cover image The First Century After Beatrice

The First Century After Beatrice

Amin Maalouf, Gerhard Kopf. George Braziller, $18.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8076-1342-9

An intriguing parable about the necessity of art, and about the danger of substituting art for life, Kopf's clever new novel is narrated by an eccentric German bookseller, a loner and bibliomaniac who nurtures a lifelong obsession with Hemingway's life and writings. Seeking escape from his job in a provincial college bookstore, as well as from the senile, horoscope-addicted grandmother who has raised him since his parents' joint suicide, the narrator embarks on a global quest for Hemingway's suitcase, stuffed with manuscripts, which the novelist's first wife, Hadley, lost on a train in 1922. The compulsive narrator tours the Michigan woods where Hemingway once fished, visits ``Papa's'' villa in Havana and combs the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. In Paris, he tracks down Marlene Dietrich, frail and elderly, who sentimentally reminisces about her passionate yet platonic friendship with Hemingway. German writer Kopf (There Is No Borges) playfully deconstructs the Hemingway mystique even as he wallows in it, offering frequent quotes from Hemingway's letters and memoirs. A joyful hymn to books and literature, this well-translated fable celebrates the art of reading as a creative act that unites mind and heart. (Feb.)