Books about Traven

 

Will Wyatt - The Secret of the Sierra Madre: The Man who was B. Traven

1980, Doubleday

The first book to read, the one many feel is the answer, the best single introduction to the life of B. Traven. Will Wyatt was a BBC director who did a documentary tracing Traven. A superb book.

Heidi Zogbaum - B. Traven - A Vision of Mexico

1992, Scholarly Resources Inc

This is the best guide book for reading Traven. She covers Mexican history as Traven would have experienced it, between 1924, when he arrived, and 1940, when he published his last book. She is very convincing that the books that Traven wrote came logically out of his own experience. I have emailed Ms. Zogbaum and she has been very helpful providing background information. This is a substantial well researched book that makes the events in Traven's books much more understandable.

Baumann, Michael - B. Traven - An Introduction

1976, Univ of New Mexico Press

Baumann is the father of the Traven linguistic school of analysis. Traven claimed to be American, claimed to write in English, without any evidence, but published in German. Baumann has studied the first Traven editions, and believed strongly, something is rotten in Traven's writing. He is probably the strongest proponent of the Erlebnistrager theory, that Traven fresh off the boat, could not have mastered so fast the country, the language, the history, that there was another man somewhere, an American, that somehow gave Traven the gist of the stories. In fact Traven claimed to have been in Mexico since 1910 and to have seen what he wrote, when the conventional history has him arriving in 1924. Baumann's evidence is broad, there are hundreds of examples of strange use of language that do not quite seem to fit the standard Wyatt biography. But Baumann's explanation, there had to be an unknown American with half finished manuscripts, probably is a fabrication to explain what otherwise has resisted explanation.

Baumann, Michael - B. Traven, I presume

1997 - rare

Much harder to find than the other book. This is a small slim essay self-published as Baumann's last word on Traven. The man Croves could scarcely be the great writer Traven, Its an essay summing up and its quite readable. needs to be re-published.

Guthke, Karl - B. Traven: The Life Behind the Legends

1991, Lawrence Hill

The book about Traven with the most facts, the closest thing to a biography. Guthke gained access to Traven's personal papers. Much of what is known about Traven comes from this book. Some other authors though are critical of Guthke. He tries to refute both Wyatt and Baumann. He adds much to the puzzle. The best reference book, the most pictures, the most thorough treatment of Traven's entire life. He annoys me a little in his treatment of a Jan 1943 letter to Esperanza. I believe Traven is trying to weave the Rathenau family mystery, which if true might directly answer my question who was lying to who, but Guthke selectively picks parts of the letter to show us.

Judy Stone - The Mystery of B. Traven

1977, Kaufmann

Judy Stone actually interviewed Hal Croves, the man thought to be Traven, shortly before he died. She walked that tightrope of trying to question the man because he was Traven who said he was not Traven. She did a good job summarizing the history of Ret Marut (thought to be Traven) in Germany before Mexico (probably summarizing the Recknagel book which has never been translated from German). A fine little book for what it is. It appeared after the Baumann book, but the interviews took place in the 1960's.

Ernst Schurer and Philip Jenkins - B. Traven : Life and Work

1987, Penn State U Press

A collection of papers by Traven scholars. Well worth reading, it has a variety of approaches to Traven's life and work. Nothing too long or serious, it has papers by academics who find Traven interesting and try to say why they find him interesting. It also has the debate between Baumann and Guthke as to whether there is another man's hand in Traven's books.

Roy Pateman - The Man Nobody Knows

2005, University Press

This book is not available nearly as cheaply as the others. More a collection of notes, it contains quite a lot of information (not in the same class as Guthke), but it often makes no attempt to evaluate it. For instance it has a timeline and it repeats all possibilities, Traven's various alter egos were born in Poland, St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco. He is better in his literary reviews, but there too he searches them all out and gives a catalog. Its almost a bibliography. He misnames Esperanza's husband, calls him Antonio. He says Esperanza was a lawyer. That is certainly not true. He incorrectly lists 1941 as the year of Trotsky's death. Nevertheless for the true aficionado, a modern scholar's survey of all known sources.

