A search for one of Hitler’s masterminds frames a demanding dissertation on the role of science in the horrors of the 20th century: the US debut of an author of nine previous novels and currently the director of the Mexican Culture Institute in Paris:
Narrator Gustav Links begins by noting that the book he’s speaking in, classified as fiction, is nonfiction. He thus raises the first of hundreds of questions posed here about the purpose, nature, and reliability of facts, causality, and, ultimately, of truth itself. Links recounts the biography of Francis Bacon, who, after WWII, was a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. Measured and repressed, Bacon compares most of life, including lovemaking and plans for marriage, to theorems and hypotheses. Then Bacon’s supervisor sends him to Europe to find a man named Klingsor, the alleged plotter of many of Hitler’s evil deeds, including Germany’s attempt to master nuclear warfare. Links is Bacon’s link, as it were, to scientists who may have known Klingsor, or, indeed, may be posing as Klingsor. From their recollections there emerge no clues to Klingsor’s whereabouts, nor any unifying vision of modern science—the scientist’s opposing theories in fact form a maddening labyrinth. Further complicating the search are Links’s and Bacon’s romantic entanglements. Witty and compelling, the personal histories suggest that passion, envy, and revenge annihilate empirical thought. Links recalls the mad affair he had with his wife and the wife of a childhood friend, whom he despised for selling out to the Nazis. Bacon becomes involved with Irene, a Russian spy who detests Links. She burns Bacon’s ear with suggestions that Links is actually Klingsor. A besotted Bacon follows her line of “reason.” Finally, as it becomes apparent that Links has spent the past four decades in a sanitarium, the veracity of his entire account disintegrates. A wise Volpi offers no way out of his dark maze.
Dizzying and prescient.