Tropic of Cancer is probably best known for being about sex, a book that was banned for over thirty years. An autobiographical novel of a struggling writer living in Paris in a community of bohemians. A fictionalised account of Miller’s life living underground, with prostitutes, painters and other writers.This is an odd novel, not necessarily good but a literary landmark. Without Henry Miller we may never have books like Lolita, Naked Lunch, A Sport and a Pastime and even Tampa. On the plus side, we may never have Fifty Shades of Grey. This novel pushed the boundaries of literature in the 1930’s and found itself being banned, which developed a cult following that helped influence the future of literature. I tend to think, much like Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, if it wasn’t for the banning of the book, this novel wouldn’t be a classic; it would have just faded away into obscurity.There are some advantages to reading this book, there are the autobiographical elements but then Miller focuses on his friends and colleagues. Almost off topic, like he is commentating on what is happening in their lives. Then it gets a little more complex because there is a stream of consciousness reflecting on the occasional epiphany. The whole narrative gets really confusing with its non-linear approach, the tangents and reflections. It makes the whole book hard to read and in the end not really enjoyable.I can’t help but compare this novel to The Dud Avocado, the sexual adventures in Paris is similar but Tropic of Cancer wasn’t as interesting and a female lead makes for a less sex obsessed narrative and tends to focus on life abroad as well. I can’t help thinking just how narcissistic Henry Miller must have been with all those autobiographical novels of his life; do people still do that? Or is this just a thing of the past, pushing the boundaries.I have to give Henry Miller one thing; he doesn’t hold back, he will expose the good, the bad and the disturbing parts of his life. If I ever wrote a book like this (which I have no interest in doing anyway) I would be more inclined to hold back, to paint myself in a more favourable light; Miller doesn’t do that at all. There isn’t much I can say about this book, it’s about sex and that is about it. The stream of consciousness part was interesting but I still find that difficult to read. I would probably tell people to skip this and read The Dud Avocado or something similar but for the book snobs (like myself) if you do read this book I hope you get something out of it apart from the historical significance of a book like Tropic of Cancer.This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/...Annette
One of my favorite passages:"At night when I look at Boris' goatee lying on the pillow I get hysterical. O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt. I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your Sylvester is a little jealous now? He feels something, does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have set the shores a little wider. I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you'll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris' chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces...""The world is a cancer eating itself away"Wael Mahmoud
Tropic of Cancer first published in 1934 in France, but this edition was banned in the United States until 1961.Tropic of Cancer is one of the most important and beautiful pieces of prose in the history of English literature, It isn't an ordinary novel, it's Miller's life in pairs, how he sees his friends, how he thinks about human being's big questions. What Miller is doing only is searching for food and if he finds it then he can give a "lay" and write some pages in his novel.In this beautiful prose we can't imagine completely his friends but we clearly know how Miller saw them, Many of his discussions are almost a nonsense except when he talking about literature, and his idea about becoming an inhuman instead of a human was the most brilliant one.This novel is a good example of the real literature which starts and ends with the language, It isn't possible to read a great novel which isn't written in a beautiful language, classic or modern or post-modern, realistic or surreal, love, action or thriller novel, the language is the most important thing.Talking about the language and the literature, i want to refer to a remarkable cross-purposes use of a word in two novels, in atonement we read the word "c***" for one time and the use of this word was the key of the whole plot of the novel, and the reader is suppose to feel its vulgarity. Here in tropic of cancer we read it hundreds of time, it's even means women in Miller's language and the reader suppose to feel it as an ordinary word.The novel not suitable for the morally conservative readers.الترجمة العربية للرواية - قرأتها منذ عدة أعوام - بواسطة أسامة منزلجي جيدة على مستوى نقل روح العمل إلى حد كبير ولكنها بالطبع لا تنقل جمال لغة ميللر.الرواية غير مناسبة للقراء المؤمنين بمفهوم الأدب النظيف بتاتاً, فميللر يستخدم الكلمات الواقعية التي قد تثير حفيظة القارىء أحياناً, خاصة عند نقلها للعربية.Suzie
