Sunday, April 13, 2008

Doc Humes Lives Through His Great Novels


"Doc" Humes Left Two Important Books: Men Die and Underground City

Anti-War and Insights into the Communist and Left Wing Resistance & Victory over the Nazis Occupation in Wartime France

Earlier this year, Immy Humes, the daughter of Harold HL "Doc" Humes, released her poignant film "Doc" about her father. It was barely distributed. The Film Forum screened it in NYC. It has yet to be released on DVD. The film is a tribute to her father, a charismatic personality who was a political activist, novelist, filmmaker, educator and one of the founders of the Paris Review. He wrote only two novels in the late 1950s.

Both novels are based on real life historical events which apparantly affected him deeply.. The first book, published in 1958, Underground City, follows the life a US army operative, a "spy", as he establishes official USA contact with the French Communist Party underground in the South of France. It was probably Humes' sympathetic portrayal of the communists that made him a CIA target for political surveillance which later plays an important role in the paranoia that is part of his downward spiral of mental illness. Humes went to his grave convinced of this surveillance, but it wasn't until after his death and the Freedom of Information Act proved that he was correct and the CIA did have the Paris Review under regular and intense surveillance. He wasn't paranoid, on the contrary, his feelings and political judgments were completely correct.

The book is a long one [754 pages], but given Humes easy to read prose, it moves very quickly.

Humes brings his characters to life. They suffer, love, and completely engage in the immense difficulties of resisting and fighting against the Nazi occupation. You end the novel wishing to learn more about what happens to each of his characters.

In Men Die, which was published in 1959, Humes moves adroitly in the field of racism in the armed services, in this case the US Navy. Here he develops his characters to a high pitch of the same feelings, love, hate and in fact all the human emotions.

Given the very independent and creative personal world that Humes lived in he felt that he didn't need to write anymore.

As Immy's documentary painfully describes, when Humes returned to the USA from France in 1960 to become Norman Mailer's campaign manager for NYC Mayor, he becomes consumed with demons that he never overcame until his death in 1954. He spent his last 20 years on the campuses of Harvard and Columbia Universities where students and faculties alike enjoyed his humanity and brilliance.

Together, Underground City and Men Die take us to a place in history where few US writers, especially at that time, went.

In the film, William Styron talks of Humes as does George Plimpton, Paul Auster and Tim Leary. The film leads viewers to believe that much of Humes' mental health problems became accelerated during his relationship to Tim Leary and LSD. Who Knows?

What is important is that Humes has left two books that can help correct two historical periods that desperately needs to be corrected. Immy Hume's film is probably responsible for Random House deciding to reprint both of these books in 2007. During the time period between their original and current publication, almost 50 years, these books
were not available. Thank you Immy. It was a really brave act on the part of Immy. As you will learn, if you are fortunate enough to see the film, her life was not an easy one. Fortunately, there is some resolution in this father daughter relationship at the end of his life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hume can't have come back to the USA in 1960 AND have died in 1954-- before he wrote his books-- so you need to correct the death date!