Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Osman Lins, Avalovara (1973)

Lins (1924-1978) was a Brazilian writer. I wasn't sure whether Brazil counted as part of Latin America, but then I realized that the term was fairly all inclusive, and also includes Francophone countries like Haiti. Whether it counts as "hispanic" is another question, but probably not super-relevant here.

RIGHT. So we start with a famous Latin palindrome: SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS. The meaning of this is not entirely here, in part because no one's sure what "arepo" is supposed to mean. Osman claims that it can mean either "The farmer carefully maintains his plow in the furrows" or the more mystical-sounding "The plowman carefully sustains the world in its orbit." At any rate, as you can see, it can be neatly arranged as a 5x5 square, and this is the principle on which Lins builds his novel. The short sections here each have one of eight titles, and each title is associated with one of the eight different letters in the palindrome. I tried to follow the pattern; it somehow involves moving in a spiral pattern, but it's pretty allusive. All I can say is that the later, more "vital" letters don't start appearing 'til later in the book, with the central "N" being the last of all.

I can tell you that this novel is about the narrator, Abel's, relationships with three different women, each of whom is somehow doubled (it references iceland spar, notable for its characteristic of double refraction; iceland spar also played a significant role in Pynchon's Against the Day, which also took doubling as one of its themes): there's Cecilia, a hermaphrodite; there's Anneliese Roos, who travels to different cities and in some sense "becomes" the city she's visiting; and--most important of all--there's a woman identified only by a pictogram that looks like an 'O' with a dot in the middle and lines that might be devil horns sprouting out of the top. She is what Lins is pleased to call a "yolyp," a person who contains two separate people of different ages. But not actual different people. If that makes sense.

SO ANYWAY, that's what I can tell you. What I CAN'T tell you is much else, because I'll just admit that this is almost certainly the most incomprehensible novel I've ever read. Which is not, necessarily, a term of approbation, but I found this...for the most part fairly tedious to slog through. It has some good writing, and I might have unexpectedly felt an emotion on reading the final Roos section; also, the ecstatic final section is memorable. But man alive, man. I'm not saying this isn't a book that some people might appreciate more than I did, but I can't think of anyone I personally know to whom I would recommend it. Sorry!


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