Federico Andahazi. Doubleday Books, $22.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49400-7
In a first novel that aroused long-buried passions in his native Argentina, Andahazi takes readers back to the Renaissance in a fact-based satire about a scientist groping his way toward enlightenment. The relationships between religion and science, love and sex, and men and women are some of the themes that Andahazi addresses in his provocative story, which reigned at the top of the Argentinian bestseller list when the book became a literary scandal. During the age of discovery, renowned physician Mateo Colombo takes on an exploration nearly as perilous as the quest of his famous namesake, Christopher Columbus: he discovers the clitoris and scandalizes the religious and temporal powers of 16th-century Italy. Indeed, Colombo's motivations are not purely unselfish: he dreams of winning the love of one Mona Sofia, the most expensive prostitute in Venice. But after publishing his work he finds himself imprisoned and at the mercy of the vacillating political whims of the Vatican. Andahazi writes with wit and economy in prose that alternates between the lyrical and the mock-scholarly (both rendered seamlessly in Manguel's translation). He cleverly lures the reader into a sense of condescension toward Colombo only to underscore, ultimately, how little progress has been made in solving the problems that vexed him, despite several centuries of research, scientific and otherwise. (Sept.) FYI: The Anatomist won Argentina's prestigious Fortabat Prize for a first novel, but the prize was revoked by Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, the heiress who endows the award, on the grounds that the book's subject and style are obscene. Anchor is publishing a simultaneous paperback Spanish edition, El Anatomista.
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998