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Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Opposing Shore/Le Rivage des Syrtes (1951) by Julien Gracq

Despite the old world origin of the fictional nations of The Opposing Shore, the milleu reminds me of Central or South America.  Pictured here the "mosquito coast" of Honduras.

Book Review
The Opposing Shore/Le Rivage des Syrtes (1951)
by Julien Gracq

  Published in French in 1951, the English translation came out in 1986, over thirty years later.  Something that I've noticed about more recent books in the 1001 Books project is that they have little or no commercial value and are often published by public interest and independent publishing houses in small editions.   Whereas almost every book on the list from the 18th and 19th century has been in print and read throughout the literate world for a hundred years plus.   Also, if you just look at the sheer number of titles from the decades of the 20th century that were selected it's no wonder that some have failed to draw a significant popular audience.   The example of a "classic" novel with little or no track record with mass sales in English, or adaptions into other art forms, penetration into the popular consciousness, etc., becomes increasingly common.

  The Opposing Shore is something like a French take on Kafka, though the book it most resembles is the Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati.  Tartar Steppe is about a soldier posted to a fortress at a remote frontier where the enemy is unseen and the real enemy is within.  The Opposing Shore is set at the southern border of a fictional southern European country.   Tartar Steppe was published in Italian, in 1940, so there would have been time for a French translation, and it wouldn't be shocking if Gracq read Italian.  Both books exist in the same creative territory carved out by the Gnostic Manicheanism of The Castle and something to the fugue-dream state popularized by psychiatry and art movements influenced by psychiatry.

  The Opposing Shore also contains some of the early hallmarks of magical realism.  If you are looking for a reason why this book finally got an English translation in 1986 it might be attributable to the rising popularity of magical realism and a search for literary antecedents.  I've read enough magic realism to know that I like it.  I also know that I am sick to death of reading about the English upper classes and their emotional issues.   Bring on the books that aren't that, is what I say.

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