German-American novelist (The Perfect American, p. 244) and biographer (Franz Werfel, 1990) Jungk offers a disjointed tale about a mathematician by the name of Tigor, who, in troubled midlife, drifts on a series of fruitless, ill-connected adventures.
Having abandoned a mathematics conference in Trieste, and his teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania, Tigor ends up in the wilderness (“the plant room”), where he wanders harmlessly before resurfacing in the town of Belluno and being arrested for vagrancy. Dreamy and garrulous, Tigor makes friends wherever he goes, and newly met strangers happily tolerate his memories of growing up as the son of a famous opera singer. Tigor has a love for the theater and ends up in Paris to work as a rigger at the Odeon, while living at the home of his doting granduncle, Arnold Bohm. Tigor endures the riotous staging of Treplyov’s Masha and the insufferable preening of stars. But he’s no nearer to offering a justification for his “dereliction of duty toward his students.” Decamping to Moscow, he joins another mathematics professor and goes to Yerevan, capital of Armenia, where he becomes enthralled by a group of nationalists convinced that the remains of Noah’s Ark are still unclaimed on Mount Ararat. As a mathematician concerned with proving a hypothesis, Tigor (whose name seems to derive from a legendary Armenian king, Tigran II) is chosen for the mission of unearthing the remnants, thus proving the veracity of the Divine Books. Despite his misgivings, and after a spell teaching English to the children of Yerevan, he undertakes the task, and, in a bizarre close, he ascends the mountain without proper climbing gear or knowledge of the ongoing Kurdish civil war.
A loose string of events that shows little evidence of much emotional investment, on Jungk’s part, in his characters, providing the reader scant chance to warm up to his oddly named hero. The result: a listless, cold-eyed, quixotic romance that seems to suffer in translation.