedy-Epstein brings us Rukeyser’s modernist novel of the Spanish Civil War’s beginning. Rooted in a germinal moment of the poet's life, its acute social and political observations weave the bildungsroman of a young American woman in Europe at a vital historical moment.” —Marilyn Hacker, author of Presentation Piece
“Savage Coast is an astonishing book, too long lost, now a treasure for historians of the Spanish Civil War, equally a pouch of rubies for poets. Rukeyser captures the intensity of the moment—personal, political, and still contemporary.” —Peter N. Carroll, author of The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
“Muriel Rukeyser spoke of Spain as the place where she began to say what she believed. At the time, Hemingway’s and Orwell’s male-centered blood and guts novels were greedily devoured, while a woman writing a sexually explicit, gender truthful and politically radical narrative against a background of war was inevitably ignored. Spain changed Rukeyser and her protagonist, Helen. This novel will change the reader. An extraordinary gift!” —Margaret Randall, author of To Change the World: My Years in Cuba
"Savage Coast now joins the lost brother and sisterhood of Spanish Civil War classics, from Arthur Koestler's Dialogue with Death, the desolate modernist novels of the Catalan writer Merce Rodereda, Andre Malraux's Man's Hope, Josephine Herbst's The Starched Blue Sky of Spain, and the reportage of Martha Gellhorn. Rowena Kennedy-Epstein has rescued and edited a great story. Helen and Otto are not Emma and Sasha, nor are they Karl and Rosa, but the American radical poet who tells her story speaks to all of us.” —Jane Marcus, Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies, CUNY Graduate Center and the City College of New York