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Cocaine (novel)

From EverybodyWiki Bios & Wiki

Original titleCocaina
TranslatorEric Mosbacher
Subjectcocaine, journalism
Publication date
Pages243 (English translation, New Vessels Press, 2013)

Cocaine (Italian: Cocaina) is a novel by Pitigrilli, pseudonym of Dino Segre, published in 1921. The story focuses on the life of Tito Arnaudi, a young Italian who moves to Paris and becomes an habitual cocaine user.


Tito Arnaudi, a quick-witted young Italian, is kicked out of medical school after refusing to take off a monocle. He goes to Paris, a reaction to his first love, Maddalena, being sent to reform school. In Paris, Tito decides to become a journalist, and promptly forgets Maddalena, who is now a prostitute named Maud. Tito, captivated by the 1920s Paris cocaine scene, makes his start by writing an article about cocaine for his uncle’s newspaper in New York City. The article’s success helps Tito land a job at the Fleeting Moment, the primer newspaper in France. On his first day, Tito runs into an old friend from Italy, Pietro Nocera, who also works at the paper. Pietro introduces Tito to Madame Kalantan, an Armenian socialite who becomes Tito’s second major love interest in the novel.

Tito’s first assignment for the Fleeting Moment is to cover Paris’s first public execution in seven years. After a drug-fueled party at Madame Kalantan’s Parisian estate, Tito misses the execution, and writes a fake article about it. The piece becomes an immediate hit throughout France. The problem, however, is that the execution never happened, and Tito is busted. With cocaine buzzing in his head, Tito explains to the editor that he did his job, giving the public an interesting story. The story's success saves Tito from being fired.

After a swim lesson from Tito, Kalantan’s husband drowns. Shortly thereafter, Maud arrives in Paris, and Tito is immediately torn between his love for the two women. Tito, now fully in the throngs of cocaine addiction, is sent to Bordeaux to cover politics for the Fleeting Moment. In Bordeaux, he invents another fake story, this one about a real sausage manufacturer who kills his family and turns them into sausage. The article is an immediate sensation in France, and the sausage manufacturer mentioned in the article kills himself. The suicide was taken as evidence of the story’s accuracy, and Tito returns to Paris with his career intact.

Upon arriving in Paris, Tito finds Maud in bed with another man. Jealousy drives him to Kalantan, who makes the situation worse by talking about her past lovers. Tito cannot decide which woman to be with — his decision made complicated by cocaine addiction, Maud’s prostitution and Kalantan’s past. In an act of desperation, he writes a glowing review of a performance Maud dances in, but the plan backfires. The performance is met with public consternation, and the editor of the Fleeting Moment fires Tito. Despite the backlash in Paris, the performance garners international notoriety, and Maud is invited to perform in Buenos Aires. She accepts, asks Tito to accompany her, and he accepts too.

To fund the trip, Tito steals a box of gold from Kalantan, and leaves Paris without informing her of the trip. Tito will not see Kalantan again. At sea, Tito is too sick to leave his room, and Maud — who is now referred to as "Cocaine" — has sexual relations with other travelers. In Buenos Aires, the prostitution continues, and after a year Tito decides to return to Italy. After arriving in Turin, he meets Pietro Nocera, and explains that, after his stolen money runs out, he plans to either commit suicide or become a monk. After receiving a message from Maud, Tito leaves Turin, headed for Dakar, where the two plan to meet. Tito attends Maud’s performance, and afterward Maud admits that Tito is the only man she loves. Tito returns the sentiment, adding he has lost the will to live, and after Maud agrees, the two begin making love on nearby train tracks. A train approaches in the distance, but moments before tragedy strikes something clicks in Tito, and he saves himself and the woman. The next day Tito goes to Genoa, Italy, alone.

