A number of people are raving about Deborah Eisenberg’s essay on Peter Nadas from the current New York Review of Books, and for good reason.
The main occasion for the article is the release of Fire and Knowledge: Fiction and Essays, which came out last year from FSG, and is now available in paperback from Picador. (As is a new printing of A Book of Memories.)
For people who would like to acquaint themselves with the distinctive timbre of Nadas’s voice, Fire and Knowledge is a fine introduction. And many who are already readers will be elated to find these early though astonishingly accomplished stories, and will be fascinated to see, in the essays, a number of his continuing concerns interweaving and transmogrifying as they attach themselves to diverse events and experiences. The fourteen essays and nine pieces of short fiction in Fire and Knowledge were chosen by Nadas from his copious works and arranged by him as well. They were written over nearly four decades, from 1962, when he was twenty, to 2000. The latest piece of fiction in the collection was written in 1975, after which the author turned the considerable force of his attention to A Book of Memories.
A Book of Memories is considered Nadas’s best work to date, and Eisenberg does a great job selling this:
His titanic novel A Book of Memories — which has been subsequently outweighed by his 1,500-page Parallel Stories, finished in 1995 but not yet available in English — was written over a period of more than ten years. Its dense and intricate plot unfolds at mesmerizingly close range. Specific information tends to appear only obliquely or incidentally; it takes some time for us to orient ourselves and to understand that the narrator, whom we first encounter in Berlin, is in love with a young man who has just disappeared, presumably to the West, and that both of them are also emotionally involved with a well-known actress. Sections of the book that deal with this period of the narrator’s life alternate with sections about his childhood in Stalinist Budapest. A second voice, that of a dissolute aesthete and anarchist, who we come to realize is an invention of the first narrator’s, braids itself between these settings, and toward the end of the book, a third narrator — an important childhood friend of the first — takes over for a while.
FSG is bringing out Parallel Stories sometime in the near future (next spring?), which should be quite an event. (Good thing FSG only brings out one of these literary tomes a year . . . Maybe by the time the Nadas comes out, I’ll be finished with 2666/)
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To have watched from one of your patios
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from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
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