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Impressions of Africa

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  263 Ratings  ·  21 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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Quinn Slobodian
Dec 07, 2007 Quinn Slobodian rated it really liked it
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
Aug 02, 2016 Sean rated it liked it
Though outclassed in the loosely-defined canon of proto-Surrealism by, among others, the fantastical grotesqueness of Les Chants de Maldoror and the absurdist metaphysics of Alfred Jarry, Raymond Roussel's debut novel is nevertheless essential towards contextualizing the proliferation of unrestrained, improvisational writing in its wake. Beyond the obvious link to André Breton's group, it prefigures the methodology of the Oulipo movement through the use of formal constraints, particularly antici ...more
Jan 02, 2011 Bill rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 06, 2012 June rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 06, 2012 Steven Felicelli rated it really liked it
with Lautreamont, Pessoa and a few others - Roussel is one of the category of uncategorizable authors
Jun 01, 2014 Maryann rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001
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
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
Oct 25, 2013 David rated it really liked it
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
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
May 05, 2010 Brent Hayward rated it really liked it
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
Apr 30, 2012 Caleb Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sublimely odd parade of mechanical, botanical, and zoological marvels. Plot? Not really. The narrator's exceedingly minute descriptions are hilarious.
The first third or so of this book is a long series of fantastic theatrical, pseudo-scientific and artistic events performed for an african king. The extraordinary tableau's march past in excruciatingly specific detail in the literary equivalent of a dull monotone.
It was one of the dullest and most painful reading experiences i have had in quite some time.
The rest of the work is a flashback which explains each of the previous scenes you didn't care about. The convoluted sequence of events with
Katie Cruel
Jan 06, 2013 Katie Cruel rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
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
Duane Sobczak
Very bizarre book.
Mar 12, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sulzer-library
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
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
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.
May 22, 2012 K. rated it really liked it
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Poet, storyteller, playwright and French essayist, born in Paris in 1877 and died in Palermo (Italy) in 1933. Author of a singular literary production of striking originality and dazzling imaginative force, applied with real obsessive fixation experiments applied to descriptive techniques and came to deploy a sort of automatic writing that made him one of the most brilliant of the surrealist movem ...more
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