Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly's Reviews > Auto-da-Fé

Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti
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's review
Oct 31, 2010

it was amazing
Read in November, 2010

Since you are at, you're most likely a bookworm (unless you're one of the thousands of juveniles here who pretend they like to read only to get to know people they can hook up with). But how bookworm of a bookworm are you? If you're at least the type who would feel sad leaving a bookstore without getting to buy a book, then reading this novel would, at times, be just like staring at a mirror. You can see you here.

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, Elias Canetti, a German, wrote only one novel. This one. When you are destined to win the Nobel Prize in Literature but is too lazy to write more than one novel what would be the appropriate basis for the plot in that one and only novel you will place your name on? Books. And what would your main protagonist be? A bookworm. How bookworm of a bookworm? The worst kind, an extremist book lover.

Meet Peter Kien, 40-year-old, tall, emaciated, specialist in sinology, owner of a library with twenty-five thousand volumes housed in four big rooms in an apartment where he lives alone. He lives for, in, with, by (what other prepositions are there?) his books. Heaven for him is inside his study, reading, writing one thesis after another, surrounded by his beloved books. When he goes out for walks, he find bookstores the only places worth visiting. He has a map of his town with bookstores encircled in red. When he accidentally drops a book he is in anguish, like he had dropped his own infant child. You soil it, he considers it "injured." He does not like meeting and talking to people. Talk to him and his mind flies elsewhere. He can only pay attention to a conversation when the words "book" or "books" are mentioned. He talks to books and the latter talks back to him. Reality for him is primarily what is written in books. Their counterpart outside of his books are unoriginal--

"As he was passing by the cathedral, warm, uncanny sounds reached his ears. He would have sung in the same key, had his voice, like his mood, been at his command. Suddenly a spot of dirt fell on him. Curious and startled, he looked up at the buttresses. Pigeons preened themselves and cooed, none was to blame for the dirt. For twenty years he had not heard these sounds; every day on his morning walk he passed this spot. Yet cooing was well known to him out of books. 'Quite so!' he said softly, and nodded as he always did when he found reality bearing out the printed original...."

This is a novel without heroes. Except for a few victims, and Kien's brother who appears briefly towards the end, all the characters here look sinister and mad. Virtue is nothing but misinterpreted vileness. Moments of levity are like the smiles and laughter of the insane.

First published in 1935 it foreshadowed not only the American world chess champion Robert "Bobby" Fischer (see the thread I opened in, "Prophetic 1001 Books"), himself off in the head, but also the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

An arresting read from start to finish which gloriously ended up in flames.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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K.D. Absolutely Nice review of an interesting book. I can't wait to read this book! Akina!

message 2: by Joyzi (new)

Joyzi Whoa it's so eerie that it's like me you're describing lol.

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly tomorrow after lunch you'll get it. emir wants to read it soon, so you have to finish it after your current read.

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly Joyzi wrote: "Whoa it's so eerie that it's like me you're describing lol."

where? in the first sentence or in the third? c'mon, be honest.

message 5: by Joyzi (new)

Joyzi The whole third paragraph lol

message 6: by Jasmin (new)

Jasmin Great review Kuya Jose :D

Lisa Terrific review, Joselito, I read this book earlier this year and yes *grin* it's a warning to booklovers like us not to let our obsession take hold!
I also thought there was also a political message (as there usually is with Nobel prize winning books) - you can see what I thought about it here

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly "Terrific" review? Yours is far much, much better! Everybody, read Lisa's! I didn't even know Canetti was a Jew and was born in Bulgaria. And I kept on hoping, while reading, that the kid at the beginning of the first chapter would somehow resurface, oblivious to the possibility that Peter Kien may have been just remembering himslef as a boy, he. he.

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