D(onald) M(ichael) Thomas 1935–
English novelist, poet, translator, editor, and critic.
Thomas became a literary celebrity with the publication of The White Hotel (1980). Thomas's earlier work is also respected but was less widely reviewed. It includes several volumes of poems noted for their science fiction slant and two novels, The Flute Player (1979) and Birthstone (1980). Thomas has also translated some works of the Russian poets Anna Akhmatova and Alexander Pushkin.
The poems in Thomas's collections Dreaming in Bronze (1981) and Selected Poems (1983) range from graphic accounts of atrocities committed at Nazi concentration camps to interpretations of Freudian concepts of human sexuality. Many critics view Thomas's thematic concerns as "obsessions" with sex and death. These are also prominent themes in The White Hotel. The novel begins with a twelve-page erotic poem attributed to Lisa Erdman, a young Jewish woman whose hysterical sexual fantasies lead her to seek treatment with Sigmund Freud. Later, during World War II, Lisa's fears of physical mutilation are realized when she is killed during a pogrom in the Russian town of Babi Yar. Critics were impressed with Thomas's creative use of various narrative view-points—historical, psychological, and ethical—to convey the intensity of Lisa's fantasies and her fate.
In Ararat (1983) Thomas again examines the themes of sexual imagery and violent death. Constructed as several separate yet thematically linked stories, the novel exhibits Thomas's technical skill in translation, his surrealistic verse, and his knowledge of European culture. The major theme in Ararat, fantasy versus reality, is developed through a famous Soviet poet who entertains his lover by composing erotic tales about past and present Russian artists. Within these stories, each character travels to Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark is said to have ended its journey; it was also the site of an Armenian massacre by the Turks in 1915. Although critics have pointed out similarities between this work and The White Hotel, Ararat received less favorable attention. While the theme and originality of the book have been commended, a number of critics maintain that Thomas's multilayered narrative lacks unity and focus. Others have contended that the violence in Ararat is less relevant to the story than in The White Hotel. Thomas's recent novel Swallow (1984) is the first of a projected series of sequels to Ararat.
(See also CLC, Vols. 13, 22 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64.)