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The Scale of Maps Paperback – January 4, 2011

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A geographer falls irredeemably in love with a flighty mapmaker in this graceful, peculiar Spanish tale. Sergio Prim, at 39 a self-described "small man" set in his bachelor ways, has begun an affair with a woman nine years his junior, Brezo Varela, whose vitality and passion for Sergio astonish him and wreak havoc on his orderly life. Being loved so fiercely by Brezo has disoriented him, and the narrative moves between the third and first person, depending on Sergio's increasingly unstable state. His instinct is to slip away and find his "hollow," a sanctuary safe from intrusion, "unencumbered by worry and marked by an intimate and benign invisibility." He takes off, ostensibly to do research in the mountains of Cuenca, and is haunted by thoughts of Brezo, even seeking the advice of a psychologist, while Brezo, wary of his absence, takes up with a Basque jai alai player. Gopegui's work is beautifully composed and elegantly translated, though Sergio's fundamental elusiveness leaves the reader empty-handed and lovelorn, which, depending on the reader, will be a disappointment or a stroke of brilliance. (Feb.)
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"A geographer falls irredeemably in love with a flighty mapmaker in this graceful, peculiar Spanish tale . . . beautifully composed and elegantly translated." --Publishers Weekly

"Map scales are about relationships. So is "The Scale of Maps," a poignant, provocative, profound and passionate book by respected Spanish writer Belén Gopegui." --The Kansas City Star

"'Trembling' is how protagonist Sergio Prim first appears to the reader. 'His hands fluttered like a bashful magician's,' the Spaniard Belen Gopegui writes of her fictional creation. Gopegui's first novel, The Scale of Maps, is a story about a magic trick that Prim never quite masters, an ambitious disappearing act that ends in irredeemable failure. After all, as another character, the enchanting mapmaker Brezo Varela, warns Prim, 'the problem with escape artists is that they never escape.' . . . Who is this strange man charting a fantastical, solitary course? Gopegui has been compared to Cervantes and Nabokov, and it's easy to see Prim as a kind of windmill-battling Pnin. Prim's labyrinthine imaginings could easily place him in a work of Borges as well. . . . Mark Schafer's agile translation gives Prim the fitting voice of a polished academic who has lost his bearings. 'The man who examines his own love is like the merchant who sells perishable foods,' Prim suggests inscrutably. Is the reader to understand that Prim's survival depends on his ability to shill the ripened fruits of his passion before they spoil? And to whom is he selling the harvest of his inspection? It's just one of many alluring metaphors that quietly collapse upon inspection, evading scrutiny." --Words without Borders

"It's an ambitious novel, to be sure, made beautiful by Gopegui's liquid prose, and made accessible by her ultimate refusal to answer her own questions." --Janet Potter, Bookslut

Product Details

  • Paperback: 223 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087286510X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872865105
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,508,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I admit to having a fondness for works in translation, but Belén Gopegui's The Scale of Maps is one of the best works, translated or not, that I've read in a long time. How can a book go wrong when it begins "If a small man were to kiss your hand then immediately launch into a description of the hand crank used to open a window, what would you do?" What, indeed, except keep reading. Read is exactly what I did. Slowly.

Most chapters are very short, usually a few pages, but each is packed with much information. The first chapter ends "Sergio Prim was not lying because I am Sergio Prim." Does it get much better than that? Absolutely. Because the work has been translated, some of the credit must go to Mark Schafer, the translator, for considering the language and the rhythm of the prose, both so important to the overall story of Sergio and the love he has for Brezo, who makes the first move.

Gopegui moves silently and easily from first to second to third person as the tale unfolds. In some chapters, indeed some paragraphs, all three viewpoints may be found. There are times when Sergio addresses the reader, yet I was never pulled out of the story. In this passage, after speaking of Brezo as "her," he says, "your profile turned to look at me." Although it might seem a bit confusing, the prose is so elegantly written, that I never find need to question either Gopegui or Schafer. I do, however, find myself questioning Sergio, who, a couple of pages earlier, said, "Know this, dear readers, I sought the ultimate camouflage:" Although Sergio does not address the readers often, he does it enough that I become part of the story, part of his entanglement. Indeed, at the end of that chapter, he once again draws me into his life.
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Format: Paperback
The Scale of Maps by Belen Gopegui is the story of cartographer, a lover who thinks the only way to hold onto his perfect love is to end it and at the same time preserve the memory of it undiluted by the disillusioning influence of time. Sergio Prim is a narrator so self conscious he sometimes writes of himself in the third person. Here he describes his fear of intimacy:

"I am a retreating pair of hands, a body in retreat, alone in the bustle of bodies...I enter desire and maybe I find a place to rest, but right away a luminous fence lights up, a flashing orange blaze that compels me to cross, to run."

Sergio addresses the reader and sometimes his young lover, Brezos, as he searches for the "interstices," the gaps between time and space that he calls, "hollows":

"Consider the precise dimensions of the word hollow. Pay no attention to the container, no matter how empty it might be. Every container is a source of danger."

He quotes DeBussy's "Music is the silence between the notes."

When Sergio finds a hollow, the moment unfolds like a landscape in his mind, an hallucinatory experience. Where else have you ever read a sentence like this: "As the first streetlamps were coming on, a sudden brightness shone in the window; you stretched out my body with your slender arms and every one of your sighs was like a step downward, a descent from the cross, a descent from the mirrors, laughter in a pit like an abyss that opened onto Australia, its great plains and sky of red suns."

Gopegui knows her audience, addressing her readers as "my fellow introverts," while striking at the nature of reality, the quiet, solitary spaces without thought.

I've said before that I've never read a Spanish to English translation without feeling like I was missing something. I have to take that back; this book may be more beautiful in Spanish, but I don't know how.
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