Jungk spent his childhood partly in Europe and partly in the U.S., and he draws on that binationalism in his latest novel about an Italian-born mathematics professor teaching in Philadelphia. During a conference in his native Trieste, Giacopo Tigor sees his pet theory of a Euclidean snowflake constant collapse when challenged by advocates of chaos theory. His ego and professional standing in ruins, Tigor abandons his obligations to embark on a quixotic and often reckless odyssey bent on restoring meaning to his life. First he lives off the land in an Italian forest, and then he returns to Paris to fulfill a boyhood dream of working as a stagehand at the Odeon theater. There he has an epiphanous vision of Mount Ararat, so he packs his bags for the East, where he hopes to find the remains of Noah's Ark. Jungk's addled, restless professor is a vivid, original creation whose antics will sustain readers through the often meandering, though always engaging, narrative. Carl HaysCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Providence Journal 2004,
Peter Stephan Jungk's new book works two ways: as a fable of a postmodern type of intellectual and as a novel of the picaresque variety.
The hero reflects Jungk's own multicultural background: born in California and raised in Europe. His eponymous hero, Giacopo Tigor, was born in Trieste and is a professor of mathematics in Philadelphia. Or was until he suffered a crisis: Attending a conference, he is confronted by the absurdity of his pet mathematical theory.
As his world implodes, Tigor begins an odyssey of Homeric variety but upside down: as he reaches the end, he is even farther away from happiness. He is marked by a suggestibility that reminds one of Don Quixote -- with this crucial difference: Tigor is yet immune to the charms of literature. Among the authors he is unfamiliar with, we are told, are Cervantes, Yeats and Dostoevksy, each a student of what ails him.
Tigor begins his odyssey by living off the land in an Italian forest. When he nearly starves to death, he moves to Paris where he fulfills a childhood dream of working as a stagehand in a theater.
This move would seem to be progress of a kind - working in the "heaven" of ropes that govern scene shifts. But this childhood dream gives way to a deeper crisis: his decision, made by default, to search Mount Ararat for remains of the biblical ark, brings him face to face with an overwhelming variety of follies, including the kind now classified as terrorism.
During his wanderings, Tigor experiences many epiphanies of bad but durable ideas: for example, at a dance, he is the target of the affections of a spherical woman (a parody of the myth of love in Plato's Phaedrus).
But there is nothing abstract about the texture of this novel of ideas: the rendering of the variegated surface of Tigor's marvelous life has a Flaubertian gloss. The final episode comprises an explosive mix of satire, sentiment, and a kind of bitter grandeur that strikes the reader as an epiphany of the Age of Terror.
Tigor must be reread for it to give up all its secrets, and the density of the fabric may seem heavy to some readers. But for those willing and able to suspend disbelief, Tigor has that lightness that marks it as a certain kind of masterpiece.