JOURNEY TOWARD THE CRADLE OF MANKIND by Guido Gozzano

JOURNEY TOWARD THE CRADLE OF MANKIND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Dazzling, pithy vignettes of early 20th century India from a wandering Italian poet. Not yet 30 years old, Gozzano already had a mighty reputation as one of the ``Twilight'' poets in his native Italy when tuberculosis sent him packing to the subcontinent in 1912 in search of health. He was commissioned by La Stampa to send back dispatches on his travels, and they are wonderful observations of daily life: bright, delicate, lucid and sympathetic, ironic and moody. The writing is sharp as a tack, whether Gozzano is taking in a Parsee funeral or describing the Bengal thrushes invading his living room, the architecture of Benares (``an endless labyrinth of filthy alleys, a worthy breeding ground for all the world's epidemics'') or the malignancy of the weather. Sometimes he pulls out all the stops, as at the Taj Mahal, celebrating its ``vistas from unspoiled dreams,'' but for the most part he is delighted to ``discover the unusual in the small, everyday things'': the powers of kohl as eye makeup, the minor vexations of travel, the distracting pleasures of jugglers and fakirs, the amused realization that the true ``rulers of India are the animals, especially the crows.'' And while the supernatural, miraculous India eludes him (the Taj Mahal is an exception), he is aware that part of the problem is that he has approached India with misconceptions inspired by books: ``I have to free myself of the memories of too many descriptions.'' He also discovers that travel has its disenchantments: One pays a price for ``wanting to see the reality of the dead stones close up.'' Given the brevity of Gozzano's sojourn--he was there for only six weeks- -it has been suggested that at least some of his descriptions were semifictional, with elements culled from contemporary travelogues. Even in that context he shines, graphically incandescent and eager. A little treasure, worth twice the price.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8101-6007-2
Page count: 136pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996