A first English translation of a very unusual novel, originally published in 1974, combines political satire with feminist-inspired romance in a demanding fictional potpourri whose German author (1933-90) may really have been a contemporary Cervantes. For Don Quixote and Sancho Panza seem to lurk behind the vividly drawn figures of Beatrice de Dia, a 12th-century woman troubadour (from what was then Provence) who sleeps for several hundred years and reawakens (in 1968) to experience the "miracle" of the German Democratic Republic—and Laura Salman, the ardent Socialist working-class writer who is also the highborn Beatrice's unofficial handmaiden and Boswell. The tale of Beatrice's journey (also Dantesque) through a modern inferno and purgatory, marriages and affairs, artistic endeavors and political infatuations and adventures is brilliantly amplified by Morgner's use of mythic archetypes (Persephone, the fairy Melusine), detailed allusions to postwar German history and culture (many explained in a helpful glossary), and such metafictional play as several citings of earlier Morgner works and expostulations to male readers to persevere through the story's tightly woven content. Literary antecedents and all, this is a one-of-a-kind novel: richly imagined, more than a little forbidding, preternaturally astute, altogether unforgettable.
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