I don't know what was more embarassing - reading this book in public and wondering if anyone knew how vile it was, or seeing how many passages my mother had underlined in college. Naughty! (In her defense, she said she had no choice . . . )This was one of those titles I'd heard a handful of authors drop, and thought I needed to know why. I'm still not sure I completely understand the fascination (though I'll grant he HAS beefed up my quotes section), but at least I can say I've read Henry Miller, right? His Paris memoir kept reminding me of Herman Hesse's "Goldmund and Narcissus" and Jack Keroac's "Dharma Bums" - that tortured Bohemian lifestyle that artists subject themselves to for the sake of their craft, all in the name of life and art. It leaves a sort of empty, bitter feeling in the gut - not something I look for in a good piece of literature, but not without merit, either. I know, at least, that this is not the kind of artist I ever want to become - so disgusted with the world and its hypocrisy as to believe that truth and beauty can only be found in the darkest corners of the human experience - promiscuity, scatological discourse, vulgarity, masochism and misogyny. You're right, Mom. Henry Miller really was just a dirty old man. I had to learn that for myself, though.There were a few pearls of wisdom I gleaned from Mr. Miller - I think his better moments were the ramblings, rather than his actual experience (see quotes). I didn't agree with a lot of his nihilist diatribe, and I rather felt that he really didn't, either. Maybe it was the hunger speaking. I appreciate his honesty and (however subtle) admittance that he's just as unenlightened as the rest of us. 2 stars because I didn't hate it, but I can't say I liked it either. Which might be just what he was going for.Mon
'This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will.'Well, that is probably the only thing he got right.Sondra Wolferman
The artist and writer's fascination with the city of Paris is nothing new. It has been covered by literary greats from James Baldwin to Ernest Hemingway to James Joyce. But Henry Miller does it with such finesse he puts all the others to shame. There is barely any plot and the cast of characters consists almost exclusively of whores, misfits, lowlifes and degenerates, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed this novel for its sparkling prose and its flagrant trashing of conventional morality. Nonetheless I must point out some contradictions. Among other things,Tropic of Cancer is supposed to be a 'celebration of sex'. However I couldn't help but notice virtually every female with whom the narrator had sexual contact in the city of Paris was a prostitute, or, in the author's own words, a whore. This is not sex, it is commerce. As much as the client might try to delude himself into thinking he is engaged in a mutual exchange of pleasure, sex with a prostitute is still a business transaction. Which sort of contradicts the narrator's notion that he has somehow 'escaped' the crass commercialism of New York City by fleeing to the bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Not that there's anything wrong with paying for sex, but let's call a spade a spade. Tropic of Cancer is also a celebration of the city of Paris, and Miller's descriptive details are so riveting the reader is instantly transported to the cafes, the bars, and the seedy rooming houses of the low-rent Parisian neighborhood where his narrator wanders alone and penniless mooching meals off his fellow expatriates. But the narrator's obsession with urinals, spitoons, bidets, overflowing toilets and the like does get tiresome after a while. Only one chapter in the book (with the exception of the narrator's foray with his friends to the port city of Le Havre)is set outside of Paris,in the northern region of Dijon, which Miller describes with a hatred in direct proportion to his love of Paris. Oddly enough, the Dijon chapter was one of my favorites, which goes to show that Miller's brilliance is not limited to Paris and sex.Tropic of Cancer has been described as a novel, a memoir, an autobiography, and even an essay. Given the power of the writing I would even venture to call it a very long prose-poem dedicated to the city of Paris and loose women everywhere. It is a testament to the power of Henry Miller's writing that none of the weaknesses mentioned above made me dislike the book or it's author and I look forward to reading more of Miller's works in the future.Stela
The Tropic of Cancer, Wikipedia says, "also referred to as the Northern tropic, is the circle of latitude on the Earth that marks the most northerly position at which the Sun may appear directly overhead at its zenith. This event occurs once per year, at the time of the June solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun to its maximum extent."The sun at its zenith, that is, in its full splendour, “tropic” being the word of reference here.On the other hand, Henry Miller emphasizes the second word when he explains the title of his novel as follows: "It was because to me cancer symbolizes the disease of civilization, the endpoint of the wrong path, the necessity to change course radically, to start completely over from scratch.” The phrase becomes thus slightly oxymoronic and can be read as a metaphor of Paris. Indeed, the City is the main character of this extraordinary book: Paris, shining like the sun at its zenith when it promises the grandeur to the young artist who enters it, but revealing itself as an incurable disease while the same artist actually begins to live in it. Published in 1934 in Paris (where else?), the novel triggered a huge scandal because of its language and nonconformist approach to some taboo themes for that time, especially related to sex. Prohibited in USA and UK for many years (three decades!) because of the same old confusion between ethics and aesthetics that seems to lead to many interpretations of art works even nowadays, considered immoral and obscene, it is fortunate it did not become a book only to read about instead of a book to enjoy reading. Especially when, as Samuel Beckett once said, it is one of the greatest modernist writings in the universal