WANDERING GHOST: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn by Jonathan Cott

WANDERING GHOST: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Proving again his talent for presenting creative personalities, Cott (Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, 1983; Dylan, 1983; The Search for Omm Sety, 1987, and many interviews in Rolling Stone) allows Lafcadio Hearn, the ""word artist,"" as he called himself, to tell most of his own story, liberally quoting from published works and letters to produce what Cott calls a ""biographical reader."" Born in 1850, the illegitimate son of a British army officer and an illiterate and unstable Greek peasant, Hearn was raised by his Irish Catholic aunt and educated in a French religious school until age 19, when, one eye lost in an accident, friendless and without prospects, he emigrated to Cincinnati. There, he became a journalist, ""a gilded slave of newspaper work,"" specializing in lurid crimes, the macabre, and street life. Ostracized for marrying a black woman, he moved on to New Orleans, where he found a haven among the Creoles, writing about their customs, poetry, and voodoo religion, before finding another exotic refuge, the French West Indies, and, finally, his ""land of dreams,"" Japan. There he married again, fathered four children, and, as teacher and writer, celebrated preindustrial Japan, its culture, art, Buddhist religion (which he adopted), and domestic life in books and Atlantic Monthly articles; meanwhile, as professor of English at Tokyo University, he introduced the Japanese to Western literature. It was in Japan, according to Cott, that this descendant of Odysseus, a ""civilized nomad,"" found a re-creation of his Greek heritage: the simplicity, the discipline, the humanized idolatry, the mystical paganism, the combination of erudition and mystery that characterized his writing. Cott, a word artist himself in the tradition of Hearn, tells the story with sympathy and tact; the prose selections validate Hearn's reputation as one of the greatest literary stylists of his day.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Knopf