An unusually structured but engaging jaunt into the ineffable.



One man’s search for a missing woman grows less factual and more metaphysical.

This slim novel by the Italian novelist Tabucchi (1943-2012; Tristano Dies, 2015, etc.), first published a year after his death, is subtitled “A Mandala,” which suggests its structure: one man is journeying through concentric circles of evidence to uncover deeper ideas about truth. At the outset (or, rather, outer circles), it’s a straightforward detective story: a man, Tadeus, is searching for Isabel, an activist who was apprehended and beaten by police for protesting Portugal’s authoritarian regime. Tadeus’ interest in her is initially unclear, and his provenance is unusual (he claims to hail from the star Sirius), but no matter: the story is mainly narrated by others who knew her, from a college friend to her nanny to a musician friend to members of a loose resistance group called The Organization that sheltered her after her escape from jail. Asked why he’s performing this search, Tadeus responds, “to reach consciousness,” and in its latter pages the novella echoes that more ascetic motivation, untethering itself from matters of politics and relationships to dwell on ghosts, spirits, and the urge to be one with the universe. (“The important thing is to search, and not if you find something or you don’t,” one interlocutor tells Tadeus.) In that regard, the book is something of an inheritor to the works of Hermann Hesse (who’s referenced in the novel), another Western author who was interested in Eastern spiritual practices. The book’s brevity means Tabucchi can do little more than sketch out these themes, but there’s a satisfying richness to the whole, and translator Harris gracefully navigates the narrator’s tonal shift from gumshoe to spiritual seeker, making the story lyrical and surprising while avoiding airiness.

An unusually structured but engaging jaunt into the ineffable.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-914671-80-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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