Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-01-09
- Reviewer: Staff
This astonishing, encyclopedic, and otherwise outré meditation by Énard (Zone) on the cultural intersection of East and West takes the form of an insomniacs obsessive imaginingsdreams, memories, and desireswhich come to embody the content of a life, or perhaps several. Franz Ritter is a musicologist who, though steeped in European culture, has yearned throughout his life for the the East; its poets, cities, and sensibility. In this opium addicts dream of a novel, we retrace Ritters adventures in Palmyra, where he sleeps among the Bedouin; in Istanbul, on nights spent in the company of a debauched Prussian archeologist; and in Damascus, among the ruins where Ritter searches out the reverie and sensual sweetness of the Arabian Nights. The erudite Ritter also recalls episodes from the lives of historical personages such as Franz Liszt, Fernando Pessoa, and the Persian writer Sadegh Hedayat, the last of whom happens to have been the subject of a dissertation by Ritters unrequited love object, the equally cultured Sarah. It is to thoughts of Sarah, with whom Ritter parted in Damascus, that Ritter returns most frequently, hoping to reunite with her even as actual events in the Islamic world intrude on Ritters fantasies of Ottomans and sultans. Though occasionally exhausting, Compass is a document of the Wests ongoing fascination with all things Oriental, richly detailed, and a cerebral triumph of learning, as well as translation. For readers who ask literature to do what history and politics cannot, unraveling nards arabesque yields a bounty. (Mar.)