Cela prefaces Journey to the Alcarria with a letter to Gregorio Maranon, to whom he dedicates the book. He writes:
I didn't see anything strange duringCela prefaces Journey to the Alcarria with a letter to Gregorio Maranon, to whom he dedicates the book. He writes:
I didn't see anything strange during my journey, nothing really shocking - a crime, or a triple birth, or a man possessed by devils - and I'm glad of it now, because since I had planned to tell exactly what I saw (for this book isn't a novel, it's more like a geography), if I start off telling horror stories people would say I was exaggerating and nobody would believe me.
A fine, short travel book in which nothing much of note happens, recounted in a serene, perfectly crafted way. Traveling by foot and by donkey through this little-known region of Spain in the summer of 1946, the author provides a wealth of incident and detail. Written in the third person, the book tells us nothing about its traveler's history, his political views, or much else; the family that he mentions in the first chapter are not given names or personalities, they are left behind as Cela sets out and not mentioned again. This series of sketches never wears out his welcome, rambling on leisurely and concluding almost indifferently. Along the way he stops in some towns and thinks, as lonesome travelers are sometimes inclined, that he could live out his days there. Then he moves on. Journey to the Alcarria is quiet and unassuming, observant and beautiful. ...more
The usually reliable M. Gide here writes a monstrously dull work about a wimpy young man pining away for a religious maniac. Naturally, he is doomed tThe usually reliable M. Gide here writes a monstrously dull work about a wimpy young man pining away for a religious maniac. Naturally, he is doomed to fail, and neither the novella nor any of its characters ever in any way threaten to become remotely interesting....more
As autobiographies go this cryptic novella must be among the most unusual ever penned. Georges Perec’s parents were killed in concentration camps whenAs autobiographies go this cryptic novella must be among the most unusual ever penned. Georges Perec’s parents were killed in concentration camps when he was a boy. The second chapter begins: I have no childhood memories... I was excused: a different history, History with a capital H, had answered the questions in my stead: the war, the camps.
Perec was one of those experimental French novelists who thrived in the 1960s and is most famous for writing a novel entirely without the letter E. Here he wrestles with how to reclaim his history from History, to keep it from being one of the innumerable tragedies of the Holocaust. Perec’s book will never be one of the Landmark Texts of the attempted extermination of the Jews - it seems to even purposely strive against such a thing. The author knows that the horrors, described time and again, can become repetitive and numbing; he came of age as a writer in the media-saturated age. Millions killed in the Holocaust, African children with bloated bellies - television has been remarkable at gradually desensitizing people to all sorts of madness and butchery. The concentration camps were one of the many horrors of the 20th century (Armenia, Rwanda, Vietnam, China, Russia, Cambodia, etc), and there were many horrors prior. Perec’s book has its own mysterious logic, managing to be both deeply personal and almost cruelly detached. He is not after the reader’s tears over his parents’ deaths – he admits to barely remembering them. He tells the story of how as an adult, long after the war, he came to find out more about his parents.
My childhood belongs to those things which I know I don’t know much about. It is behind me; yet it is the ground on which I grew, and it once belonged to me, however obstinately I assert that it no longer does. For years I tried to sidetrack or to cover up these obvious facts, and I wrapped myself in the harmless statue of the orphan, the unparented, the nobody’s boy. However, childhood is neither longing nor terror, neither a paradise lost nor the Golden Fleece, but maybe it is a horizon, a point of departure, a set of co-ordinates from which the axes of my life may draw their meaning. Even if I have the help only of yellowing snapshots, a handful of eyewitness accounts and a few paltry documents to prop up my implausible memories, I have no alternative but to conjure up what for too many years I called the irrevocable: the things that were, the things that stopped, the things that were closed off – things that surely were and today are no longer, but things that also were so that I may still be.
The chapters of Perec’s rediscovering his past alternate with a story based on a childhood fantasy of an island called W in the Tiera del Fuego devoted exclusively to sport and Olympian ideals. As the book progresses, the chapters devoted to W come to overwhelm the autobiographical chapters, and they grow increasingly sinister. Children are bred for the Games and punished harshly for not being up to standard; even the winners are terrorized into maintaining their position. Girls are bred solely for the athletes and Perec concocts chilling scenes such as the ritual in which the girls are stripped and forced to run across a field and the athletes, released shortly afterward, run them down for sport. Perec takes his innocent childhood lark and spins it into a nightmare of Fascist insanity.
W or the Memory of Childhood is a brief, odd book that demands the second reading I haven’t yet given it. I’m sure I’m missing a great deal here... ...more
Based on two books (this, and The Book of Flights) I'm convinced that young, experimental Le Clezio was a worthy writer. After the initial "J. M. G-whBased on two books (this, and The Book of Flights) I'm convinced that young, experimental Le Clezio was a worthy writer. After the initial "J. M. G-who?" in the American press - the reaction that accompanies every new Nobel Prize in Literature - a lot of these literary hacks went out and bought some of the newly reprinted Le Clezio novels (originally published in the 1960s and pretty much out-of-print since then) then proceeded to dismiss them all as "dated" (a favorite dismissal from the oh-so-cutting-edge) experimental novels that weren't worth reading before going on to bemoan the Academy's idiocy at having overlooked Don Delillo and Philip Roth. Much of Terra Amata doesn't play well for me, and the young author too often indulges his fondness for jeremiads, but the book is shot through with magnificent scenes - starting with its opening chapter, a slightly sarcastic interrogation directed at the reader: Why buy this book? What do you hope to get out of it? etc etc ...more