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Cocaine [Paperback]

Pitigrilli , Alexander Stille , Eric Mosbacher

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Book Description

Sept. 15 2013

Library Journal Best Fiction in Translation 2013.

"Cocaine is a brilliant black comedy that belongs on the same shelf as Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies and Dawn Powell's The Wicked Pavilion. Pitigrilli is an acidic aphorist and a wicked observer of social folly."—Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and Brightness Falls

"Pitigrilli was an enjoyable writer—spicy and rapid—like lightning."—Umberto Eco

Paris in the 1920s—dizzy and decadent. Where a young man can make a fortune with his wits . . . unless he is led into temptation. Cocaine's dandified hero Tito Arnaudi invents lurid scandals and gruesome deaths, and sells these stories to the newspapers. But his own life becomes even more outrageous than his press reports when he acquires three demanding mistresses. Elegant, witty, and wicked, Pitigrilli's classic novel was first published in Italian in 1921 and charts the comedy and tragedy of a young man's downfall and the lure of a bygone era. The novel's descriptions of sex and drug use prompted church authorities to place it on a list of forbidden books. Cocaine retains its venom even today.

Pitigrilli was the pen name of Dino Segre, born in Turin in 1893. He worked as a foreign correspondent in Paris during the 1920s, and under his pen name became equally celebrated and notorious for a series of audacious and subversive books. He died in 1975.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: New Vessel Press (Sept. 15 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1939931096
  • ISBN-13: 978-1939931092
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #32,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Pitigrilli was the pseudonym of Dino Segre, born in Turin in 1893 to a well-to-do Jewish father and a Catholic mother. He worked as a foreign correspondent in Paris during the 1920s, and under his pen name became equally celebrated and notorious for a series of audacious and subversive books that were translated into sixteen languages. His works are imbued with a sense of amorality; Pitigrilli himself was accused of serving as an informant to the fascist authorities under Mussolini. Il Duce defended the writer against accusations of perversity, saying: “Pitigrilli is right … he photographs the times. If society is corrupt, it’s not his fault.” Pitigrilli fled Italy after the German occupation, living in Switzerland and Argentina, but returned to Turin and converted to Catholicism before his death in 1975.

Eric Mosbacher translated over one hundred works including writings by Ignazio Silone, Giovanni Verga, Leo Perutz, Sigmund Freud, Siegfried Kracauer and Witold Gombrowicz. He lived in London with his wife and translation collaborator, Gwenda David, until his death in 1998.

Alexander Stille is an author and journalist whose books include Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism; Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic; and The Sack of Rome.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new translation of the Pitigrilli classic July 25 2013
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A welcome new publishing house on the scene is New Vessel Press whose mission in the literary field is to offer translations of foreign literature into English. Their choice of books is a fascinating one - they have the courage to bring to us in the 21st century some books that have been condemned in the 20th century (the present book COCAINE is an example), while uncovering authors of quality to place before the English reading public.

A bit about the author: Pitigrilli was the pseudonym for Dino Segre (9 May 1893 - 8 May 1975), an Italian writer who made his living as a journalist and novelist. His most noted novel was Cocaïne (1921), published under his pseudonym and placed on the "forbidden books" list by the Catholic Church because of his treatment of drug use and sex. He founded the literary magazine Grandi Firme, which was published in Turin from 1924 to 1938, when it was banned under the newly enacted anti-Semitic Race Laws of the Fascist government. Although baptized as a Catholic, Segre was classified as Jewish at that time. He had worked in the 1930s as an informant for OVRA, the Fascist secret service, but was dismissed in 1939 after being exposed in Paris. His father was Jewish, and Pitigrilli had married a Jewish woman (although they had long lived apart). Pitigrilli had traveled in Europe in the 1930s while maintaining his house in Turin. His efforts beginning in 1938 to change his racial status were not successful, and he was interned as a Jew in 1940, following Italy's entrance into the war as an ally of Germany. He gained release from the internal exile that year, and wrote anonymously in Rome to earn money. After Mussolini's government fell in 1943 and the Germans began to occupy Italy, Pitigrilli fled to Switzerland, where his second wife (a Catholic) and their daughter joined him. They lived there until 1947, then moved to Argentina. Segre and his family returned to Europe in 1958, settling in Paris, from where they occasionally visited Turin.