literature. And in a truly modernist way the novel begins, by considering Literature dead and its writer a forgotten, otiose God ("Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God."), to replace them with a spitting artist who scoffs at the old values without the ambition to create new ones ("This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty…"). A book without a narrative line, following the stream of consciousness of the narrator, who records his time in Paris with his bohemian friends, in order to capture - what? The condition of the Artist, always looking for something very "trivial", like food, shelter or sex? The contrast between living and creating? The mirage of the City? All of them and more, in order to stress the idea that life creeps into the creation, that there is nothing you have to remove from Art as non-artistic or prohibitive, not even the crap, the clap, the cunt, the syphilis, the whores and so on. In a book destined to be "absolutely original, absolutely perfect," whose theme is the Artist and his Creation, there isn’t anything that cannot be told or have to be avoided. The Narrator himself is merely a man who struggles and makes many mistakes as a human being, who steals from a prostitute and deceives his friends, but he is also the Artist that observes the world and gives us a fair image of it. It is not a coherent image in the beginning, but a puzzle whose pieces are thrown negligently towards the reader:- Fulgurant visions of some characters, masterfully evoked in a few words, like Van Norden, suggestively characterized as "cunt-struck"; or Moldorf compared with a "vase without a rubber plant" (note this: not a plant, a rubber one!); or Fanny, who laughs like a fat worm (how the heck do worms laugh? – like Fanny, of course!); or Claude that "had a soul and a conscience; she had refinement, too, which is bad – in a whore"; or Kepi who "has absolutely no ambition except to get a fuck every night"; or count Waldemar von Schwisseneinzug who has dandruff eyes (imagine this, if you can!).- Ironic notes about food or the lack of it - there is a whole page where almost every word is a synonym or reminder of food (lunch, belly, eat, meal, chicken, plate, vegetable, etc.) to end with the upside-down image of the City as a huge organism eaten by disease.- Description, in a tone that later will be equalled only by Bukowski, of the menial jobs the narrator has to get in order to survive: as a proof-reader, when the narrator realizes, ironically, that "It requires more concentration to detect a missing comma than to epitomize Nietzsche's philosophy. You can be brilliant sometimes, when you're drunk, but brilliance is out of place in the proofreading department. Dates, fractions, semicolons – these are the things that count"; as a fake journalist - pseudonymous writing in newspapers; as an English teacher, when he tries to spice the students’ classes with the subject of the coupling of the elephants.- Tragi-comic scenes: Carl tries to seduce a rich old woman but he cannot stomach to have sex with her; the proof-reader Peckover is gravely hurt in an accident but he can only think about the loss of his false teeth; the narrator steals the hundred francs he had paid a Norwegian whore for services rendered; and the icing on the cake (yours to guess the scene behind the quote if you didn’t read the book): "Imagine these bloody no-accounts going home from the concert with blood on their dickies!"Above all this there is the intriguing love-hate relationship between the narrator and the City, since Paris is viewed like a huge organism that traps, enchants, promises and deceives: a stage, an obstetrical instrument used for artificial birth, a place where everyone lives and no one dies; a heart palpitating after being removed from a warm body; an illusion of being at home; a paradise in the spring, a place for varieties of sexual provender; something that "grows inside you like a cancer"; a mad slaughterhouse, the navel of the world, more eternal than Rome or Nineveh; a whore that " from a distance (…) seems ravishing, you can't wait until you have her in your arms. And five minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself. " Because "one can live without friends, as one can live without love, or even without money, that supposed sine qua non. One can live in Paris – I discovered that! – on just grief and anguish."Of course, in such a desecrated world the Artist’s epiphanies are Miller-style: "When I look down into this fucked-out cunt of a whore I feel the whole world beneath me, a world tottering and crumbling, a world used up and polished like a leper's skull."Phil
This book defines what it means to live a totally free existence, a life wallowing in art and free of the constraints of time and money. Miller's amazing writing style and incredible vision make this one of the great books of the last century. The backdrop of this book is a civilization teetering, about to collapse. The squalid street life of 1920's Paris flows through this book with amazing force. Miller lives a parasitic existence whose only purpose is to write and read and eat and screw. His mind freely wanders and dares to go where it will because Miller's character-narrator has nothing to lose. I tried to achieve this level of freedom at one point in my life and this book was an inspiration to succeed. Miller's savage and dynamic prose stands in stark contrast to the whiney and irrelevant Lost Generation writers such as F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who are sliding back into a well-deserved obscurity. This book will live as a pean to intellectual freedom and contempt for a pre-cast existence. Read it now.August
