cover image Journeying


Claudio Magris, trans. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. Yale Univ., $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-300-21851-0

Magris (Blameless), a novelist and professor emeritus of modern German literature at the University of Trieste, demonstrates humble erudition in this collection of essays on travel. In the introduction, Magris describes each of the selections as being “unequivocally... of the moment in which they were experienced and written.” What follows is a quietly profound reflection on politics and literature between 1981 and 2004. Each essay takes place in a different location, ranging from a newly postcommunist Prague in 1990 to a full-fledged capitalist China in 2003. Magris’s subjects include the apartment building where Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment; the disappearing culture of what may be Europe’s smallest ethnic minority, the Cici; and Madrid’s modernization. Magris’s penchant for observation and literary references makes each essay a fascinating endeavor, especially for fellow bibliophiles. In “Don Quixote’s Footsteps,” Magris visits La Mancha and is reminded of how Cervantes’s knight began his journey by letting his steed pick a direction. As Magris observes,“All the fundamental things—love, joy, pain—happen by chance or by grace, once you drop the reins.” While place and journey are important throughout, the key theme is that of changing times, in an era that saw the collapse of communist regimes and accelerating globalization. The result is an eloquent blend of literary criticism, political history, and travel writing. (Mar.)