A mostly inscrutable collection of personal epiphanies by the late Cuban novelist and belletrist (Cobra, 1974, etc.). Sarduy's preface hardly clarifies the elliptical fragments that follow: ""They are traces left by things ephemeral.... They constitute a record of things that--sometimes by chance--once put me in touch with something"" The brief chapters, most only a few pages long, plumb the author's Cuban youth, his departure for Paris in 1960, his adulthood in France, his wide travels before his death from AIDS in 1993. Sarduy describes a few of his scars; a few of his friendships; the banks of the Ganges at Benares; the iconography of the soul's escape from the dying body; archaic stone monoliths in Brittany; a sexual encounter with a stranger; some memories of paintings (including the huge image of Christ's scourging, seen en route to the Louvre atop a truck, that inspired the book's title); and the atmosphere of Tangier. He also mentions the war in Afghanistan and the Mexico City earthquake, taking horror and delight, respectively, in the behaviors of people under duress. Sarduy juxtaposes memories and images but usually doesn't communicate what makes these combinations revelatory to him; worst of all, when he analyzes his epiphanies, he does so using the oblique, tired jargon of semiotics: ""gesture,"" ""hieroglyphic,"" ""simulacra,"" even ""hermeneutic inadequacy."" The author was, unsurprisingly, a pal of Roland Barthes, who appears here in one of two memoirs about drinking at the Cafâ€š de Flore (Bloody Marys for Sarduy, black coffee for Barthes). In fact, much of the book seems to revolve around Sarduy's imbibing, which must have been prodigious; in one early passage, he muses revealingly about how he tries to reproduce the intoxication of the creative act through alcohol. Maybe drunkenness had something to do with the failure of this elusive work.