Seems the contemporary catch phrase to label Miller by is "Misogynist." Whatever... he wrote from his perspective and never swayed from his own vantage point to impress anyone. He is a true artist. How else would he have attracted the love interest of such an intelligent, beautiful woman as Anaiis Nin? Tropic of Cancer, to me, borders on spiritual enlightenment by way of pure honesty. I also enjoyed reading Nin's diary showing her side of their mutual lust affair. She was as much of a lost soul as he was, as well as his intellectual equal. They both survived off other people for the most part: Anaiis was married to a wealthy man and slept with him and his contemporaries as well as Miller; Miller was married to whoever would take him in and feed him (some food, but most often intellectual conversation) and slept with his friend's friend's friends, as well as a plethora of prostitutes. The bottom line is that he and Anaiis both explored their depravities through the medium of writing, creating literary works of art in the process.Tyler
The mashup of the poetic and the vulgar sets this book apart in a way that sometimes annoys and more often hits the spot. Miller gets modernist stream-of-consciousness to work cleverly through the trash-talk. Though I can’t tell you how hard it was to find a quote clean enough to use, it’s better to show what just can’t be described. Notice here how naturally thought flows: “After that,” – here Van Norden has to smile himself – “after that, mind you, he tells me how she sat in the chair with her legs up ... not a stitch on ... and he’s sitting on the floor, telling her how beautiful she looks ... did he tell you that she looked like a Matisse ... Wait a minute ... I’d like to remember exactly what he said. He had some cute phrase there about an odalisque ... what the hell’s an odalisque anyway? He said it in French, that’s why it’s hard to remember the fucking thing. It sounded just like the sort of thing he might say. And she probably thought it was original with him ... I suppose she thinks he’s a poet or something ... “ Now two complaints detract from the narration. One is the c-word in place of the b-word for women. It’s not that the b-word is exactly commendable, but that the c-word pops up again and again all over the place, like bombs going off, until you’re puking it by the end. The second complaint is the difficulty of following the action in the first third of the book. Miller confuses me with who was doing what with whom, and it only slowly clears up as the story unfolds.Despite legendary license and debauched dramas, the book has its virtues, among them the insight into those people’s minds, and the account of that generation's standards. We see how syphilis dominated people’s thoughts. One character, dousing his privates with a folk treatment for the syph, reaches over, grabs his dirty underwear, cleans himself, then tosses his shorts to the floor, all while his roommate blandly carries on. And for deodorant these stooges splash on a little cologne – something frightfully inadequate today, but probably better than the Victorians, who thought a perfumed handkerchief was the cat’s meow. So now we know what the broads back in the thirties could look forward to. In fairness to the males, the idea of a man washing his own cloths or worrying about a little stink was something only a sissy would take seriously. For both sexes, birth control was against the law but probably not needed. Indeed, let us pause and give silent thanks for sulfa drugs and Old Spice. The style is original, too, for the way Miller segues this slimy wallow in the male psyche from blunt vulgarity into language so sublime it resembles poetry in prose. Here I can give no example; these passages are too long and cannot be shortened without sacrificing the effect. But the downdraft and upsurge of the writing distinguish this book, and one cannot help but be struck by Miller’s distinctive narration.Tropic of Cancer has its ups and downs. Forewarned is forearmed: Readers who know what to expect will enjoy this excursion into Paris’s more exotic precincts.Jeremy
The book is perhaps summed up best by one of its characters:“…I’ll lay myself down on the operating table and I’ll expose my whole guts … every goddamned thing. Has anyone ever done that before?—What the hell are you smiling at? Does it sound naïf?”It exposes. It hadn’t been done before (well, not in the same way). It is comic. It is naïf.With Henry Miller’s bizarre and incongruous existence in his time and place, there’s a kind of sense of loss, that something was lost after him, that an opportunity slipped us by. He represents a fork in the road, and it’s a fork that was never really taken. Instead, he can be easily reduced to a series of issue based identity-political dot points. Easily, that is, by those that……live among the hard facts of life, reality, as it is called. It is the reality of a swamp and they are the frogs who have nothing better to do than to croak. The more they croak the more real life becomes. The same sort of people that can look at this book, even the first thirty pages or so, even if that’s all they read and threw the mouldy paperback down in disgust and reproach, and then croak on about ‘narcissism’, about ‘dead white men’, about ‘misogyny’ about all the stinking murky depths of the swamp that they’re paddling in. So, all the croaking aside, what is Miller’s project? He takes Walt Whitman by the end of his beard and drags him along behind him through the streets of 1930s Paris and all the humanity around him, the world of men and women, and goes the full length, he starts with drums and ends with dynamite, he makes