Ouroboros CL

Howard Coale, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $19.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-89919-977-1
Harry, the slightly unhinged narrator of this incandescently lyrical first novel, sees the world though startling metaphors with the off-kilter intensity of a Van Gogh painting. But this preternatural voice does not sustain this story of unrequited love, which is also a gentle debunking of Westerners in search of Eastern wisdom. Hopping a plane to Taiwan, where his girlfriend Kate has gone to teach and to study Chinese, Harry does battle with Kate's new lover, articulate Corporal Wu, whom he sees as a reptile, the embodiment of evil. Half-mad with obsessive longing, jealous Harry becomes so boorish that one finds oneself rooting for Corporal Wu, although nearly all the Asians in this narrative are, stereotypically, inscrutable or slightly menacing. While pursuing Kate from China to Nepal's Himalayas, Harry also obsesses over the Ouroboros, a thinking supercomputer named for the alchemical symbol of a curled snake devouring its own tail. The West's technological wizardry is counterposed to the East's hard-to-come-by wisdom. Coale depicts engaging seekers of enlightenment, such as Frederick, a German ex-librarian turned Chinese sword-dancing expert, but the novel's intellectual pretensions eventually disappoint. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/04/1991
Release date: 02/01/1991
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