The Library will be closed on Monday, May 27, 2024, in observance of Memorial Day.

BOOK REVIEW:

The outsider : the life and work of Lafcadio Hearn : the man who introduced voodoo, Creole cooking,

Lafcadio Hearn, a man with unusual origins and a complex life, whose early life gave no indication as to what he would later achieve, as he repeatedly overcame obstacles and controversies that became a part of his life until his death, and even after. The subtitle of the book is an enticing hint to Lafcadio Hearn’s achievements and to his fascinating life. His father was an Irish officer-surgeon and his mother was a noble-blooded Greek woman, and he was born in 1850 on the Greek island of Lefkada. Lafcadio is a variation on the place where he was born.  Abandoned by both parents, he was initially raised by his great-aunt in Ireland, where he had a private tutor, but the young boy was more interested in his aunt's library, especially books about Greek literature and myths. His aunt was concerned that he was turning away from Catholicism and enrolled him in a parochial school in France. It was there that he developed what became a life-long hatred for Catholicism. His interest and appreciation for Buddhism was more of a match to his intellect and beliefs. When he was sixteen years old his left eye was seriously injured and permanently damaged due to an accident at school. For the rest of his life the discoloration of this eye was a source of self-consciousness.

His aunt’s finances were mismanaged and there was no money for Hearn's further education, either to attend classes or be tutored. He was sent to London to earn his living and that is where he discovered the appalling conditions of city life. It was in libraries and the British Museum where he satisfied his intellectual curiosity. Later he moved to the United States and lived in New York City and Cincinnati where he was also taken aback by the Dickensian life of ordinary people in large cities. His personal situations in these large urban cities were similar to the ordinary people he saw on the streets who struggeld to earn a living and find a place to live.  In Cincinnati he became a night-beat reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, and it was the underbelly of life that he wrote about that was equally fascinating to him and his readers. When he married a 20-year-old African woman and former slave, it was a violation of Ohio's anti-miscegenation law and the peripatetic Hearn was on the move again. This time to New Orleans, Lousiana, where he researched and wrote the first American book on Creole cooking, La cuisine creole. He did other work there as well, as an editor and translator, and to this day he is very much revered in New Orleans. This year he was the inspiration for the 2024 New Orleans Rex parade. Hearn traveled to the West Indies and then to Japan, where he found his true home--intellectually and spiritually. Wherever he traveled his curiosity was an impetus to do research, primarily to observe and listen to what was happening around him. 

In Japan he married a Japanese woman, with whom he had four children. The preface to this biography is written by his great-grandson, Bon Koizumi, a professor at the University of Shimane Junior College and director of the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum in Matsue, which is housed in Hearn’s first home in Japan. He writes about Hearn's "open-mindedness," tolerance and interest in other cultures, ideas and ways of life that included the supernatural. This biography offers fresh insights into the life of a man who wrote numerous books, mostly about Japan, but also about other places and subjects that interested him.

Books written and/or translated by Lafcadio Hearn can be found here.

 

 

 


 
 
 
 

Top