Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reading Louis Adamic (An Introduction)

I've just started reading Louis Adamic's Laughing in the Jungle, published in 1932. It's subtitled The Autobiography of an Immigrant in America.

It was Adamic's second book. His first, Dynamite: A History of Class Violence in America, 1830-1930 came out the previous year. Both books were well-received. But it was Adamic's next book, The Native's Return(1934) that established his reputation as a social critic and chronicler of the immigrant experience. It became a best seller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. It sold 70,000 copies in the first two weeks of publication! I read The Native's Return three years ago. Until recently, that was the extent of my exposure to Adamic's writing.

Louis Adamic was prolific: A dozen books, plus a large number of articles and essays in his twenty year writing career. It ended too soon, with his mysterious death in 1951. A suicide or a political murder, depending on who you believe. But more on that later.

Except for Dynamite, which has just been re-issued, Adamic's books are out of print. There are lots of vintage copies floating around on the Internet, usually at modest cost. Except for Laughing in the Jungle, which seems to be pretty scarce. I paid about $45 for my copy.

I've just been reading about Adamic's school days at a gymnasium in Ljubljana, now the capitol of Slovenia. He writes that his mother used to visit him at his student boarding house every couple of months. It wasn't such an easy trek from their peasant village of Blato ("mud.") She would bring him fruit and potica. "Carniolan cake," Adamic called it, using one of the old names for Slovenia.

Potica. That makes me smile. It's the one bit of our Slovenian heritage my family never lost. We make potica every Christmas and ration it out like gold. But I found a little bit in the freezer, left over from last year. So I've been defrosting a slice now and then.

I thought potica out of season might function like Proust's madeleine. At the very least, I figured it might help put me in the mood for my new writing project. Potica is very rich, with all that butter and honey, so it does keep well. But this particular batch was definitely the worse for wear after a year in the freezer.

Time for a new batch. Here's a nice potica link.

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