the world more endurable in his own sight, he throttles all the birds in creation, he tries to look earnest and looks pathetic, he finds himself again naked as a savage, he makes pages explode, he disregards existent principles, he contradicts and paralyzes, he makes lists of experience, he lives a life rendered down to cunts and stomachs.This is not fifty shades of fucking grey. This is not a series of banal-titillations made to feel extreme and naughty while you keep warmly rolling in the swamp, wrapped up in a bunch of ideas that’ll keep you moist enough to pass inspection. There is no comfort here, unless it is the comfort of understanding that there is no comfort. Perhaps you have to be hungry and desperate to get to that point? You have to be that to make ‘the guinea pigs squeal’. To know where to put ‘the live wire of sex’, to know……that beneath the hard carapace of indifference there is concealed the ugly gash, the wound that never heals.Is Miller above all this crap? Looking down like a Titan? If he’s part Titan, he’s also part goat. He’s below it. He’s burrowing underneath like he’s a haemorrhaging mole. You’re not meant to love him. Or like him. Or respect him. He asks for nothing from you. He doesn’t ask for you to review his book, since the book is a failure, it's not even a book, because it has to be a failure or else it fails completely; and since reviewing it is just further croaking in the every-spreading swamp of reality. Looking up a picture to slot into the coding so that someone might Like it and say, hey, yeah, nice review man, I liked that book too, lots of fucking, gave me a boner; or no, I disagree, this only got printed coz it gave guys boners and this book was a waste of my precious time when I could be reading the latest Miles Franklin shortlist from onetofive or something exceedingly more contemporary andslashor relevant, or that currently has a film version out with [insert some cunt] in it. I mean there’s only one review that counts and, bango, you start writing the book out word-for-word in all its glorious lack-of-glory and all its primal failure that then bleeds into that time when you were living at the Villa Borghese, and maybe it wasn’t lice, and maybe it wasn’t cunt, or books or dreams you were asking from life, but there was shit happening that you might not want to put down on a piece of paper, since it would certainly be inappropriate and revealing even if you shook it really hard and laughed and covered it in irony since there’s actually nothing appropriate going on down there, under the carapace, where all you might need is to have a rosebush thrust under your nose.Jonathan
This may be the greatest book ever written. This opening passage proves it: "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought I was an artist. I no longer think about it. I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God. This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse.... To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordian, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing."E.
When I read this for the first time I thought the world was opening up and eating people. I wanted to get drunk and go on a hooker spree, to move to Paris and generally debauch for the rest of my 20's....Then I realized I kind of wanted to do all this anyways but with Miller's aid I could and even better I could disguise the whole thing as "literary." I struggled through Capricorn, through The Books in My Life, through a number of Miller's personal letters and musings. I even made a pilgrimage to Big Sur. Then I picked up Richard Brautigan or "Cannary Row" or something and I realized I could skip Paris. I could skip Europe entirely. I could just drink wine on a bench in my back yard, throw on an old Bill Broonzy CD and stare at the sun. I could even meet a nice girl and keep her around for a while. No need for crabs or lice or bed bugs at all. No sir, just soft northern california sunlight and grassy knolls. That was it. The dirty big city Miller hangovers were gone.....Still, for a few months there, Miller was really really doing it for me. At the time it was true life changing stuff.5 stars.Zorena
It' such as shame that this book has such wonderful prose and then seems to drop the C bomb about a hundred times just for the sake being able to do it. It became so tiresome I had to struggle to finish this and I just couldn't seem to be able to get past that enough to be able to enjoy the book.I think it will be awhile before I attempt any of his other books.Kate
I got through the first 150 pages before I decided that life is too short to waste time reading books you hate. Maybe I'm not smart enough or deep enough to appreciate a book like Tropic of Cancer, but for me each page was a tedious struggle. The author of the book's introduction boldy asserts that Henry Miller is "the greatest living author" (obviously, the edition I read was published prior to Miller's death in 1980), but I found Miller's frenetic, meandering style tiresome. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one to carelessly fling aside any book that doesn't capture my attention in the first 100 pages. Once I start a book, it's difficult for me to give it up, mostly because it makes me feel like a quitter; but I found myself getting angry as I grudgingly plodded through this one. I kept thinking, "Henry, for chrissakes, give me something, ANYTHING to latch onto here!" That's when I decided it was time to give up. Some semblance of a plot might have helped keep my interest piqued, but I don't think that storytelling was the author's aim. The long and short of it is - these kinds of books are not my cup of tea.