 

Jonah Raskin - My Search for B. Traven

Jonah Raskin, "My Search for B. Traven", Methuen, New York, 1980, 0-416-00741-4

 

Raskin lived in Mexico for several months in 1975, part of the time in the house with Traven's widow, Rosa Elena Lujan. After much frustration, Raskin decided that he did not know enough to write a standard biography, and he "wrote this book instead". Its a travelogue, a record of the conversations he had with various people who knew Traven or knew somebody who knew Traven. The opinions are all over the map. The frustration for Raskin becomes the reader's frustration. The facts seem to be thrown around as if more than one man is being described.

Wyatt calls this book salacious. As far as I can tell, it is the only place in print where Esperanza is referred to as a lesbian, that her husband was homosexual, that Traven and Esperanza were lovers. This comes from Senora Lujan, though it seems extremely unlikely and the dates are impossible even on the face of it. Gabriel Figueroa, who would have known the truth, said his relationship with Senora Lujan ended when she told lies about Esperanza. (Memorias, 2005). Senora Lujan never met Esperanza, according to Figueroa. An entertaining book, not all of it salacious lies. Raskin is a good writer entranced not only with the mystery of B. Traven, but with B. Traven the writer.

Despite being initially disappointing, if you are looking for answers, I liked this book better the second time around. Senora Lujan, Traven's widow, said Traven had a split personality, he lied to everybody, and at some point, he himself did not know the truth anymore. Rosa Elena believed that Traven was the son of the German Kaiser. Gabriel Figueroa believed that Traven was the son of the German industrial giant Emil Rathenau. These were people close to Traven - under the same roof. Most everyone else believes Traven lied to both of them. Though Raskin says in the introduction that Rose Elena had been lied to, did not know what to believe, and compensated by making up her own stories, she nevertheless observed the man for years and made some very interesting comments.

Raskin(p. 66),

Rosa Elena, Traven's wife is speaking to Raskin

:"…My husband had a split personality. He was Ret Marut - the German actor and anarchist. Very important that he was on the stage, that he made his life a stage. After Marut he was Torsvan - the Norwegian explorer, photographer, scientist, the man always traveling and investigating the unknown. Then came Traven the mysterious writer and Hal Croves the American literary agent and screen writer. It was a division of labor… (67) He used to say that I married four different men… and that I'd never be bored…My husband rarely said 'I.' It was a word absent from his vocabulary. It was always 'Marut did that and that; never 'I did this and that.' He was always acting, always making up stories, even when there was no audience to watch him. He performed for himself because the true drama was in his own mind. We were just bystanders in the wings. More than anything else the play of his own imagination fascinated him. That's where he really lived, up here in his thoughts. Even when he was talking to me or to Fredde he would be more concerned with his own inner world."


Raskin(p. 106),

Rosa Elena, Traven's wife is speaking to Raskin

"…all the different names and identities did (trouble me). He was Marut, he was Torsvan, he was Traven, he was Croves, and he was driving me crazy. I wanted to know the truth. Who was he really? He had lied to everyone, to Irene Mermet, Esperanza, Maria de la Luz, but I was his wife. I was different from the others, and I wanted the truth. I couldn't stand all the different stories. How could he not tell me the truth? …But eventually I learned to live with him, and with all his different identities. I don't think he could have told the truth, even if he wanted to. I forgave him. It was so tangled in his mind that even he didn't know the truth any more."

 

There you have it. Traven's wife said he had a split personality. He had a drama in his inner world that was going on whether others were watching or not. It was the reality. He lied to everybody. He did not know what the truth was.

There were many who knew Traven who cared for him. There were many who did not. No conventional biography is going to be written that can capture a split personality who has a genius for storytelling, an obsession for secrecy, a delight in never telling the same story twice, and who himself cannot distinguish between his own created imagining and what is called objective fact.