LOVE IN A DEAD LANGUAGE by Lee Siegel

LOVE IN A DEAD LANGUAGE

KIRKUS REVIEW

Siegel’s sixth book (after City of Dreadful Night, 1995, etc.) is a flat chore, defrauding the reader of an engaging story with dense typographical hocus-pocus and the bland tatter of footnotes, appendices, and an ostensibly saucy theme. The novel’s structure is distractingly complex. At the core of the text is Professor Leopold Roth’s translation of the Indian taxonomy of sex, the Kamasutra. Appended to this translation are Roth’s commentaries on each section of the work, and contained in them is the vaguely entertaining story of his seduction of Lalita, a Californian undergraduate of Indian descent who is tricked into taking a trip to India with the professor. This tale is intended to illustrate Roth’s understanding and practice of the Kamasutra’s precepts—with Lalita as his object. The plot concludes with Roth’s murder; after the death, one of Roth’s graduate students, Anang Saighal, assumes the thankless task of assembling the uncollected translation into book form, while providing his own footnoted commentary on both the translation and the story already told in the commentaries. A transparently Nabokovian strategy emboldens Siegel throughout. Footnotes and references to the Zemblan language recall Pale Fire, while the seduction theme mimics Lolita: “Once I had seen the beautiful Indian girl in the sari with the red bindi on her forehead in my Comparative Phonology class, I threw out the Mao poster, folded up the Chinese flag, and bought a poster of the Taj Mahal and a print of Krishna playing his flute for love- enraptured, dancing milkmaids . . . .” Nabokov, though, undergirded his complex constructions with brimming plots and full characters. Siegel’s counterparts are flat, dull, relentlessly trivial—a cascade of comments, asides, interpretations, and appendices. Textually dense, erotically lukewarm, and narratively inert: an unrewarding novel, with its inverted pages, computer-screen replications, and transcripts, that’s too fascinated with how it looks to concern itself with how it reads—poorly, at best.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-75697-1
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999




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