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What 'Lost Works' Say About Their Authors

  First Posted: 03/23/2012 4:14 pm   Updated: 03/23/2012 4:14 pm

By Daniel Lefferts for Bookish

Beat legend Jack Kerouac's first book, “The Sea is My Brother,” hit stores this week. The novel, foraged from the author’s archives by his brother-in-law, is based on Kerouac’s short stint as a merchant seaman. It’s the story of two sailors—one enamored of the adventure of the sea, the other haunted by its isolating vastness—serving on a ship hauling war cargo from New York to Greenland. Being a Kerouac novel, it consists of rambling conversations between the two men about about spirituality, philosophy and freedom. It’s a freshman effort, with plenty of writing 101 missteps, but fans of the “On the Road” author will be fascinated by the glimpse into Kerouac’s early writing mind.

The resurfacing of a lost novel, usually after an author’s death, is always an exciting occasion. What do early works—often left unfinished or rejected by publishers—say about their authors?

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Jose Saramago: A Nobel Laureate's Untoward Beginnings
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"Claraboya"

When Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago sent out the manuscript of his first novel, "Claraboya," in 1953, publishers didn't even bother to send a rejection letter. Crushed by the snub, the 31-year-old Saramago diverted his efforts to journalism for the next 20 years, until he finally broke through as novelist in the early '70s with "The World and the Other" and "The Traveller's Baggage." His career went into high gear from that point on, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize following the publication of "Blindness."

Later in Saramago's career, the original publishers he'd sent the manuscript to offered to publish it, but Saramago refused. Now, two years after his death, with his wife Pilar del Rio at the helm of his estate, the long-discarded "Claraboya" is enjoying its much-deserved moment in the spotlight. Random House UK has released the novel in its original Spanish, with an English translation surely in the offing. The novel revolves around the residents of a crowded apartment block in Lisbon, and contains the graphic subject matter and political subversion that characterize his later works.
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