Sometimes you read a book and realize that, perhaps, it’s the greatest novel you’ve ever read – or, perhaps, it’s an indictment of every novel you’ve ever read – or, perhaps, it’s not a novel at all.
“The only real things in a novel are the sequences of letters, words, and sentences that make it up, and the paper on which they’re printed.”
Álvaro Enrigue has penned a magnificent scrapbook of history and, at its core, we are forced to examine the evolution of language, nomenclature and the unstoppable force of history. We must question: what could have been, and then apply the answer to our consideration of what will come. The interconnectivity of seemingly disparate parts create the whole.
Enrigue inserts himself into the narrative to remind us this book is not about tennis, or Caravaggio, or Cortes. He writes in vignettes, in epistles, in screenplay, with biting insight, quite a lot of sex and complementary humor. To a historical purist, this novel may provide more questions than answers. However, it is the overwhelming lack of purity that thrusts this novel into the unknown and pushes the boundaries of what we conceive of when we think “novel.” We cannot know what the novel will evolve into, but Enrigue might.
I found myself immensely engaged in this book. I was constantly consulting Google to look up pictures of Lake Pátzcuaro and featherworking and what exactly an “arse-fanner” is and if there were Renaissance tattooists and who exactly was Malinche (known also as Malinalli, Malintzin or Doña Marina) – my Internet history is a patchwork of random thoughts jutting out from the novel itself, my own addition to the timeline. As Enrigue himself said, progress is not linear, but neither is it circular. We are more a line with other lines coming off of it. I comprehend that concept more fully now.
This book requires a re-read, mostly likely, before I can fully process or comprehend its importance. As with many Spanish-speaking authors, Enrigue has toyed with the traditional, teasing it out with humor and a lack of true realism, to make something wholly original. I think this book specifically appeals to readers who want to try something different – it’s definitely not for everyone.
Overall Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: I’m not entirely sure.