Somebody Else

Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, 1880-91

Somebody Else
Charles Nicholl
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' I' m leaving Europe! The sea air will burn my lungs. Lost climates will tan me. To swim, to trample the grass, to hunt, and of course to smoke; to drink liquor as strong as molten metal. I will come back with limbs of iron, a dark skin, a burning eye. I will have gold; I will be lazy and brutal. ' Rimbaud was the original enfant terrible. A poetic genius, he destroyed all those who attempted to befriend him, most notoriously wrecking the marriage and sanity of the poet Verlaine. Having conquered the literary world of Paris, he abandoned France and in the dogdays of August 1880 he disembarked in Aden, on the coast of Yemen, a lean twenty-five-year-old Frenchman carrying only a brown suitcase fastened with four leather straps and a touch of fever. The subsequent period, the lost years , is the subject of this biographical quest. Charles Nicholl pieces together the shadowy story of Rimbaud' s life as a trader, explorer and gun-runner. We catch his trail in Somalia, in the alleys of Djibouti, up in the highlands of Ethiopia, in the souks of Cairo with twenty pounds of gold strapped around his waist and escorting a camel-train of Remington rifles across the Danakil desert.
Charles Nicholl has written history, biography and travel but brings all these disciplines together as a literary detective. Subjects have included Christopher Marlowe, Arthur Rimbaud and Leonardo da Vinci. His most recent book is The Lodger, an intimate study of Shakespeare s life in London in the first years of the 17th century. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a recipient of the Hawthornden prize and has won the James Tait Black prize for biography and the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger award. He has also presented documentary programmes on television and has lectured in Britain, Italy and the United States. He lives in Lucchesia in Italy with his wife and children and is a visiting Professor at Sussex University.