The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Heath Mayhew on Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), which came out from Open Letter earlier this year in Margaret Schwartz’s translation.
As you may or may not know, we generally don’t run reviews of our own books, which may or may be a sound policy, but regardless, we’re making an exception for this piece because of how it came to us. Heath Mayhew is one of our subscribers, and with Macedonio’s Museum, he received a letter from me explaining how we came to publish this, how much the book means to me, why I love it so much, etc. It also included a request for readers to let me know what they thought of this, since it’s such a strange, unique book.
Last month, Heath sent me this review, which he wrote as part of a Translation Seminar he’s taking with Stefania Heim at Columbia University. It’s a great introduction to the book, which is why we decided to violate our “rule” and post it here:
Prologue to the Review
Macedonio Fernandez is little known outside Argentina. Unfortunately I foresee this remaining the case for some time. Even with the recent translation and publication of his posthumous novel, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel: The First Good Novel (Museo de la Novela de la Eterna), by Open Letter Books (translated by Margaret Schwartz), the “skip-around readers” Fernandez is looking for (to convert into “orderly readers”) are few. One of the reasons is because Fernandez is taking a risk. He knows exactly what his novel is and what it isn’t: he knows that it is the “First Good Novel,” which follows the writing of another novel, Adriana Buenos Aires: The Last Bad Novel (Adriana Buenos Aires: ultima novella mala). So what makes Fernandez’s novel so good? This is where (and why) he remains obscure: the tenacity with which he hopes to redefine the novel. It is a task that can get sloppy very quickly. And so, Fernandez makes sure that the reader is well equipped before “beginning” his novel (he argues, “. . . the reader comes late if he comes after the cover.”). Thus, he prolongs the start of his novel with fifty-seven prologues: in part to provoke the novel to be “thrown violently to the floor most often, and avidly taken up again just as often” by his readers. He boasts, “What other author can boast of that?”
Introduction to Macedonio Fernandez
You can tell by my first prologue, Macedonio Fernandez was not the typical novelist. From the Preface by Adam Thirlwell and Translator’s Introduction by Margaret Schwartz, and from my selected readings, there is a cacophony of mythology surrounding Fernandez. Most often mentioned, yet somewhat unknown, is Fernandez’s mentorship of Jorge Luis Borges. Oft-quoted Borges explains: “I imitated him, to the point of transcription, to the point of devoted and impassioned plagiarism.”
Click here to read the full review.
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