200 pages, paperback
Set in the year before the Wall Street crash, Juan in America is a classic evocation of the final mania of prohibition, as seen through equally maverick British eyes. The character Eric Linklater devised to be his unreliable explorer was one capable of absorbing the enormity of the American experience without being overwhelmed by its incongruities. A blithe, bastard descendent of Byron’s Don Juan, Linklater's Juan is an anti-hero with a taste for the grotesque and the ridiculous, at once both dirty and deity whose response when faced either with sudden catastrophe or miraculous survival is simply to laugh.
A novel in the mode of the picaresque, this is a story of erotic discovery in the sense, as Juan puts it, that “your trousers hide not only your nakedness but your kinship to the clown.” A nation emerging as a great power is exalting in absurdist energies. In its last spasms before the great depression, America is revealed through a series of unlikely accidents as Juan stumbles from state to state, somehow evading consequences as he goes. On his first day, he falls for the daughter of a gangster, witnesses a murder in a speakeasy and watches a woman leap to her death in a New York street. He thrills to the bizarreness of each spectacle and moves on to the next in a galloping mood that is part medieval romance, part running commentary on what was still, in the 1920s, the new world.
‘A magnificent frolic.’
Time magazine review, May 1931
Eric Linklater - (1899-1974), was born in Wales and grew up in the Orkney islands. In the First World War he served with the Black Watch, and was wounded out in the German spring offensive of 1918. After studying at Aberdeen University, he went on to work as an assistant editor on the Times of India, and spent two years in the USA as a Commonwealth fellow, before publishing his first novel, White Maa’s Saga, in 1929. His reputation was established by his third novel, Juan in America (1931), a richly comic, picaresque extravaganza of American prohibition and the resultant gangsterism. Thereafter his overall literary output was vast and varied, establishing him as a leading British author of the Thirties and Forties and a major figure in the Scottish literary renaissance of the period. In all he wrote twenty-three novels, three volumes of short stories, two children's books, two books of verse, ten plays, three autobiographies, and another twenty-three books of miscellaneous essays and histories, including a study of the Italian campaign of the Second World War, and an account of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s flight from the battle of Culloden, The Prince in the Heather (1965). His major novels include The Men of Ness (1932), Magnus Merriman (1934), Private Angelo (1946), and The Dark of Summer (1956).
Alex Linklater - an associate editor of Prospect magazine and a freelance writer contributing to the Guardian and Observer. In 2005 he founded the National Short Story Award with BBC Radio 4. He has been a fellow of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, deputy arts editor of the London Evening Standard, and literary editor of the Glasgow Herald.