I’m thrilled to discover one of my favorite authors has finally arrived on the Kindle — William Saroyan. In fact, one of my first blog posts here was about the great American novel. Older novels have a different style — there’s romantic novels from the 1800s, or rambling post-modern narratives from Ernest Hemingway. But around the 1940s, you get what I think of as “The Great American Novelists”. That is, people who were consciously setting out to write glorious, high-stakes pageants about life itself. And nobody embodied that better than William Saroyan.
Every man is a good man in a bad world… Every man himself changes from good to bad or from bad to good, back and forth, all his life, and then dies. But no matter how or why or when a man changes, he remains a good man in a bad world, as he himself knows…
That’s from the 1952 novel Rock Wagram, and back in 2010 I was calling Saroyan “the lost novelist”, because you couldn’t find his novels on the Kindle. (Later I even started calling him “The Author You Can’t Read on your Kindle”.) I’d worried that somehow he might not make the leap into the next century, which made it feel that much more poignant when I discovered that an anonymous web surfer had discovered my blog post about Saroyan by typing in that quote. (One more anonymous good man lost in a bad world….)
But four months ago, Saroyan’s books suddenly started appearing in Amazon’s Kindle Store. The William Saroyan Reader is a great place to start, and it includes an amazing story about the author’s life. HIs son Aram shares a stunning passage from “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse” in the book’s preface.
One day back there in the good old days when I was nine and the world was full of every imaginable kind of magnificence, and life was still a delightful and mysterious dream my cousin Mourad, who was considered crazy by everybody who knew him except me, came to my house at four in the morning and woke me up by tapping on the window of my room.
Aram, he said.
I jumped out of bed and looked out the window.
I couldn’t believe what I saw.
It wasn’t morning yet, but it was summer and with daybreak not many minutes around the corner of the world it was light enough for me to know I wasn’t dreaming.
My cousin Mourad was sitting on a beautiful white horse.
Saroyan’s son says “If there is another single page of prose that better evokes the wonder and mystery of childhood, I would love to know about it.” But then he also points out that his father actually spent his own childhood — from the ages of three to eight — growing up in an orphanage. (Saroyan’s own father — a poet and a minister — had died at the age of 37.) Years later Saroyan won a Pulitzer Prize — and in a particularly flamboyant gesture, he actually turned it down! His son speculates that was Saroyan’s way of thumbing his nose at the “officialdom” that seemed so disinterested during his childhood in the orphanage. And he adds that Saroyan later faced death itself with that same wide-eyed and boyish sense of wonder…
The story about his time in the orphanage is especially stunning because Saroyan’s novels have a special warmth to them — a “camaraderie”, his son calls it — “a dark cheer…a bittersweet poetry.” Maybe that’s what makes it so much more poignant that his stories have now re-awakened in the year 2015, freshly available as ebooks for a new generation of readers. Not every book has arrived yet — we’re still waiting for the Kindle edition of “The Human Comedy,” which is probably Saroyan’s best-known novel. But in the last four months ebook editions have finally appeared for Rock Wagram, Boys and Girls Together, The Laughing Matter, The William Saroyan Reader, and Chance Meetings — Saroyan’s own memoir.
And a great American novelist finally gets a chance to reach a brand new audience.