B. Traven Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Almost every statement about B. Traven (TRAHV-uhn), the most famous international literary mystery of the twentieth century, must end with a question mark. In a comment on his life and work, Traven said, “Of an artist or writer, one should never ask an autobiography, because he is bound to lie. . . . If a writer, who he is and what he is, cannot be recognized by his work, either his books are worthless, or he himself is.” His readers should look for him, he said, along and between the lines of his works.{$S[A]Torsvan, Berick Traven;Traven, B.}{$S[A]Marut, Ret;Traven, B.}

From the beginning, he would not allow his life and personality to be exploited for publicity. In 1963 he refused a literary prize from Germany. His agents in Mexico City protected him from most of the numerous letters addressed to him, many from editors all over the world.

Although many scholars and writers have attempted to solve the mystery of B. Traven, few facts are known about his life; almost every bit of “information” about Traven’s background is currently challenged by at least one reputable source. Traven’s birthplace and date are not known for certain. Most scholars, however, agree that one of Traven’s earliest identities was as Ret Marut, a German actor and political activist who shunned the public spotlight. After leaving Europe, Marut appeared in Mexico around 1923 or 1924. Shortly after that, from Mexico, Traven offered his earliest books to publishers in Germany. In 1925 The Cotton-Pickers appeared in serial form in a German newspaper.

While he was living in Mexico, Traven adopted at least two other identities,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baumann, Michael. B. Traven: An Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976. Excellent introduction to Traven.

Chankin, Donald. Anonymity and Death: The Fiction of B. Traven. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975. Provides insightful psychoanalytical analyses of character and theme.

Mezo, Richard. A Study of B. Traven’s Fiction: The Journey to Solipaz. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1993. This literary analysis of Traven’s writing is extremely helpful.

Raskin, Jonah. My Search for B. Traven. New York: Methuen, 1980. Raskin’s recounting of his search into Traven’s mysterious past attempts to trace Traven through his manuscripts.

Schurer, Ernst, and Philip Jenkins, eds. B. Traven: Life and Work. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987. Excellent introduction to Traven. Collects many of the best essays about his life and writing.

Stone, Judy. The Mystery of B. Traven. Los Altos, Calif.: Kaufmann, 1977. Stone’s recounting of her search into Traven’s past includes excerpts from her interviews with Traven.

Wyatt, Will. The Secret of Sierra Madre: The Man Who Was B. Traven. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. Wyatt’s presents information gathered for his BBC documentary in the book.