cover image Tablet of Destinies

Tablet of Destinies

Roberto Calasso, trans. from the Italian by Tim Parks. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-60501-8

Bagutta Prize winner Calasso (1941–2021) offers a stimulating if discombobulating entry in his series of retold myths with this account of Utnapishtim, an eternal figure from the earliest days of mankind. Calasso (The Book of All Books) drops the reader immediately into a creation story that echoes Sumerian mythology, as the Anunnaki, a community of gods, debate the fate of men, and Judeo-Christianity, as a flood destroys mankind. Utnapishtim’s monologue tells not only the beginning of humanity, but the origins of the gods themselves. Calasso’s style calls to mind Calvino’s dreamlike fabulism (Utnapishtim’s city of Dilmun feels nearly transplanted from Invisible Cities), and Parks’s translation is beautifully rendered and gripping, maintaining Calasso’s dreamlike tone. Readers less familiar with the diverse array of gods ranging from the “so attractive and so terrifying” Ishtar to Marduk, killer of gods and founder of Babylon, may be lost. While some elements of the allegory are opaque, Calasso vividly creates a world of gods and humankind that is unfamiliar, poetic, and memorable. This slim volume packs a potent and thought-provoking punch. (July)