When in 1963 a young Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen gave him the manuscript of ‘favorite game’ to its editor, Jack McClelland, who initially refused to publish the book, claiming that he was weighed down by “the typical narcissism of a first novel& rdquor ;. Cohen then replied that that It was not his first novel, but the third, and that he had two previous ones stored in a drawer. Actually, it was one and a half, since ‘The Famous Havana Diary’, an account of the trip to Cuba he made in 1961 to witness the effects of the Castro revolution up close, had remained unfinished (only five pages have survived). The other, ‘A ballet of lepers’it was complete and, although Cohen was moderately proud of it (he considered it superior to ‘The favorite game’), never saw the light Until now.
Leonard Cohen gave up writing fiction in 1966, after publishing the novel ‘Beautiful losers’. Disappointed by the poor sales of that book, the Canadian decided to try his luck as a folk singer-songwriter in the United States and in 1967, at the age of 33, he recorded his first LP, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’. The success of the album determined his path. Revered throughout the world as an author and performer of songs, the Canadian has made more than twenty albums and continued to publish collections of poems (in 2011 he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature), but completely abandoned the novel.
As is often the case with artists who achieve pseudo-mythical status, Cohen’s death in 2016 triggered demand for unpublished material with his signature. Responding to that desire, the collection of poems ‘La llama’ saw the light of day in 2018 and a year later the posthumous LP ‘Thanks for the dance’ was published. Meanwhile, the teacher Alexandra Pleshoyanoresponsible for the Leonard Cohen archive deposited at the University of Toronto, had begun working with a manuscript that included ‘A ballet of lepers’, a novel of just over 100 pages written between 1956 and 1957 (when the author was no more than 22 years), in addition to 15 stories and a short script for a radio play dated between 1956 and 1961. The compilation that brings together all this youth production was finally published in October of last year and has now just been released into Spanish by the publisher Lumen and into Catalan by Empúries (with translations of Michael Early and Miriam Cano).
“From the letters collected in the Leonard Cohen file, we know that tried to publish these works on various occasions –Writes Pleshoyano in the text that closes the volume as an epilogue-. Although rejection is part of the career path for many young writers, in his case it is disconcerting, given the success of his first books of poems”. He refers to ‘Comparemos mitologías’, from 1956, and ‘La caja de especias de la Tierra’, from 1961, works that were notably accepted at the time and that frame, at least in a temporal sense, the writings collected in the latter. book.
Although they are not without brilliant moments (Cohen is Cohen), the fictions gathered in ‘A ballet of lepers’ are almost more interesting because of the passages that can be interpreted as author’s intuitions about his future than for its strict literary value. At the center of these stories are already deployed some of the themes that will later preside over the poetic and musical work of the Canadian -violence, sexual desire, religion, loss, guilt, humiliation, the search for freedom… -, but on many occasions youthful eagerness to disturb and even shock the reader seems to prevail over the desire to describe a complex reality.
A priori, the object of greatest interest is the novel that gives the whole its title. ‘A ballet of lepers’ tells the story of an accountant in his thirties who lives alone in a rented room, maintains a relationship with a woman fond of declaiming irritating monologues in private moments and is forced to take care of his grandfather, a man of violent temperament and erratic behavior to whom he does not know at all. Fascinated by the old man’s brutality, the protagonist embarks himself on a spiral of cruelty whose main victim is the troubled employee of a luggage room. All very Dostoyevski (the author of ‘Crime and Punishment was a determining influence in that early period of learning).
hat and trench coat
Both in the novel and in the short stories, Cohen is projecting images taken from his own biography: the premature death of his father, the close relationship with his mother, the Judaism of the family, the irruption of a grandfather from Eastern Europe, the landscape of Montreal, the artistic aspirations faced with the hostility of the world… And in the most revealing moments –which will probably be the most gratifying for the fans- he describes himself in the present in all its crudeness (“I saw my face in the mirror. Portrait of the Poet Wasting Time& rdquor;, he writes in ‘Very good , Herb, very good Flo’) while fantasize about his future self: a “heroic & rdquor; with a hat and raincoat who walks at night along a wet boulevard “accompanied by the sympathy of an innumerable public & rdquor; (‘The heart of jukebox’).
Almost 10 years would pass before Leonard Cohen put music to one of his poems entitled ‘Suzanne takes you down’ and that fantasy began to become reality.