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Monday, March 02, 2015

Auto-da-Fé (1935) by Elias Canetti

Book Review
Auto-da-Fé (1935)
by Elias Canetti

   For any time period within the 1001 Books project I've got a consistent pattern: Start with the easy to find American and English novels, then the foreign language hits, then the more obscure foreign language titles, starting with French and then moving to German, Russian and other.  Right now I'm heavy into the "German, Russian and other" portion of the 1930s, and like other decades I find I enjoy it more than the English and American titles because there is a greater amount of novelty and more counter-cultural content.

  Elias Canetti was a Sephardic Jew whose family moved to Bulgaria.  He spoke and wrote in German, and he won the Nobel prize for literature, but not for his novels (Auto-da-Fe is his only novel) but rather for his work of non-fiction, Crowds and Power.  Auto-da-Fe sits somewhere between Kafka and Musil in the spectrum of 20th century German literature.  You would not call Auto de Fe a work of realism,  but it isn't over the top fantasy either.  Rather, Canetti combines multiple unreliable narrators and a deep understanding of psychological disorders to produce a work that is at once familiar and deeply, deeply disquieting.

  Familiar and deeply disquieting to me personally, because Auto-da-Fe is about a middle aged private scholar who cares about nothing but his books.  On a whim he decides to marry his much-older house keeper, and disaster follows.  Nearly 500 pages in length, Auto-da-Fe is filled with interpersonal conflict but little action.  It is hard to call any of the characters sympathetic or likeable, and the main characters are all essentially insane.

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