Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Frederic Prokosch won international fame with the ASIATICS, his first novel, which has been translated into more than fifteen languages. His subsequent works were praised by such writers as W. B. Yeats and Thomas Mann. He has been credited with inventing the “geographical novel” in which sensuality is mingled with irony and mystery. Albert Camus said that he “conveys a fatalistic sense of life half-hidden beneath a rich animal energy.” His novels have a breadth of canvas and an inclusiveness which is more characteristic of European than American fiction, and many of his readers have not realized that he is an American. His poetry has received wide acclaim and a number of awards.

In THE SEVEN WHO FLED, Prokosch lays before the reader a reminder of THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY type of plot, bringing together varied individuals experiencing dangers in an exotic setting. There is more to this Harper Prize-winning novel, however, than the strange, surreal landscape writhing with humanity. Beyond the hallucinatory images of the prose, there is a concern with fundamental issues, with life and death. The episodic tale is told in a series of flashbacks; memory plays a vital role in the lives of these desperate, trapped people. Longings for a past and future are united in the crisis of the present.

Gradually, the portraits of the seven Europeans are filled in. They are not all admirable people, but they are very human. Prokosch’s vision of life is grim; his people struggle but are doomed. Yet, at times, there is a strange victory in their damnation, a kind of transcendence for some of them. Nothingness, Prokosch implies, waits like a lover for all mortals. In these tales, death becomes an almost sexual consummation.

The characters suffer extremes of physical and emotional conditions. Stranded two thousand miles from the Caucasus and two thousand miles from Shanghai, they have no choice but to flee, but most of them find that they are helpless. As the events of their lives slow down, the actual pace of living seems to accelerate. A Balzacian vitality and lusty power pervades the descriptions of the low life encountered by the unfortunate seven.

The country itself, China and its borders, dominates the book. One of the characters comments that a landscape is a spiritual thing, a constant longing, a reflection of what is everlasting in human beings. One feels that the terrible deserts and mountains, the earth, the snows, all will remain after the seven Europeans are long forgotten. It is a gloomy message, but is unforgettably presented through dramatic scenes...

(The entire section is 1074 words.)