THE DARK DANCER by Frederio Prokosch


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Frederio Prokosch has poured his shimmeringly subversive talents into a sort of philosophic fairy tale, one based strangely and somewhat unsatisfyingly on fact. Two facts, actually. The hero and heroine are none other than the Shah Jehan, who built the Taj Mahal, and the Princess Arjumand, for whom it was built. The other fact concerns Prokosch. In his fifties, once a literary golden boy whose novels reaped bouquets from Mann, Maugham and later from Camus, Prokosch seems here to be delving in a shadowy self-analysis: the rise and fall of the complex Shah- riddled with desire and rebelling against it; a brooding mystic, a restless conqueror, a cold calculating lizard- appears to parallel a summing-up on Prokosch's part, from his early triumphs to his later worn-out splendors. (The Shah, incidentally, dies imprisoned by his son.) Thus at the heart of so artificial a creation something scarifyingly real lies, mingling eternal and existential themes: the fear of death; the ambiguities of love and sex; the alienation inherent in even the closest relationship, all dipped in the modern consciousness and soul-searching of the author. The scene, of course, is 17th century India; the settings have a mythic glow, the many characters, battles, intrigues evoke poetic, parable-like tapestries, and the style, at once both pure and partly preposterous, suggests Isak Dinesen's romances and Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. Unfortunately by its very nature The Dark Dancer's moods, melodious meditations and mysteries tend to become too langorous, too wistfully wise, evaporating in their own elegance. Still at its best, a rich entertainment, among the most beautiful of Prokosch's books.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Co.