Magazine article World Literature Today

Compass

Magazine article World Literature Today

Compass

Article excerpt

Compass Mathias Énard Trans. Charlotte Mandell New Directions

At the very time one should be looking ahead to the excellent works in translation the new year will bring, I've found myself lingering over a title released in mid-2017, Charlotte Mandell's English translation of Mathias Énard's Compass. Upon reading it for the second time (no small feat considering it clocks in at just under five hundred pages), I had the unshakable feeling that this book represented, not just a high-water mark for books in translation for 2017, but a landmark for the times through which we are passing.

To be sure, Compass will challenge even the most cultured reader with its dizzying array of historical figures, musical works, and scholarly concerns. Énard knows that he is asking much from the reader and loops his narratives through the most important of these elements enough times that the important ones take on a life of their own, a life made richer by the information we merely read and release. But in exchange for our attention, Compass offers something affirming and even comforting: a counterbalance to our prevailing narrative that the world is ugly and its people are sad. …

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