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by Miquel de Palol ; translated by Adrian Nathan West ; edited by Damien Wraith

Pub Date: March 21st, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-628974-51-5
Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Hallucinatory, genre-hopping novel of improbably interwoven stories.

Originally published in Catalan in 1989, Palol’s novel is prescient in imagining a world riven by predatory capitalism, inequality, and an endless series of conflicts branded as the “Four Wars of Entertainment.” The antagonists—the U.S., Russia, China, and the “Union of Islamic States”—fling nuclear missiles at each other and the rest of the world, and soon cities such as Paris and London are gone. So, too, is Barcelona, where the unnamed inaugural narrator of Palol’s sequence of nested tales has lived until, by a stroke of fortune, he is invited to flee to the mountain stronghold of an enigmatic rich man. The narrator ponders the essential unfairness of the deal, imagining “a moment at which the most notorious of the privileged would become emblematic of the abhorrent situation as a whole and the community would cut their throats as a ritual, concrete, and peremptory ratification of a new era.” Still, he’s content to roam the halls drinking fine wines and looking at original Leonardos and Van Goghs even as the assembled guests, in the manner of The Decameron, begin to tell stories that spin small-time crooks, street thugs, politicians on the make, intellectuals, and the rest of society into a web controlled by an omnipotent bank, a central institution in the “dirty, shimmering world of savage capitalism.” Palol dips into science fiction, horror, dystopian literature, Marxist social criticism, and even a touch of pornography to build these tales, which eventually come to turn on the quest to control a jewel, “the fire that emerged from the forehead of Lucifer at the moment of his fall,” that in turn can control the fate of the world. Naturally, gangsters, capitalists, nation-states, and everyone else wants the thing—if, that is, it really exists, and if the tellers of its tales are really who they say they are.

You need a scorecard to keep track of the proceedings, but Palol delivers an entertaining intellectual mystery.