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Jerusalem (Portuguese Literature Series) Paperback – November 1, 2009
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Tavares's herky-jerky style leaves a reader with sympathy for the characters—who wouldn't be mad if life moved in such a way? Taking place during one night in an unnamed city, the story—which follows a doctor, his ex-wife, her lover, their son and a killer pimp, among others—propels itself mainly through flashbacks relayed in short, choppy chapters and subchapters. Mylia, the ex-wife for whom everything was about herself, goes tumbling through the streets looking for a church, but instead finds a series of odd and dangerous predicaments. Most of what we learn about Mylia comes from memories of her stay at the Georg Rosenberg Asylum, disturbing, even for healthy people or a luxury hotel for the mentally ill, depending on whom you ask. Her ex-husband, famed researcher Theodor Busbeck, is revealed via his institution and reactions to Mylia; theirs is a frightening if realistic relationship, though the other characters feel less than realized. In what amounts to a long night's chase, Tavares hints at what could be a grander story, but this does not lead to the Promised Land. (Oct.)
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"Jerusalem is a great book, and truly deserves a place among the great works of Western literature. Gonçalo M. Tavares has no right to be writing so well at the age of 35. One feels like punching him!" --José Saramago
"His writing is surreal, fun, poetic, profound, dramatic, a discourse of shock, a small bomb that pushes past the usual boundaries, the standard patterns." --Giulia Lancini
"One day, when the literary history of . . . Portugal comes to be written, the work of Gonçalo M. Tavares will assume an eminent position." --José Mário Silva, Diário de Notícias
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Please take the time to read the Product Description (click 'See all Editorial Reviews' above). Since this is such a quick read, there is little more to tell about the plot that wouldn't give away too much.
We are witnesses to unsettling mental, physical and even moral problems. The characters vary from the elite to the troubled. Dark events are sometimes related with dark humor as we are shocked by Tavares depiction of their lives.
This is a sad and moving book, but it is not a 'tear-jerker' - and it is very well written. While I wish the book had been longer, the story to be told was handled quite well in this length. I'm hoping more of his books get translated quickly.
I wish I could say that there is a certain beauty in the lives of these damaged people but I don't see it - their lives are marginal and their stories are depressing. Every character in the book is profoundly sad. The characters go through the motions of living a life with their damaged capacities. What we do get are beautiful writing and some philosophical nuggets: "To be sick is to have made a mistake." "Working as a gravedigger means seeing your own future." "An animal that knew how to distance itself from empty pleasures would have a great biological advantage over human beings..." "At eighteen, Mylia already knew how to humiliate men." "...a single bullet weighs more than ten thousand words." "...the world inside and the world outside [the asylum] were like two separate languages - without a single phoneme in common."
While the work is translated from the Portuguese, there is no local color so it's not clear where the novel is set; obviously the intention of the author.
But given that possibly much more discerning minds than mine have found the work praiseworthy, I’ll cite just a few paragraphs and let you decide for yourself.
“In the meantime, one of Hinnerk’s few pleasures in life was looking through his window and watching the children have fun, so fearless and carefree. From his window, using a set of small binoculars, he kept an eye on the schoolyard, developing the habit of watching the children during their after-lunch recess.
“Sometimes, without any intention of firing—Hinnerk picked up his pistol, went to the window and, holding his binoculars in his left hand, pointed the barrel at one of the children; he would follow its movements for a few seconds, finally abandoning the child’s haphazard path, lowering his gun and binoculars, and drawing the white curtain. Then he’d get ready to go out” (on p. 62, at which point the chapter comes to a close).
“He who makes a mistake is excluded. Is enclosed inside a box. He who is outside can hardly see the box. But the person who is enclosed, excluded, is able to see the outside., He sees everything, he sees all of us.
“In each compartment there are dozens of boxes. Thousands of boxes overall. Most are empty. Others contain the excluded. Nobody knows which boxes are which.
“The boxes are so numerous that no one pays any attention to them. There could be a person in there, perhaps even someone you love, but you don’t bother to look. You don’t even see them anymore. You pass them hundreds of times a day” (p. 114).
It’s tempting to paraphrase this last quote (from a literary review on p. 192), substituting ‘Mr. Tavares’ for ‘Dr. Busbeck’ and ‘writer’ for ‘scientist’ – if that doesn’t sound too inflammatory. “‘Most esteemed Dr. Busbeck—allow me to address you directly for a moment, before setting down my pen. Sir: by publishing this study, by making public these rash conclusions, drawn from your vast—and perhaps even commendable, in that respect—calculations, you have revealed yourself to be, not a scientist, but—and forgive me for saying so—a lunatic.”
Some reviewers have suggested that Tavares is reminiscent of Kafka. But I – quite to the contrary – would suggest that Kafka at least had a consistent logic to his narratives, no matter how otherworldly or surreal they might have seemed.
I’m sorry. I just can’t find anything in JERUSALEM to recommend it. And given that unhappy conclusion, I would have to concede that this may well be more reflective of my mediocre talents as a reader and reviewer than of Tavares’s (elsewhere) publicly acclaimed talents as a writer.