By Max Blecher
Translated by Henry Howard
Old Street £14.99, 227 pages
FT Bookshop price: £11.99
Emanuel, a Romanian studying chemistry in Paris, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and dispatched to a sanatorium at Berck-sur-Mer, near Boulogne, to take the cure. Scarred Hearts was Blecher’s third and final book, published in Romania in 1937 and now available in English for the first time. He died in 1938 at the age of 29, a victim of the same disease that afflicted Emanuel. Blecher himself spent a year in a Normandy sanatorium, but though the author knew his death was imminent he refused to allow self-pity to infect his novel.
In a series of vignettes, by turns comic and tragic, Blecher explores the responses to illness and death the sanatorium’s inhabitants exhibit. It’s this prose, rather than any particular arguments articulated between its covers, that makes this novel an elegant and powerful rejoinder to Emanuel’s despair at life’s futility.