'For me, Tropic of Cancer is reminiscent of this inner trail we've been treading on; a trail that leads back to the desert, when our common ancestor exclaimed: I am!'
For me, this particular book is like a cauldron of all things raw; forever simmering but never quite fully cooked; all the equally juicy and bony bits of life that are unquestionably part of a whole.
It was during my late teens that I have come across some of the most powerful and influential books in my life. The local library, in the east side of the city of Sao Paulo where I was born, was like a giant coral releasing eggs ready to be fertilised. What was being fertilized though was my own mind and soul.
If there is one piece of advice I could give to young people today it would be to never underestimate the power of books and music during your youth. In a time when everything seems to be out of control: hormones, your body; when the world seems to be equally exciting and exasperating, all that you chose to feed your soul with during this time will affect you deeply. So choose well and devour such treasures, generously created by people who, like you, were at odds with the world and the times they lived in; all the while trying to make sense of it all through art.
So there I was, at the tender age of nineteen, having just read the biographies of Camille Claudel and Frida Kahlo, lives I have come to know about before knowing the work that has shaped them.
I, who have always written (writing has always been more than just mere homework) and who was always using words like colours and writing as a child would draw, found a book about a penniless, jobless American in his 40s, wandering the streets of Paris and stating: I am. I don't care what you think of this, I am a writer and this is a book.
In one of the most powerful opening pages I have ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on, Henry Miller puts on the fire under the hot pot of literature that is Tropic of Cancer.
For me, this was reminiscent of this inner trail we've been treading on; a trail that leads back to the desert, when our common ancestor exclaimed: I am! This exclamation we have inherited and we shall make it our own at some point in our lives, It does not matter what you think, it does not matter that I cannot make sense of the world and times I live in, I am.
What has so deeply affected me about this book was that such big statement was not dressed in philosophy, science or religion. It was a just man, surrounded by other men and women, French or immigrants alike, and they were all hungry- hungry for food, love, warmth and self-expression. All amidst the imminent and impending threat of WWII. Diseases, alcohol and fleas; the sheer exhaustion of pleasures and pain alike; this was life without veneer, in the city we all idealize.
A woman draws a black line along the back of her leg for lack of funds to purchase hosiery. And underneath the dirty clothes, the make-shift collars, roughly assembled to attempt at a certain level of civility, and never fully disguising the vulnerability of our condition, those bodies are on a quest for a hunger that runs deep, all the way from this desert of yore.
There are only two writers in the world that make me question what my contribution to my craft might be, one of them is Henry Miller.
People have long associated his name with a certain type of book; his work being banned in his own country until his early 70s, by then a time of cultural expansion and experimentation in the West. I remember the glint on the eye of a boy my age when I mentioned in passing that I was reading that book.
In Miller's defence – and not that I think he is in need of any - I would say that his writing is as raw as the experiences of the characters themselves. And by favouring that very rawness that comes from life experience over pondering and contemplation, Henry Miller fuelled forward the immediacy of his writing.
In my humble opinion, Henry Miller is a writer's writer, like Paul Cezanne is a painter's painter. You might say they are apples, but there won't be any apples like those of Cezanne.
At the core, we are all on a quest to fill these vacant spaces within us. As a writer those are the rooms I intended to visit and hopefully describe to the reader. Whether you decide you to furnish them with food or alcohol, love or lust, consumption or creativity, we are all walking down this boulevard, as our stomachs rumble on.
And sooner or later, there is a point where you will have found the strength to know who you are and what you are meant to do with your life, regardless of how little you’ve got to show for; that's the moment of your true birth and that is when you can stand for yourself and exclaim: I am!
Luciana Francis - London, January 15th 2014.
In her own words:
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Moved to London in 1998 and never looked back (well, unless when needed as source for writing fiction). Graduated from Goldsmiths College in Anthropology and Media in 2008. Loves Art, Cinema, Photography, Nature, Music and the pleasure that is Language (written, spoken, unspoken).