cover image An Artificial Wilderness: Essays on 20th-Century Literature

An Artificial Wilderness: Essays on 20th-Century Literature

Sven Birkerts / Author William Morrow & Company $20.95 (0p) IS

If recent fiction consisted exclusively of American postmodernists, modern literature would be in deep trouble, contends Birkerts. In this latest gathering of brilliant essays, he examines the decline of humanist faith, a theme that links an international community of writers. German-language authors Max Frisch, Robert Musil and Eva Demski, Russian poets Joseph Brodsky and Osip Mandelstam, and such figures as Julio Cortazar, Umberto Eco, Marguerite Yourcenar and Malcolm Lowry are among those highlighted. Birkerts delves into Musil's pioneering portrayals of sexual obsessions, reads Primo Levi's death-camp memoirs as a literature of the sacred and assesses Salman Rushdie's attempts to create myths of India and Pakistan. Meditations on television, documentary fiction and literary biography round out the volume. It would be impossible to sum up the riches of this invaluable guide through the wilderness of modern literature. Birkerts, who teaches at Harvard, won the 1986 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. (September 29)