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Inconclusive, as always--but a frank, earnest, even witty probe into the origins of the phantom novelist B. Traven, who died still incognito in 1969. In 1975, Raskin was encouraged by Traven's widow, the beautiful Rosa Elena Lujan, to visit her in Mexico City and with her write an authorized biography. Raskin found the Traven home to be a mausoleum where the clock in Traven's study had been stopped at the moment of his death--a museum of relics and artifacts, manuscripts, international editions of his works, and so on. Rosa Elena turned out to be as unintentionally obscuring as Traven himself; she was a social creature with no head for the sustained work of a biography, and yet eagerly poured out her conflicting stories as if each bit of confusion was equal in the Traven canon: ""You know enough, and what you don't know I'll fill in,"" she told Raskin. So here again is mystery upon mystery. Traven's name may have been Ret Marut (his persona as a German actor-anarchist), though he had more than twenty aliases; as Marut he tried unsuccessfully to ""reestablish"" American citizenship during World War I, claiming variously to have been born in San Francisco and Chicago. More glamorous is the story of his being the illegitimate child of Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose picture hung in Traven's study. When Raskin admits to Senora Lujan that he can't write the biography, she taunts him, ""It must be very tormenting that you are unable to express your trauma,"" implying that he's an impotent homosexual. Raskin interviews acquaintances, each with his ax to grind about the elusive Traven, reads the Lujan-""Croves"" (Traven) correspondence and Traven's notebooks; and even awakes one morning to find his numb arm turned into Traven's. But he decides finally that he knows only the sacred mystery of Traven: ""the incorruptible treasure we find in his books."" More loving and intensely interpretive of the works than Will Wyatt's The Secret of the Sierra Madre (p, 830), which is more extensively researched. Very engaging, a mystery alive and itching.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Methuen