cover image Utz


Bruce Chatwin. Viking Books, $16.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82497-7

Chatwin is a protean writer ( On the Black Hill , The Songlines ) always capable of surprising and entertaining his readers. In this slim volume, he draws a satirical portrait of life in a Socialist stateand concludes that human nature is the same no matter what political winds are blowing. The last descendent of an old Czech family, the eponymous art dealer Kaspar Utz lives in Prague, where the Russian occupiers allow him to keep his priceless Meissen porcelain collection on condition that he bequeath it to the national museum. To the narrator, Utz represents the quintessential adapter, able to tolerate a repressive government as long as his private life is undisturbed. Obsessed with a passion to preserve these remnants of the bygone days of imperial glory, Utz implies that the figurines are more real, enduring and invulnerable than the gray world of Eastern Europe existing behind the Iron Curtain. But on his death a droll mystery is revealed; the fate of the collection is as much a result of the belated awakening of Utz's romantic nature as it is a joke against the political regime he despised. Befitting his narrative, Chatwin's spare, precise prose takes on a surrealist quality appropriate to the theater of the absurd. 40,000 first printing; $35,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate. (Jan.)