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Impressions of Africa

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  273 ratings  ·  27 reviews

The long-awaited new translation of the most dazzling and unclassifiable work of fiction in any language.

In a mythical African land, some shipwrecked and uniquely talented passengers stage a grand gala to entertain themselves and their captor, the great chieftain Talou. In performance after bizarre performance—starring, among others, a zither-playing worm, a marksman who c

Paperback, 318 pages
Published January 1st 1988 by Calder Publications (first published 1910)
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The Third Policeman by Flann O'BrienWittgenstein's Mistress by David MarksonThe Recognitions by William GaddisThe Tunnel by William H. GassJ R by William Gaddis
Best Dalkey Archive Titles
46th out of 139 books — 53 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 1910's
142nd out of 234 books — 373 voters

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Community Reviews

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Eddie Watkins

Reading this book soothes me in a very weird way.

* * * * * * * * *

Now here's a book that should have distinct entries here on GR for its two current translations into English - Ian Monk's and Mark Ford's.

Why the more recent Mark Ford version sports blurbs to the effect that his translation is the first is beyond me, though I'm beginnning to suspect some minor conspiracy initiated by distributors of foreign books and their campaign to limit the availability, and perhaps even deny the existence, o
Quinn Slobodian
The first half of the book consists of detailed descriptions of spectacles arranged for the benefit of an emperor "in that part of Africa near the equator." The performances are incredible and bizarre--a basin/zither set-up allows a virtuosic worm to play Gypsy concertoes through undulations of its body, a limbless man is a one-armed band, a beautiful woman emerges from a hut with walls made from overlapping pages lit from within with a magpie on her shoulder trained to operate life-size mechani ...more
Jim Elkins
What does it mean, exactly, to read this book?

First, I think it must mean that you have already read 'How I Wrote Certain of My Books,' 'Locus Solus,' and 'Impressions of Africa': that is, you are thoroughly immersed, hypnotized, pithed by Roussel's absolutely unimpeachable, unapproachable weirdness. Then, I think it should mean you have read something about Roussel: Foucault's very literary book, or possibly Mark Ford's very sober appreciation.

But then what can it possibly mean to read a book

Do I have a favorite poet? No. Do I really enjoy reading poetry that much? No. Do I think Raymond Roussel is a great poet? YES. I might not've answered YES before reading this bk.. but now I'm convinced. I'd previously been very impressed by his "The View" for reasons that're typical of me: THE IDEA OF IT: the idea of writing a long poem based on describing what the author can see reflected in the convex surface of a paperweight. This attn to detail, this amazing focus, this novel formal restric ...more
as this book is classified as french surrealism, i was fully expecting it to be a fairly difficult read, with little or no plot.much to my surprise then, when i started reading it, to find that it very definitely has a complete plot. quite a bizarre one to be sure, but a plot's actually a very readable novel, and i enjoyed it immensely.thanks again oriana.
First of all anyone who is interested in 20th century literature should have a copy of this book. Number two, beyond the hype or stories how this book affected the 20th Century and beyond - this is pretty damn great book. Raymond Roussel was one of those guys who had it. And yes extremely wealthy and extremely neurotic - but nevertheless a superb genius.

So what we have is a poetry book that is also probably the most clever "literary" puzzle ever. The translator Mark Ford, who is also the Englis
This is a book full of puns and double meanings--if you can read French. For example, A Farting White Horse in French could also mean a windy mountain pass. So the French reader might read this and think, "Ah...he's talking about Switzerland." The English reader just thinks, "A farting white horse...WTF?" The whole book is like that. Enjoy.

The basics of Impressions of Africa aren't much different than those of Locus Solus. Likewise, there's a dizzying array of curiosities, although in this case, instead of being presented by an icy scientist on his sprawling estate, it's a kingdom on the coast of Africa, performed by a band of shipwrecked ingenues. I suppose that, this being the second Roussel book I've read, I was less shocked and wowed, but it was still entertainingly weird-- I half-imagined Tim and Eric of Awesome Show fame put ...more
Steven Felicelli
with Lautreamont, Pessoa and a few others - Roussel is one of the category of uncategorizable authors
My new favorite Roussel

