cover image In Partial Disgrace

In Partial Disgrace

Charles Newman. Dalkey Archive, $18 (342p) ISBN 978-1-56478-816-0

Acclaimed critic and novelist Newman (White Jazz) offers a weighty historical satire in this posthumous work set in the fabled kingdom of Cannonia. The narrative splits between two protagonists and time periods: Iulus Psalmanazar details pre-WWII Cannonia%E2%80%94which is modeled on Hungary%E2%80%94and an American soldier, Rufus, explores the conquered nation near war's end. The son of an aristocratic dog breeder and goddess mother%E2%80%94who claims descent from indigenous Cannonians, the Astingi%E2%80%94Iulus tells of former days at his majestic home of Semper Vero. Newman's prose is as limpid and meandering as his Mze river, "the spinal fluid of Cannonia," which informs all life and invokes a sort of magic for the boy. The beauty and specificity of Newman's prose, and the book's conceit that Rufus is presenting Iulus's papers, often excuses the "old-fashioned idiom" of Iulus's first person narrative, though at times the novel feels static. The narrative thrust arises from the contrast between extremes: the rich and cultured world of pre-war Cannonia on one side%E2%80%94filled with Astingi magic, prize winning dogs, gourmet meals, music, literature, and many a "conversazione galante,"%E2%80%94and the nation's impoverished post-war landscape on the other, threatened as it is by American power. Newman's wide-ranging, ambitious work effortlessly blends fact with fantasy. (Mar.)