From acclaimed Italian writer Magris (Inferences from a Sabre, 1991, etc.), one of those slender European novels that earnestly explore the meaning of life in exquisitely calibrated prose. Much is expected of young Enrico by his two great friends, Nino and Carlo. All three young men were born in the late 19th century and raised in what was then part of the Austrian Empire and later, after two world wars, successively under Italian and Yugoslavian Communist rule. These historical changes, with their inevitable disruptions and dislocations, form the background for Enrico's life story. The trio meet to discuss philosophy, read, and derive ``enormous pleasure from their shared view of the world.'' For Carlo, a philosopher, Enrico is ``the friend who would fill all space and embody the world I was searching for.'' Nino also shares these high opinions, opinions confirmed by Enrico's decision to avoid military service by sailing to Patagonia. ``You know how to exist entirely in the present Rico, they had said to him as he left. You do not devalue your life through fear of losing it.'' But in Patagonia, Enrico, who had once written to Tolstoy and still reads Greek, is soon aware of his inadequacies. Herding sheep in the desert and living alone in a rough hut do not promote the exalted authentic life he'd expected. Existence becomes a matter of mere survival, and this retreat, first from his friends' expectations, and later from relationships with women, continues on his return home. He teaches school, then moves to an island. Here he endures the German invasion, is arrested and beaten up by the new Communist rulers, and though he tentatively tries to connect with others and find some meaning, he never really lives the authentic life his friends were so sure was his. A poignant portrait of failure and undaunted resilience to continue despite it.