A novel that recovers the lost history of Asja Lacis: an extraordinary woman Walter Benjamin fell in love with.

Snippet: Roser Amills’ “Asja”

Roser Amills, Asja. Amor de dirección única [Asja: one-directional love], 2017, 304 p.

publisher’s summary:

A novel that recovers the lost history of Asja Lacis: an extraordinary woman Walter Benjamin fell in love with.

Asja Lacis was a lot more than the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s lover: she was a high-level thinker, director of a clandestine theater, a convinced Bolshevik, and a survivor of the Russian gulags. Now Roser Amills recovers the lost history of this extraordinary woman, and she brings it close to us in the form of a novel.

Berlín, 1955. The Latvian theater director Asja Lacis, who spent ten years in a work camp in Kazakhstan and returns with a broken soul, visits her old friend Bertold Brecht. After a short conversation in which both try to hide their miseries, Bertold tells Asja that the love of her life is dead: Walter Benjamin. A whirlwind of emotions pushes Asja towards her bittersweet memories of her relationship with one of the most influential European philosophers of the 20th century.

This novel recovers the figure of Asja Lacis, an unknown woman for most of the public, whose potential some wanted to deny and whose talent some tried to reduce to merely anecdotal, an epigraph in the life of a wise man. Asja talks to us about the contradictions of free love in an epoch of diminished liberties, and how a character can resist major atrocities and succumb in front of an emotional dead end.

from Marta Hormaechea’s review:

Situated first in the happy 1920s and then in the more distressing 1930s, with Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Riga and a somewhat idealized Italy in the background, these memories review her tumultuous and profound relationship with Walter. […] Asja looks back and laments her stubbornness. Her revolution failed, as did her free love, “another way of demonstrating human fragility.” And it’s this fragility, these novelized emotions, without a doubt by Amills, but inseparable from the historic facts, that give value to this novel. Very well documented but far from being an essay, Asja, in addition to recovering a woman worthy to be remembered, tells the story of Europe from the confused hearts of those who protagonized the intellectual sphere of the interwar period.

There is a short Wikipedia article in English on Asja Lacis, with a reference to a NYRB article on Walter Benjamin’s correspondence.

Roser Amills (Majorca, 1974) is a journalist and writer; there is a Wikipedia article (in Catalan) that lists her other books, e.g. Las 1.001 fantasías más eróticas y salvajes de la historia [The 1,001 most erotic and savage fantasies in history] (2012)…

SOURCE: Comanegra (publisher); review in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Jan. 20, 2018, p. 10 [printed edition]

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