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Temenuga Trifonova. Now Or Never Publishing (LitDisCo, North American dist.), $19.95 trade paper (221p) ISBN 978-1-926942-74-2

This debut novel by Trifonova (European Film Theory) is touted as an "intellectual mystery," though the distinction "intellectual" should not be underestimated, nor "mystery," in its traditional sense, overestimated. Following history professor Bruno Leblon as he attempts to research his aristocratic ancestors and, in turn, investigate "X," a mysterious individual who is not only conducting research with the same materials but is also manipulating them and claiming to be a Leblon himself, the reader is given a privileged look into Bruno's peculiar, if not outright disturbed, mind. Paired with his already fragile state, characterized by extreme apathy, a nascent ontological crisis and potential alcoholism, Bruno's examination into both "X" and Gaspard Leblon, an enigmatic ancestor appended into the research material by "X," brings up issues of reality, identity and the self. These contemplations are influenced by such diverse disciplines as philosophy, Eastern religion, psychology and cultural anthropology and are often supplemented by dense in-text background information, giving the novel a deeply cerebral quality. This encouragement towards rumination paired with the reader's privy position inside Bruno's disturbed mind makes for an experience that is jarringly surreal. The book is a real mindbender, best appreciated if one is willing to invest sufficient time and energy into decrypting its labyrinthine logic. (Oct.)