(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Asiatics has no plot. It is a tale of an aimless vagabondage from Beirut to Hong Kong, a pilgrimage to experience made by—and told by—a nameless young American. The narrator-hero is not a rogue, but in most other respects The Asiatics is a picaresque romance, studded with incident and peopled by faithless opportunists and outright scoundrels. Nothing is explained of the hero’s background, and the inference to be made is that he is making this long trip simply because that is what young men do. He has but little money most of the way, and he is innocent (but alert) in a way that is identified with Americans. The Asiatics is, in fact, partly a fable of cultural contrasts.

The hero leaves Beirut by bus, catching a ride to Damascus, where the first of his many initiation experiences occurs when he is befriended by a faintly sinister Syrian named M. Aractingi. Their journey to Turkey ends abruptly when M. Aractingi’s car breaks down, and two mysterious men come along and pursue him into the fields on foot. The hero flees in another direction, finding shelter with a hospitable peasant.

Walking toward Homs the next day, the hero falls in with another vagrant, a young Frenchman named Antoine Samazeuilh. Their companionship endures for several days, strengthened by the company of a pretty girl, until Samazeuilh inexplicably disappears. The hero pushes on alone into Turkey, meeting new friends and dropping them, and in Istanbul a Mr. Suleiman petitions him to deliver a small package on his boat trip to Trebizond. He delivers the parcel—he suspects that it is opium—and soon takes up with an enigmatic Russian, Feodor Krusnayaskov, with whom he continues his travels. No sooner do they reach the city of Erzerum than they are arrested by the Turkish police and confined in a cell with twenty-eight political prisoners, thus beginning one of the more notable episodes of the novel.

The hero suffers through two wretched months in prison during the coldest months of winter, witnessing the extreme sexual corruption of his fellow inmates. During his...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

The Asiatics Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977. Contains a useful discussion of Prokosch, situating him in the context of twentieth century literature.

Bishop, John Peale. The Collected Essays of John Peale Bishop. Edited by Edmund Wilson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948. “Final Dreading,” is a favorable poetry review by Bishop of Prokosch’s The Assassins, his first book of poems. Refers to Prokosch’s extensive travels and its influence on these poems and concludes with a brief commentary on Prokosch’s technique and his relationship to Oswald Spengler and Saint-John Perse.

Carpenter, Richard C. “The Novels of Frederic Prokosch.” College English 18 (1957): 261-267. Provides much insight into the development of Prokosch’s novelistic style. An appreciative essay by a sympathetic critic of Prokosch.

Marowski, Daniel G., and Roger Matuz, eds. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 48. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. The entry on Prokosch presents an overview of his works, citing him as a “highly regarded novelist” who gained prominence in the 1930’s. Included is a sampling of reviews, mostly favorable, of his earlier works (The Asiatics, The Assassins, The Seven Who Fled), as well as later works, such as The Missolonghi Manuscript and his memoir, Voices, in which he addresses his literary displacement.

Quartermain, Peter, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 48. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. Provides a selected checklist of Prokosch’s works, giving more emphasis to his poetry, although he is better known as a novelist. Discusses his poems between 1920 and the mid-1940’s. Also includes background information on Prokosch, including his numerous travels, and some brief commentary on his novels.

Squires, Radcliffe. Frederic Prokosch. New York: Twayne, 1964. Presents Prokosch’s works in a chronological format and is useful as a critical introduction. Squires focuses on the timeless qualities of “interplay of emotion and intellect” in Prokosch’s work but acknowledges that his writing was a “casualty” of World War II, which changed the values of the reading public. A selected bibliography is provided.