I Am Lazarus and Other Stories

Anna Kavan – introduced by Victoria Walker, founder of the Anna Kavan Society

First published in 1945, the stories collected under the title I Am Lazarus are a brilliant summation of the war experiences of Anna Kavan in Blitz-era London, working among invalided soldiers at a ‘military neurosis centre’ in Mill Hill. Kavan’s view of the capital and some of its war victims in this momentous era are typically original and oblique: ‘Lazarus’ is a patient revived from catatonia who somehow remains institutionalized; the Blitz spirit is coolly stripped of cheeriness and never-say-die in ‘Glorious Boys and ‘Our City’; there is a Hithcockian horror story in ‘The Gannets’, while in ‘Who Has Desired The Sea’ and ‘The Blackout’ the ‘shell-shocked’ have ultimately only seen war exacerbate old, long-suppressed psychological wounds. Chilling but compassionate classics, the I Am Lazarus collection, republished now after many years, are essential documents of the time – and of Anna Kavan.

‘So well are they written, so clearly and baldly told, and with such narrative power, that you feel you are a doctor caught as in the spell of a mad Ancient Mariner.’ – John Betjeman, Daily Herald

‘For quality of writing this week there is nothing to equal the fifteen short stories contained in I Am Lazarus.’ – The Guardian

The sensitivity and understanding are impressive.’ Birmingham Post

‘Written with most subtle poignancy and great range.’ The Observer

‘One cannot doubt that what is here is the truth.’ – Tatler

ANNA KAVAN, née Helen Woods, was born in Cannes — probably in 1901; she was evasive about the facts of her life — and spent her childhood in Europe, the USA and England. Twice married and divorced, she began writing while living with her first husband in Burma and was published under her married name of Helen Ferguson. In the wake of the collapse of her second marriage, she suffered the first of many nervous breakdowns and was confined to a clinic in Switzerland; she emerged from her incarceration with a new name — Anna Kavan, the protagonist of her 1930 novel Let Me Alone — an outwardly different persona and a new literary style. Her first novel in this guise was Asylum Piece, and it achieved for her a certain recognition. She was a long-term heroin addict and suffered periodic bouts of mental illness, and these facets of her life feature prominently in her novels and short stories. She died in 1968 of heart failure soon after the publication of her most celebrated work, the novel Ice.