The Atlantic Bookshelf: A Guide to Good Books

THE business of literature is to-day more paradoxical than ever. A few fortunate writers earn more each year than the President of the United States; a few more live comfortably on the hard craftsmanship of magazine fiction; but by far the greater number of novelists, biographers, historians, and especially poets, are forced into an economic compromise: they must do something else — editing, teaching, tutoring, blacksmithing — in order to keep soul and body together so that they may occasionally practise their true profession. Release from binding responsibilities never came more slowly to an author than in the present day of American plenty.
I indulge in this generalization because it applies so specifically to Manuel Komroff. Like most able writers. Komroff is self-made; he has reached his creative independence after a roundabout way that would have discouraged others. If three years ago the New York Times miscalled him ’a divine amateur,’ it was because at that time— when he was at the command of other work than his fiction — there were in his writing occasional uncertainties which leisure has cured.
After studying at Yale, Manuel Komroff tried his hand at engineering and at journalism; he was hired as a critic of motion pictures; he was footloose in Russia at the time of the Revolution; he was a reporter on English newspapers in China and Japan. His Odyssey at an end, he came back to New York and began to write, with the time and strength he could spare from strenuous employment in a publishing house. A sprinkling of his stories began to appear in the Atlantic and the Dial, and were later collected in book form. In 1925 he cut himself free from business and, with no more baggage than Lindbergh, went to Europe to collect his thoughts. He came hack with a novelette. The Voice of Fire, which had been privately printed, and the makings of a novel, Juggler’s Kiss, which was published and favorably received by the critics in 1927. Since his return he has edited a bookshelf of classics, including The he Travels of Marco Polo. Montesquieu’s Persian Tales, Tales of the Monks, The Romances of Voltaire, Herodotus, The Apocrypha. And at last, in a breathing spell, he set to work on his novel, Coronet, which he had been nursing in his mind for seven years.