cover image Impressions of Africa

Impressions of Africa

Raymond Roussel, trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Dalkey Archive, $14.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-56478-624-1

A group of wonderfully talented castaways held captive by an African potentate undertake elaborate stage productions in this ingenious exercise by experimental French author Roussel (1877%E2%80%931933), first published in 1910 and newly translated. Washed ashore in a fictional equatorial African kingdom run by Emperor Talou VII, the passengers%E2%80%94a historian, an aging Russian ballerina, a French falsetto, a sharpshooter, a pyrotechnics engineer, and the narrator (among others)%E2%80%94are held in captivity, awaiting ransom and release. After witnessing the emperor's parade, showcasing marvelous feats of artifice, endurance, and torture, they begin to enact their own theatrical productions so that each captive might "distinguish himself through either an original work or a fabulous demonstration." The emperor's numerous children also play key roles. Clever devices are built by the engineers, the chemist, and the sculptor; Romeo and Juliet is artfully staged; and prizes are awarded. Tales within tales of Talou's ancestry abound in this demanding nonlinear narrative, as dryly descriptive as it is wondrously absurd. (June)