In his first novel translated into English, Pištalo recounts the tortured, fascinating life of Nikola Tesla, a familiar figure in pop culture and history.
This tale charts much of Tesla’s life: his fraught relationship with his father, his feud with Edison, his seclusion in old age. But Pištalo’s great achievement is to see beyond the familiar. Absent is the forbidding notion of the “great man” found in many biographies; with the freedom of fiction, Pištalo shows a fragile but driven individual, easily wounded, somewhat arrogant and tortured by memories of family trauma. Is poetic license taken occasionally? Absolutely. But this isn’t nonfiction. Instead, it has the scope of biography, the intimacy of fiction and the elegance of poetry. Pištalo’s fractured structure—with elliptical chapters—provides the sense of a life being lived in front of the reader, moment by moment. (This remains true despite some authorial intrusions, e.g., “At this point of the story, I have to gently but firmly take the reader by the arm….”) But finally, there is Tesla himself at the center, a figure from history who, here, seems appealingly modern—a man merely trying “to piece together some sort of meaning for his life.” Take, for instance, the early chapters, in which he leaves the comforts of the small village where he grew up to attend school in a big city. There, he has a college experience like any other: meeting combative and supportive professors, struggling with grades and too much partying, and spending long nights sharing new ideas with new friends. Surely many readers will recognize these experiences. This is the great empathetic work that fiction can do: taking a life from the past and making it relatable.
A moving, inventive and poetic work of biographical fiction.