Book of da Week: Satori in Paris by Jack Kerouac

Satori in Paris - Jack Kerouac
A satori indeed, Jack!

A bit of Beat Generation writing this week as Satori in Paris gets an overview. This is far from Jack Kerouac’s best piece of writing, but as a sprightly novella it contains enough humour and typical hedonistic verve to stand as an interesting part of the writer’s canon.

Written around 1966 and published in 1967 (shortly before the writer’s death due to alcoholism in 1969), this semi-autobiographical novella is in turns hilarious and also a candid insight into Kerouac’s drinking problem. Whilst he headed to Paris with good intentions (and was fluent in French), he spends most of his time drunk out of his mind. There’s plenty to love here, however, in a mere 100 pages.

Satori in Paris

Influenced heavily by Zen Buddhism, Kerouac spent a lot of his adult life preaching about this in books such as the Dharma Bums. In this short, sharp, funny, and poignant piece of writing, he barely mentions this or any of the “research” he does in the city, instead (in true Beat Generation fashion) recalling his time socialising with locals and generally passing through the city as a lonesome stranger.

This is different to his other work, where he was often the centre of attention as the good looking, charismatic, mysterious American writer who held a youthful, hedonistic image, despite only being published in his 30s.

If you’re new to his work, Satori in Paris is the type of novella you can read in a few hours. It’s short, sharp and it will leave a lasting impression on you. There are several laugh out loud moments (Kerouac recalling his disastrous efforts to try and cross a French road amongst the bustling traffic springs to mind), but what truly sticks with the reader is how drunk he becomes.

Fame never did sit well with the shy Kerouac, who coped with it all with drunken exploits. This is more than evident here. Inebriated out of his mind, we can only presume his “satori”(moment of enlightenment, essentially) in Paris was that he needed to stop being so hammered all of the time. He wouldn’t see out the decade, dying aged 47 a few months short of 1970.

There’s really not much more to say! It’s a fun one to cram in whilst you’re commuting or immersing yourself for the first time into Kerouac’s stream of consciousness type of rambling, but for its sense of humour alone we can hold this one with good regard.

2 comments

    • Thanks! Kerouac’s writing was largely about youthful enthusiasm and a lust for life, so he’s a fantastic read for each subsequent generation of teenagers. However, in Big Sur he teaches about the downside to all his youthful hedonism, which is why he was a great writer. He was happy to share his darkest, most challenging moment.

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