August 6, 1943. Chaime Soutine, a Bela-rusian/Jewish painter and a contemporary of Chagall, Modigliani and Picasso, is driven from the town of Chinon on the Loire to occupied Paris, hidden in a hearse. Suffering from a gastric ulcer, he is in need of an urgent operation which can no longer be put off. However, because of the checkpoints set up by the occupying power, the journey takes far too long – 24 hours. In a stream of bizarre images showing the persecuted painter emerging from a temporary morphine delirium, the novel recounts half-historical, half-fictive episodes from Soutine’s childhood in Smilovitchi near Minsk. His first attempts at painting in Vilnius, his persistent desire to visit Paris, the world capital of painting. He conjures up an improbable friendship with Modigliani, sudden success and the end of the golden years in Paris.
The painter, who believes in the power of milk as the only possible remedy, is also travelling to a »white paradise«, a mixture between a clinic and a prison, where strange encounters and events await him. A mysterious »God in white« declares that he is cured, but forbids him from painting. However, the artist cannot be helped by a paradise where there is no painting. He begins to paint in secret – and is willing to pay the price…
A novel about childhood, infirmity and art. About the wounds of exile in Paris, the powerlessness of the letter and the overwhelming power of pictures.
Ralph Dutli, born in 1954, lives in Heidelberg, where he works as a freelance author, essayist, lyricist and translator. He studied French and Russian in Zurich and Paris. Editor of the ten-volume Ossip-Mandelstam complete edition and author of the Mandelstam biography »Meine Zeit, mein Tier« (My Age, my Beast). He has received major prizes and distinctions, including the Johann Heinrich Voß Prize awarded by the German Academy for Language and Literature. Soutine’s Last Journey is his first novel.
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