Novels with explicitly novelistic themes are often bloodless, carrying the fatal odor of the sheltered writing workshop; Austrian writer Ransmayr's first novel, however, is a stunning exception. (His second book, The Last World, was published here last year to critical acclaim.) The underlying concerns of this work are primarily literary--creator vs. creation, history vs. fiction, the nature of metaphor, etc.--but here they inform a singularly gripping tale. A nameless and largely invisible narrator recounts the 1981 disappearance of one Josef Mazzini, whose fascination with a 19th-century polar expedition has pulled him north, to the furthest arctic settlements. Accounts of the two journeys intersect and diverge, challenging the notion of history as linear, seducing the reader with startlingly detailed descriptions of polar exploration. Members of the 19th-century expedition, pursuing honor, glory and other vanities, endure two frigid winters when their ship is trapped in ice: their beards freeze, they are blinded by snow and ill with scurvy, but the Bible is read every Sunday. A century later men approach the icy expanse with snowmobiles and Walkmen, undertaking selfinterested scientific projects. This aggressively intelligent narrative transforms the polar regions into unusually fertile ground. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1991 Release date: 07/01/1991 Genre: Fiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.