The Twenties were the Jazz Age, when F. Scott Fitzgerald shared cigarettes with Zelda Sayre and clarinet wails could be heard cascading down Fifth Avenue.
So what were the Thirties like? Henry Miller spent much of his time in Paris during a time when the City of Lights remained the world’s artistic and intellectual capital, while on the horizon, storm clouds were beginning to gather.
In the Thirties, however, Paris was a buzz like few places in history.
Gertrude Stein rubbed shoulders with James Joyce, who crossed paths with Andre Breton, who quarreled with Salvador Dali, who collaborated with Luis Bunuel while Ernest Hemingway looked on through his shades. It was a heady time, and Miller captures it in loving and frenetic detail.
Just as Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age stories and novels chronicle champagne soirees, impossibly ritzy balls, and heavy-drinking aesthetes partying as if there were no tomorrow, so does Tropic of Cancer present a vivid portrait of a hedonist and rollicking Paris, a Paris that perhaps senses its end is coming and has decided to party hard before the lights go out. One can compare Miller’s novel to Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Diaries, later made into the musical Cabaret.
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