cover image The Old Man and the Wolves

The Old Man and the Wolves

Julia Kristeva. Columbia University Press, $45 (183pp) ISBN 978-0-231-08020-0

Kristeva, a French linguistics professor and psychoanalyst who writes on semiotics and literature (Desire in Language), has built a postmodern parable around the polarities of inertia and action, conformism and individuality, barbarism and civilization. When elusive wolves invade the passive Eastern European seaside resort of Santa Varvara, people disappear by the thousands or are transmogrified into wolves. Only the Latin professor known as ``the Old Man'' seems to notice the animals' existence and dares speak out about the spreading evil. Soon, Parisian journalist Stephanie Delacour, who narrates most of the novel, arrives and stumbles onto a possible murder. A sadistic army surgeon who reveres Hitler, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein may have killed his wife, historian Alba Ram, who is a devotee of Imperial Rome's decadence. A drowned woman-Alba or her double-is dredged up from a lake, but then Delacour receives a letter from Alba, revealing that she has been drugging her tyrannical husband and plans to poison him. Meanwhile, someone has disconnected the Old Man's artificial lung; his resulting death prompts Delacour, his former pupil, to confront her unresolved emotions over the death of her father. Kristeva's experimental novel is an iridescent gem glinting with psychoanalytic speculations, shards of myth and classical lore and musings on death, hate, love and the imagination. (Dec.)