|Depicting the hopeless, emotional polarity of a young couple, this novel follows their doomed marriage spent in a remote, tropical hell. She--described only as "the girl"--is young, sophisticated and sensitive. He, "Mr. Dog-Head," is an unreconstructed thug and heavy drinker who rapes his wife, otherwise passing his time bludgeoning rats with a tennis racket. Together with a visiting stranger, "Suede Boots"--who urges the woman to escape until he is banished by her husband--these characters live through the same situations twice. Their identities are equally real--or unreal--in each case. With slight variation in the background and the novel''s atmosphere, neither the outcome nor the characters themselves are quite the same the second time. The constant question of the jungle "brain-lever" bird remains unanswered: "who are you?"|
From the Publisher:
Who Are You? is a sparse depiction of the hopeless, emotional polarity of a young couple and their doomed marriage spent in a remote, tropical hell.|She - described only as 'the girl' - is young, sophisticated and sensitive; he, 'Mr. Dog Head', is an unreconstructed thug and heavy drinker who rapes his wife, otherwise passing his time bludgeoning rats with a tennis racket.|Together with a visiting stranger, 'Suede Boots' - who, until he is banished by her husband, urges the girl to escape - they live through the same situations twice. Their identities are equally real - or unreal - in each case. With slight variation in the background and the novel's atmosphere, neither the outcome nor the characters themselves are quite the same the second time. And the insistent question of the jungle 'brain-fever' bird remains unanswered - 'Who are you?'
Anna Kavan, who has been called "Kafka's sister," was born in 1901 as Helen Woods, the daughter of wealthy but unloving British parents. When she was four-years old, her parents left her with relatives while they moved to America. When she finally joined them, she was promptly send to a boarding school. Her father committed suicide when Kavan was 14 by jumping off of a ship bound to South America. At 19 Kavan married Donald Ferguson, a brutish and violent colonial official who was possibly one of her mother's lovers. Ferguson took her to his post in Burma and the ordeal of living a wretched marriage in a foreign land became the subject of her later novel WHO ARE YOU? (1962) In 1922 Kavan and her baby son (he would later die in World War II) left Burma and moved back to England where she became involved with an alcoholic painter and began to develop a dependency on heroin that would last the rest of her life. Kavan, writing as Louise Ferguson, had been known primary as a poet and realist author of notable skill, but in 1940, after a series of mental breakdowns and suicide attempts, she reinvented herself as Anna Kavan, the name of one of her protagonists. At this point her writing became increasingly nightmarish, surreal, and bleak. It frequently addressed issues of insanity, institutions, and abusive men. Her most famous work, ICE (1967), is a savage science-fiction story, set in a frozen post-apocalyptic world where a man desperately seeks his lost love. When he finds her, they have almost nothing to talk about. The novel was published in America the following year to critical acclaim, but Kavan was already dead, killed by a massive overdose in her Kensington apartment.