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The Island of Second Sight Hardcover – September 13, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 730 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover (September 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1468301160
  • ISBN-13: 978-1468301168
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #965,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* On this balcony, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. With a bit of mischievously mendacious literary history, Vigo—the narrator-protagonist of this brilliant novel—gulls credulous German tourists. Based on the five difficult years that author Thelen and his wife, Beatrice, spent on Mallorca in the 1930s, this novel delivers the gritty texture of lived experience. But as Vigo recounts his (mis)adventures, readers realize that, like Cervantes’ visionary knight, Vigo sees things others do not. While living in a dirty Mallorcan bordello, Vigo transforms himself into a chivalric champion defending his beloved against threatening dragon-rats. Like Quixote assaulting windmill-giants, Vigo declares war against his Nazified German homeland—by buying an American typewriter rather than a German one. But Vigo’s quixotic crusade takes on a dangerously real edge when he uses his typewriter to denounce the führer. Yet, like Quixote escaping from a perilously enchanted castle, Vigo and his wife escape from an island descending into the maelstrom of civil war. To be sure, this modern Quixote wields a sardonic sense of humor quite lacking in his literary predecessor. But that humor finally becomes Vigo’s own imaginative weapon against an all-too-ugly reality. Readers will thank a gifted translator for finally making this masterpiece—acclaimed by Thomas Mann—available to English speakers. --Bryce Christensen

Review

"A genuine work of art."
(- Paul Celan)

"A masterpiece."
(- Times Literary Supplement)

"Worthy of a place alongside On the Marble Cliffs, Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Death of Virgil and other modernist German masterworks; a superb, sometimes troubling work of postwar fiction, deserving the widest possible audience."
(Kirkus Reviews,)

"A charming if exhausting blend of cultural self-examination and picaresque adventure…Even when the author-narrator’s observations prove overwhelming, his cultural insights, historical laments, literary references, and abundant wit make this first English translation (by Amherst professor White) and the book itself a literary achievement."
(Publishers Weekly)

"[A] brilliant novel…Readers will thank a gifted translator for finally making this masterpiece--acclaimed by Thomas Mann--available to English-speakers."
(Booklist, starred review)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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One of those books you're always impatient to get back to...
michael jenning
Thelen's use of language is simply a delight, stratospheric vocabulary alternating with salty slang, and his keen wit and sense of the absurd crackles on every page.
Nancy Hoople
This book stands so well and out on its own that one's got to pull an irony apropos and say "unless perphaps" Julio Cortazar's Hopschotch.
William C. Piper II

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By I. E. Weiss on November 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book, first published in German in 1953 and now finally available in English, proves conclusively that
- not all Germans were Nazis
- (some) Germans have a great sense of humour
- not all 20th c. German books are stark and sober and intellectual

A.V. Thelen was hugely critical of what went on in the early 30s in Germany, so much so that in 1933 he had to go into exile on Mallorca. This book tells the story of what happened to him and his wife on that island, of their often hilarious encounters with Jews, aristocrats, writers (among them Robert Graves), Nazi tourists, smugglers, whores and other dubious characters, and of their struggle to survive. It's an adventure story, a travel book, a political satire, a biography AND a work of fiction - and hugely entertaining. Tip: Keep a dictionary close by, as Thelen's vocabulary is as rich as his imagination is fertile - and Donald White's translation preserves the wit and the baroque style of the original beautifully - which must have been a fiendishly difficult task.
If you are looking for a book that's different from anything you have ever read, go for this 20th century Don Quixote.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Susan Zolov on February 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
I recently spent a delightful vicarious month in sunny Mallorca. Yes, it took me a month to read "The Island of Second Sight." This was not a quick read. It was a book to be savored. Thelen has an outrageous sense of humor as well as a very erudite mind. He goes from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again. I chuckled aloud at many of Vigo's "inventions" as well as at the predicaments which he and his wife, Beatrice, found themselves in, mainly due to their extreme poverty. These two characters were rich in knowledge and wisdom, but totally uninterested in the basic material needs which most people consider their due. Be prepared to experience how the lives of everyone on Mallorca changed with the advent of Franco and the Spanish Civil War. Fasten you seat belt and enjoy the ride!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Hoople on December 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have recently had the pleasure of reading Donald White's translation of Albert Vigoleis Thelen's Die Insel des zweiten Gesichts. The book requires a significant investment of time to read, in my case a little over 2 months, and is well worth the effort. Thelen spins out a marvelous set of tales based on misadventures he and his wife, Beatrice, shared while in exile on the island of Mallorca in the 1930's. Vigoleis (Thelen's alter ego) and Beatrice repeatedly leap from the frying pan into the fire in their desperate quest to keep body and soul together. The episodes, involving a most colorful cast of characters, are so preposterous, it seems hardly likely that they could have actually happened; yet the author in his Notice to the Reader says that all the people in the book are alive or were at one time, but they appear, "the author included, in dual cognizance of their personality..." The latter part of the book turns subtly more serious and spotlights the rise of the Nazis, whom Thelen clearly saw as the evil they were, and several recognizable historical characters appear, e.g. Robert Graves and Count Harry Kessler.

Thelen's use of language is simply a delight, stratospheric vocabulary alternating with salty slang, and his keen wit and sense of the absurd crackles on every page. His style presages that of Günther Grass, and one cannot help but wonder the extent of debt Grass owed Thelen.

Enjoy the journey! It is truly unique.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Blayney Colmore on January 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although the world of ex-pat Germans as Hitler came to power is a fascinating subject, Vigoleis' writing is so eccentric and brilliant, I do believe I would stick with him if he was writing about grass growing. His style is dense, ironic, self-effacing, convoluted, delightfully confusing. If you are the sort who likes things neat and clear, this isn't your book.

I love it so much that when we made our semi-annual migration from one coast to the other – this long, big book much too heavy to pack – I ordered a second one to finish on the other coast.

I love it so much I bought this big, fat book even though it was unavailable for a Kindle.

Who ever laughs out loud reading a book? Not me. Except for this book.

How rare, how delightful, that a novel about such serious matters as the rise of Hitler and the impoverishment of the narrator (who is indistinguishable from the author, who gives the narrator his own middle name), who lives with his lover in a whore house, should be as entertaining as it is profound.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Wine on December 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very long novel, parading as memoir, that provides a linguistic feast for reader. If you are not under any time constraints, lean back with this novel and savor the language and wandering story of Vigoleis and Beatrice on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, also Majorca.
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