Tyler 's Reviews > War & War

War & War by László Krasznahorkai
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's review
Apr 14, 2012

it was amazing
Read in February, 2012

In War and War two stories come together to make a whole. The main plot tells of an archivist on a farfetched quest to establish the concept of nobility by means of a recently discovered manuscript. As his story unfolds a frame narrative works in tandem to relate the story in the manuscript itself. But to what end?

The reason isn’t clear. This Hungarian archivist seems at times be describing a cycle to history and trying to find a way out. But the point of view from which the story is told changes, and it’s the archivist himself who seems to need a way out of his personal dilemmas. Central to his story is whether he’s in the grip of some sort of insanity, for the manuscript and the essence of this man’s life begin converging.

The mystery to the tandem stories isn’t the protagonist, but the antagonist who emerges from the pages of the manuscript our hero is trying to get published. We know nothing of this antagonist except his deeds, and the key to the book lies in trying to make sense of them. So the first part of the manuscript depicts him selling cats, for instance, a perfectly pointless venture that actually makes sense by the end.

The noble gentlemen who also inhabit the manuscript bring us the ideas that penetrate both stories. Has the scale on which the world exists become entirely too much for individuals? Does history generate the meaninglessness of modern living? Does love imply resistance? Is art an antidote to the human condition?

All this is staple for a novel of ideas, but the book's style can’t be described as anything, not realism, not stream of consciousness, not postmodernism. It defies categories. And with the final chapter the style, even the font, changes; there dread finds its apotheosis and the story its denouement. The twist in this last chapter is astonishing and superbly written.

I strongly recommend the book for its frank ending and the several literary innovations that precede it. The book is peculiarly relevant to our times. It’s not for everyone, or even very many. Unfortunately, I can’t specify who it’s for without giving away too much. Readers’ acceptance or distaste for War and War will largely depend on what they take the ending to mean.
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