(K. Brent Tomer),
Compass. By Mathias Enard. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. New Directions; 464 pages $26.95. Fitzcarraldo Editions; £14.99.
“THE East is a career,” wrote Disraeli in his novel “Tancred”. Lately, the Western devotion to that compass-point has fallen into intellectual disrepute. Critics such as Edward Said (who took Disraeli’s axiom as an epigraph to his influential study, “Orientalism”) have indicted scholars and travellers as the outriders of a predatory imperialism in Asia and the Middle East. “Compass”, Mathias Enard’s epic wrangle over the meanings of a passion for the East, won the Prix Goncourt in 2015, has been long-listed for the Man Booker International prize, and has just been published in English. The novel offers both a celebration and interrogation of the Orientalist imagination. With its torrential erudition, Mr Enard’s insomniac monologue has inspired plaudits—and perplexity. “Desire for the Orient”, admits Mr Enard’s narrator, after citing Flaubert’s erotic escapades in Egypt, “is also a carnal desire.”
Mr Enard, an Arabic and Persian specialist, makes his lover of the East, Franz Ritter, a thwarted musicologist in Vienna. Over one delirious night, struck down by a mysterious ailment, Franz remembers perilous research trips to Aleppo and Palmyra (today, his beloved sites are…Continue reading