cover image Thrown into Nature

Thrown into Nature

Milen Ruskov, trans. from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel. Open Letter (Univ. of Nebraska, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 9781934824566

Ruskov's romp through 16th century Spain is framed as a treatise on the miraculous powers of tobacco to heal all human ills. The narrator of this bizarrely amusing novel is Guimar%C3%A3es da Silva, apprentice to the gloomy Doctor Monardes. Together, they tour Europe enacting miraculous cures: they raise a man from the dead, save a king's son with a tobacco-smoke enema, and banish evil spirits. On their journeys, they meet literary luminaries of the time, including Cervantes, Ben Johnson, and Lope de Vega. Under the auspices of adventure, Ruskov engages in profound philosophical speculation about Nature and Man's place in the world. Nature is da Silva's enemy, one whose wild and indiscriminate power distorts and destroys without regard to humanity (a mere "pipe, through which Nature passes"). Their efforts to subvert Nature often succeed, but over time their ignorance, despite good intentions, devolves into charlatanism and greed. Ruskov's novel suggests the flaws of Enlightenment faith in reason at the expense of man's spiritual impulses. Despite such weighty themes, the novel is never boring, and with the help of a splendid translation, Ruskov successfully manages to balance complexity and entertainment. While no Don Quixote, the novel is a marvelous and ambitious work that poses timeless existential questions. (Nov.)