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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Scarred Hearts

Max Blecher

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To purchase Scarred Hearts

Title: Scarred Hearts
Author: Max Blecher
Genre: Novel
Written: 1937 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 232 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Scarred Hearts - US
Scarred Hearts - UK
Scarred Hearts - Canada
. Vernarbte Herzen - Deutschland
  • Romanian title: Inimi cicatrizate
  • Translated by Henry Howard
  • With an Introduction by Paul Bailey

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-told invalid-story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 16/4/2006 Volker Weidermann
The Independent . 28/8/2008 Mark Thwaite
Literary Review . 12/2008 Carole Angier
NZZ . 22/7/2006 Andreas Breitenstein
The Telegraph A 4/10/2008 Elaine Feinstein
Die Zeit . 18/5/2006 Georg Diez

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es ist ein Sanatoriumsroman aus dem französischen Kurort Berck in den frühen dreißiger Jahren, die Geschichte einer schrecklichen Krankheit, der Knochentuberkulose, an der die Patienten buchstäblich zu zerbrechen drohen, die Geschichte einer großen Einsamkeit und eines Welt- und Sprachverlustes, eine Geschichte der Angst. (...) Am grausamsten lesen sich in diesem Buch die Berichte von der Liebe. Von den zerfallenden Menschen in Gips, die nie mehr zueinander finden können und so in einer besonders verzweifelten Liebe aneinander hängen. Sich zueinander legen und doch unendlich weit voneinander entfernt sind." - Volker Weidermann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(A) weak pastiche of Mann's The Magic Mountain. Sadly, this is a lost classic that did not need to be found." - Mark Thwaite, The Independent

  • "Die verstörende Erfahrung, zu existieren und doch nicht mehr lebendig zu sein, schlägt sich nieder in Exzessen des Denkens und Sehens. Scharf ist Emanuels Intellekt und unerbittlich seine Wahrnehmung. Der körperliche Zerfall wirft ihn hin und her zwischen Euphorie und Depression, Zynismus und Melancholie, Faszination und Ekel. (...) Es gibt nur wenige Romane, die dem Tod so zärtlich-brutal ins Auge sehen wie dieser." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "For all Max Blecher's experience of Paris, this is plain writing, never portentous, always attentive to detail, sometimes surreally funny, and his true contemporaries are Franz Kafka, Bruno Schultz and Joseph Roth." - Elaine Feinstein, The Telegraph

  • "Was Emanuel da sieht, ist sein eigenes Schicksal, ist das Dasein, das auf ihn wartet, der ganze Körper in Gips, der Geist wach, das Herz vernarbt. Und wie Blecher dieses langsame Verlöschen beschreibt, das immer wieder von verzweifelten Ausbruchsversuchen ins Gefühl und in die Liebe unterbrochen wird, das hat jenseits aller artifiziellen Bedeutsamkeit etwas so Existenzielles, dass jeder einzelne Satz zu einem Lebensbeweis wird, zu einer Lebensversicherung im wahrsten Sinn. Was uns Blecher hier lehrt: Krankheit ist eine Schule des Alterns; die Kunst bietet die Chance des Augenblicks. Und ein Angebot an Ewigkeit." - Georg Diez, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       M.Blecher suffered from Pott's disease -- tuberculous spondylitis -- which attacks the spine and essentially eats away at it. In the 1930s it was generally treated by prolonged bedrest and immobilizing patients (generally in plaster body casts, the exact size depending on the affected area). Emanuel, the protagonist of Inimi cicatrizate, is clearly closely based on the author and his own experiences, and the book focusses on his diagnosis and the time he spends in a sanatorium in the French seaside resort of Berck.
       In its relatively straightforward realism it stands in stark contrast to the almost feverishly focussed Întâmplări în irealitatea imediată, but both books were written one after the other by the same bedridden man (who died not long after finishing this novel). The confrontation with reality in this novel is of a different immediacy, the plaster cast in which he is practically mummified a too-real constant reminder that doesn't allow him to slip into the reverie that the youth of the earlier novel had been able to.
       Not much happens in Inimi cicatrizate. Most of the book describes life in the sanatorium, focussed on a few other patients, as well as Solange, the woman who become Emanuel's lover (Blecher offers quite vivid descriptions of the difficulties of engaging in sex with the plaster cast). There's a devil-may-care atmosphere -- parties, some hi-jinx, a variety of romances -- but there's a surreal feel to it, as many of the patients are wheeled around everywhere (to the dining room and everywhere else) in beds, flat on their backs. Patients do get better, but Blecher pays most attention to those who are in decline. There are several operations which don't go well, and among the most impressive passages are the descriptions of the unannounced subtle changes that indicate the condition of a patient -- including the appearance of tape around the doors to a patient's room, a sure sign the patient has died, because the room is being fumigated, the tape preventing the gases from escaping into the hall.
       Emanuel is fatalistic, and it's a frustrating disease, its course and consequences hardly foreseeable (hence also the terrible weight of seeing others who are affected and what happens to them). At times he seems to give in, but then he also fights it -- fleeing the sanatorium, for example (no easy task for a man in his condition). His relationship with Solange is also a doomed one -- they can have no future together, because he knows he has no real future -- but he is unable to let her down easily, and her collapse is also among the more impressive parts of the novel.
       Blecher is at his best in the simple realism: the descriptions of mealtimes in the sanatorium, for example, or the filth that Emanuel digs out from his cast (which builds up for months) -- and the shame he feels about it.
       Like many books in the briefly flourishing sanatorium-genre (think The Magic Mountain), Inimi cicatrizate describes an isolated world standing almost still, full of longueurs and the frustration of not being able to move towards a future, many of the patients almost completely immobilized in a body-armour that keeps the world even more at bay. Blecher conveys this atmosphere more convincingly than most: presumably writing from experience helps, though occasionally he seems almost too close to his material, trying but unable to maintain the distance that he's trying to achieve in this fiction.

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Scarred Hearts: Reviews: Other books by M. Blecher under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author M. Blecher (who signed his name Max or Marcel) lived 1909 to 1938.

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© 2006-2022 the complete review

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