cover image Travelers Tree

Travelers Tree

Bruno Bontempelli. New Press, $20 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-56584-150-5

French writer Bontempelli's clever and gripping 18th-century tale-his first novel to be translated into English-begins with a deceptively simple premise: the crewmen of the French exploring vessel Entremetteuse are attempting to land on a lush Caribbean island. The situation, however, is grim: supplies are low and pest-ridden, scurvy is felling the crew at an ever-increasing pace and an unearthly calm has stranded the ship. The island, it is obvious, represents salvation, but treacherous coral reefs and rough seas render it unapproachable. Following the efforts of the ship's surgeon, Saint-Foin, and the expedition's sponsor, a noble named Du Mouchet, readers can glimpse the original purpose of the Entremetteuse's voyage-to find a lost continent-and its adventures on other islands. When the captain, Bloche, sinks deeper into lassitude, Du Mouchet relieves him of duty and thereafter must rely on the conniving Malestro, whose only real interest is finding the hidden treasure he believes to be on the isle. The story's allegorical tendency never overwhelms the narrative, allowing the large, skillfully depicted cast to take center stage. Though Bontempelli is occasionally preoccupied with the grotesqueries of illness, the precision of his prose, the unobtrusive accuracy of historical detail and the liveliness of the narrative mark him as a writer to watch. (Nov.)