The Lost Dumas

24 09 2007

In a former life, I was a literary agent. Yes indeed! A junior literary agent, that is, much as a gumshoe in sneakers is a junior sleuth. Mussed hair and single untucked shirttail, with a casual callow air, I arrived always late and breathless to editor lunches, comps and samples spilling from beneath my arm as might a nerdy middle schooler’s notebooks from his grasp. In fact, I never got very far along the path to enlightened literary property representation, which may be why it sometimes seems to me, as the wheel of career karma turns, that I’m starting out in my new incarnation of freelance translator lower on the gainful employment ladder than before. I have sins to atone, and must with good deeds earn from the gods the benefits and pension contributions granted that higher life form, the full-fledged adult. Of my agent stint, I’ve this to say: it was the best office job I ever had. Four cozy rooms full of books, a magisterial view of Union Square, and my boss, a human being of unsurpassed kindness.

One of the few good things I did (who says they all come back to haunt you?) was pair up indie publisher Pegasus Books and Alexandre Dumas père’s unearthed missing novel, painstakingly assembled over fifteen years by scholar Claude Schopp from segments serialized in papers of the era. Publisher Claiborne Hancock has gone all out for this baby.

And it just came out.

The Last Cavalier, from Pegasus Books

The press has been more than generous: a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly, glowing praise from the Los Angeles and New York Times, hurrahs from the Christian Science Monitor, and my prize pick of the bunch, kudos from the Washington Post‘s Michael Dirda, up there with Brad Leithauser as one of my all-time favorite book reviewers. (There’s a naysayer at Entertainment Weekly, but since when does one look to EW for booktalk? There I go, makin’ meself a huge bunch o’enemies. In my mind, that is. Where people actually read this blog.)

I picture Dumas, the indomitable mulatto, ruined by work, women, investments of a reckless largesse, in the wee hours clearing grey locks from his face, brushing aside the flowery cuffs of a dressing gown great about his towering frame, girding himself in leather boots turned down at the knee, to write this book, the keystone to complete his arch spanning France from Margot, centuries distant, to Napoleon, in his own day, the book that would defeat him, survive his bankruptcy and illness, before whose end his pen would falter: the beast that felled the hero.

May this be the book that makes the winged horse soar. Go buy it!

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