A poem comprised of four long sentences, each extended, broken apart and complicated by a series of parenthetical statements, which have, in turn their own parentheses, and parentheses within parentheses within parentheses, etc. ((((((for example, 6th level parentheses are designated as such)))))) the sentences are also interrupted by various footnotes (all rhymed, reminding us of their unusual place as both part of the poem and also outside the poem-- sometimes the footn
This one was remarkably readable for an author so closely connected to the surrealists. Still strange to thing that Roussel was a contemporary of Proust. Such a weird book after all, half the book being this surreal pageant of images and then the other half being an explanation of how the pageant came to be, explaining everything in minute detail. It struck me a lot like some of the X-Files episodes, the beginning actually being somewhat of the ending. In any event, saying this one is interestin ...more
One thing is for sure- Roussel had QUITE the imagination! The first nine chapters of the book are descriptions of the fantastic inventions and conventions composed for the gala for King Talu. One hundred pages of descriptions. No story. It got tedious. And honestly, I struggled with picturing what he described, because they were so outlandish.

The story doesn't really begin until the tenth chapter, where it is explained why the gala with all it's performances and trappings occurred. After the pr
Fx Smeets
Don't pay any mind to my arbitrary rating. Impressions d'Afrique is not the kind of book that can be judged on a 1 to 5 scale. It is old, out of reference with our time, flavoured with the dubious colonialist visions of Africa, written in the most basic journalistic style of the early 20th century, awkwardly constructed.

It is also the works of a mind fascinated by the science and techniques of his times but at the same time of a vivid and unbridled imagination. The result has all the charm of a
Have to wonder what drugs Roussel was on when he wrote this, or was it a high fever brought on by malaria. A group of shipwreck survivors, some with remarkable talents become the entertainment for an African leader.
Spent quite a while scratching my head, not a big fan of surrealism it seems.
Brent Hayward
I kind of swam in and out of this book. A litany of strange performances and events at the ceremony of an African leader, followed by equally strange explanations, all centered around a shipwreck. Roussel's work is like nothing else. Geometrical and oblique.
Caleb Wilson
Sublimely odd parade of mechanical, botanical, and zoological marvels. Plot? Not really. The narrator's exceedingly minute descriptions are hilarious.
'Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique', a title interpreted by Jean Ferry to represent 'nouvelles impressions à fric' ('new imprints for money') -- a sure sign that Raymond Roussel was aware by now that his work didn't sell well and publication had to be paid for by the author himself. The typesetter he collaborated with revealed that Roussel's original intentions with this book were to print the different layers or mental expeditions using different colors, but Roussel couldn't afford the costs of t ...more
This book, published in France in 1910, is regularly cited as a proto-surrealist work, influential to everyone from Breton to Foucault to John Ashbery, in line with Lautremont's similarly strange (though far more brutal) "Maldoror." (The Oulipo movement also cited Roussel as a "pre-emptive plagiarist" of Ouplipian structures and concepts.) The premise: a group of seafarers heading from Paris to South America on holiday capsize and land on an African coast town, where they are held for ransom by ...more
the gift
further proof that, for me, the best medium for expression of surrealism, the most effective, the most memorable- is visual not verbal. that is, visual arts like painting, etching, drawing, dance, plays, movies, or even plastic arts like sculpture, ceramics- not writing prose or poetry. maybe this loses something in translation, but for me it is one long, long, description of surrealist performance art, which may be striking, involving, interesting, in itself but not at this remove. in this, the ...more
It was okay. Once I realized there was a circular timeline (we started at Point B, wrapped back around to Point A, then came back and finished at Point C), I liked it better -- I liked getting the backstory of all the weird things that happened at the beginning of the book that just seemed odd and from out of nowhere, like why so many of these African natives of the jungle knew French and could act and sing and paint ((view spoiler) ...more
as though joycean stream of consciousness could look back over itself and tie together its loose threads - language (sanity) disintegrates as connotations and associations stretch to infinity - weird feeling (nostalgia almost) of reaching at the end something read at the beginning (to complete original thought, interrupted by hundreds of lines of digressions).
Aug 23, 2012 Lenny marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
A new translation by the author of the masterful biography of Andre Breton, Revolution in the Mind, Mark Polizotti. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the old 1970s translation published by the University of California.
Probably not the best place to start with Roussel, this is my favorite of his books. The translation is a tour-de-force.

Wash your hands before reading --the cream paper retains smudges.
Katie Cruel
This translation is a bore. I should have read Dalkey's translation, or better, just have read it in French...
Exhausting - best taken in small chunks
Dec 10, 2007 Ian marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
recommended by judd
Rose dos Santos
Rose dos Santos marked it as to-read
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