COCAINE (here translated by Eric Mosbacher) is a wild adventure that approaches the surreal. Set in Paris in the 1920s, our odd hero is Tito Arnaudi who invents lurid scandals and gruesome deaths, and sells these stories to the newspapers. But his own life becomes even more outrageous than his press reports when he acquires three demanding mistresses. To say more would be to deprive the reader of the fascination of uncovering al the subplots and naughty aspects of not only Tito's behavior but also that of the myriad bizarre characters who serve as the props for this Salvador Daliesque adventure. Pitigilli seemed to enjoy stirring the kettle with as much sex and drugs as we are now used to seeing even on television and in movies, but when this book was written the world was a different place and the novel was placed on the forbidden list by the church and the authorities.

It s most appropriate that the new Vessel Press found it fitting to print an Afterword by Alexander Stile who In 1991 published a study of five Italian Jewish families under Fascism. He documents that Pitigrilli acted as an informant for the Fascist secret police OVRA during the 1930s, until 1939. Stille noted that the Fascist secret police used intelligence from these conversations to arrest and prosecute anti-fascist Jewish friends and relatives of Pitigrilli. Stille used many documents and accounts by members of the clandestine anti-fascist movement Giustizia e Liberta` (Justice and Freedom) operating in Turin. An Italian post-war government committee investigating collaborators and OVRA concluded about the writer: "...the last doubt (on Pitigrilli being OVRA informant number 373) could not stand after the unequivocal and categorical testimonies ... about encounters and confidential conversations that took place exclusively with Pitigrilli.

So here at last is an important novel available now in English in an edition that introduces the presence of a publishing house with a fine purpose. And that fact is as refreshing as the reading of this very entertaining novel. Grady Harp, July 13
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sharp critic to modern civilazation July 7 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Pitigrilli here uses sharp and acid words, pictures and structures to underline corruption of man in the modern world. Sarcastic and ironic. A must read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A picaresque of the highest magnitude... July 17 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For those who enjoy lounging in the late afternoon
with a good book, hungover from the previous night's excess and killing time until the next, you'll find a lot to sympathize with in Cocaine, the story of a young man from Italy who travels to Paris during the Twenties, and finds dissipation, alcohol, parties, love, and...cocaine.
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare drug in book form Jan. 23 2014
By Ashley Cleek - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Let's start with the cover. No, covers does not change the content of a book, but it definitely makes it more exciting to pick up, to slide into your bag, to read boldly on the subway. I found more hints and tricks in this cover the more I read of Pitigrilli.

Now, onto the book. Were it not for New Vessel Press' translation, I never would have found this book. This translation makes the books feel like it was originally written in English and passed off as Italian for decades. The descriptions, the expressions, and conversations read just as dirty or excited or lost, as a novel by William Burroughs or a poem by Verlaine.

Reading Cocaine took me a long time. It's a small book, and I wanted to savor the escapades of the main character. I didn't want his run to end. I didn't want to stop reading.

It's rare that a book makes you laugh deeply, but the tone and the dialogue and the indelibly true facts laid bare by the main character made me laugh, while at the same moment pricking me with a bone-deep pang.

I would recommend this book to all travelers. To all people who walk around cities. To anyone who has every thought of taking a boat somewhere. It is a fantastic work, and I am so glad that New Vessel Press placed it in my lap.
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-print alert! July 3 2013
By Erin Corcoran - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's great to see this wickedly good book is coming back in print with an introduction by Alexander Stille. I, for one, will be picking it up as soon as its available (which, according to the website, will be in September of this year).

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