Tito returns to Turin. He meets his old friend Pietro Nocera and explains that he is in town to die. He plans to drink poison and see if fate saves him. Tito steals a vial of typhoid bacteria from a local hospital, drinks it and falls deathly ill. The first two doctors that visit Tito misdiagnose his illness, he recognizes the mistake, but stays silent. Tito takes a turn for the worse, and Maud arrives in Turin. A new doctor finally recognizes Tito’s illness, but the treatment protocol gives him pneumonia. When Tito dies, Maud is left heart-broken, swearing she will never have another lover, and Nocera arranges Tito’s funeral. Three days after the funeral, Nocera sends Maud a letter admitting his love for her. Maud tells Nocera she is still in love with Tito, but after two more letters Nocera wins her over. In the final scene of the novel, Maud mixes Tito’s cremated ashes into wax that she uses to seal a letter to Nocera accepting his invitation to meet later that day.

Main characters[edit]

  • Tito Arnaudi - Begins as an Italian medical student who does not obtain his degree. Upon moving to Paris, he claims to be a professor, doctor and obtains a job as a journalist under false pretenses. He embraces a hedonistic lifestyle with two lovers, Maud and Kalantan. In Paris, he becomes a regular cocaine user.
  • Maddalena/Maud - Tito Arnaudi’s childhood neighbor and first love. Raised by conservative parents who feared she was in moral danger associating with Tito, she was sent to the Royal Reformatory in Paris. In the reformatory, she learned all the arts of gallantry and when she is released she becomes a mistress to wealthy men and adopts the name Maud.
  • Pietro Nocera - Tito’s Italian friend and co-worker at The Fleeting Moment newspaper in Paris.
  • Madame Kalantan Ter-Gregorianz - Wealthy, married Armenian woman who becomes Tito’s lover. Her ethnicity is exoticized as she is often referred to as “the Armenian.” She is known for hosting lavish parties and eccentric sexual behavior (such as making love in a coffin).

Representation of cocaine addiction[edit]

Addiction features as a dominate theme in Cocaine. Pitigrilli describes at length what he views to be the characteristics of individuals struggling with cocaine addiction. Addicts are described as being in states of agony, depression, and in constant desperation for the drug. Ingestion of cocaine, through inhaling, drinking, or licking, is accompanied by descriptions of the addicts either collapsing in satisfaction or anxiously pacing out of concern that they have little or none of the substance remaining. When inhaled, the addicts’ nostrils flare, chests expand, and eyes close as the addict enjoys an always fleeting moment of satisfaction.

Physical descriptions include contorted postures, dead-eyed stares, and hands which “seem to live a life of their own, to be getting ready to die before the rest of the body, to be always on the point of a convulsion that is just, but only just, being held at bay.”[1] Thinly formed and with little remaining humanity, the cocaine addict is relegated to the back rooms and darkened streets of nighttime Paris.

Women are particularly susceptible to cocaine’s allure in Pitigrilli’s world. The opening chapter details Tito’s visit to a Montmartre, Paris café in search of cocaine and cocaine addicts. Tito encounters four women addicts in the café. These women are described as being “huddled” in a corner and “taciturn.””[2] However, their demeanor changes upon Tito being presented with cocaine by another café patron. The four women rush Tito and the patron, clamoring for the cocaine: "One of the women tried to seize some of the contents of the box between her thumb and forefinger, but the man pushed her away with the flat of his hand, telling her roughly to keep her hands off. But the four harpies didn’t calm down. Panting, with dilated nostrils and flashing eyes, they clawed at the box of white powder, like shipwrecked persons struggling for a place in the lifeboat."[3]

Pitigrilli’s addicts are also willing to go to great lengths to not only purchase, but also consume cocaine. One of the women repeatedly attempts to barter her bracelet for several grams of cocaine. Another male addict in the café has been so consumed by his addiction that he has lost the septum of his nose. No longer able to snort cocaine, he instead drinks drug after pouring it into a cocktail.

Tito himself eventually succumbs to addiction while researching and writing about cocaine. He does willingly, knowing that, in his own words, “The first things that cocaine destroys are the will and the sense of shame.”[4]


  1. Pitigrilli (2013), Cocaine, p. 24. New Vessels Press, New York. ISBN 978-1-939931-09-2 Search this book on ..
  2. Ibid., pp. 21-2.
  3. Ibid., pp. 23-4.
  4. Ibid., p. 32.

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