Born in Switzerland of Swiss/Scottish descent, Blaise Cendrars left home at the age of fifteen and travelled around Russia with a jeweller, witnessing the revolutionary events of 1905. From then on he wandered throughout Europe and possibly even travelled to Beijing, although it seems unlikely that he actually – as he claimed – made a living shovelling coal on a Chinese steam train. On his return to France he established himself as an leading light in the avant-garde movement. He was affiliated with the Cubists and Surrealists and was especially linked with Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob. During the First World War he joined the French Foreign Legion, losing an arm in 1915. Afterwards he turned his hand to writing partially autobiographical novels, which include Gold, Dan Yack, Confessions of Dan Yack and Moravagine and continued his obsessive wandering. This time he travelled mostly around North and South America, mainly in an Alfa Romeo that had been given a customized paint job by Georges Braque. Quiet during the 1930s, he began writing again in the Second World War while under surveillance as a potential subversive in Nazi-occupied France. The product was four blistering volumes of memoirs.
‘What a writer learns from Cendrars is to follow his nose, to obey life’s commands, to worship no other god but life.’ – Henry Miller early twentieth century.
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