B. TRAVEN by Karl S. Guthke


The Life Behind the Legends
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 Revelations about the 20th century's most mysterious novelist. Despite the fascination gleaming from the story of B. Traven, best known as the author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Guthke's bio is a hard book to warm up to for the first half. This is because Guthke (German Art and Culture/Harvard) has so much preliminary material to discuss and dismiss, mainly about the false leads on Traven's identity that received large circulation. On his deathbed, however, Traven did tell his wife of 12 years who he was (pretty much). By then his works had sold 30 million copies in 36 languages and, since he was dying (at 85 or so), he no longer needed to protect the privacy that allowed him to walk down the streets of his beloved Mexico City without being annoyed by strangers. Guthke is the first writer on Traven to be allowed complete access to Traven's archives. From the 1920's to the 1960's, Traven spoke of himself as an American of Scandinavian extraction--but he was really a former Bavarian anarchist and stage actor (a bit player) named Ret Marut. Even so, his will states that he was Traven Torsvan Croves, born in Chicago in 1890 and naturalized as a Mexican citizen in 1951. Apparently even Ret Marut was a stage name, but as Ret Marut the author seemingly did a deed he wanted forever buried. His time as a below-deck sailor ended when he holed up in a bungalow in the Mexican bush, worked as a laborer, and wrote his first spate of novels under horrendous conditions. He became a big seller in Germany before the Nazis forbade his books, after which he translated himself into English. Meanwhile, obsessive shyness hid a certain grandiosity, and he at times spoke of his alter ego as ``the greatest contemporary philosopher,'' although his last three decades produced no major works. As quirky with odd passageways and dead ends as was Traven himself. (Photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1991
ISBN: 1-55652-132-4
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991


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