Don's Reviews > Metropole

Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy
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Aug 24, 12

bookshelves: european-novel
Read from April 22 to May 22, 2012

Kafkaesque tale of a man who man who catches the wrong plane and ends up in a city the location and even the name of which he is not able to determine. Going with the flow of crowds he is at least able to travel to a hotel, book a room and change money, but the agony of his frustration is that he can find no one who can speak a word of any language he knows - and he knows a lot - and cannot understand a word or decipher any part of the strange text the people write in.

But it is a modern, European-like city, though every ethnic group in the world is present amongst its population. He views tower blocks under construction, travels on metro systems, makes use of self-service restaurants and tries to make phone calls. But when language is required to understand a thing, or make himself understood, he can get nowhere.

The story gets an added twist from the fact that the man is a linguist at the very top of his profession. He sits in his hotel room with examples of the city's script and ponders over their meaning in the same way as archaeologists scrutinised Linear-B or ancient Hittite. He uses scientific methods to groups and arrange the letters into some sort of a system, but is unable to move beyond the most basic level.

He wanders the city hoping to see or hear examples of languages he knows. He examines buildings to see if they might function as embassies or travel agencies, he hails cabs and mimics aeroplanes - an device that might get him taken to an airport. But in each case people respond to im with absolute, blank incomprehension.

This is a chilling tale of the fate of a human being who is severed almost completely from any capacity to communicate with other people. It is also a nightmare vision of the ultimate end of cosmopolitanism - an urban entity where perhaps everyone speaks their own private language and all is mutual incomprehension.

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