Review round-up: My Two Worlds

So, Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds comes out today, in Margaret Carson’s translation (you’ll have to read it if you want to know what’s up with that picture of a swan). In the meantime, a few reactions have started cropping up; Publisher’s Weekly praises the book as “a significant event” and Kirkus Reviews calls it “a short but penetrating novel about coexisting in the material world and the world of thought,” adding that

Combining the documentary insight of W.G. Sebald with the fanciful flights of Italo Calvino, the book allows us to enter the thoughts of a restless intellectual whose streams of thought involve the reader in his quest to find meaning in everything he sees and does.

I also came across this review on The Mookse and the Gripes, which highlights the particular mood set by the novel. Here’s a taste:

Our narrator, rather than searching for some heightened state of being, seems to be longing for the opposite.  Throughout the book, he frequently undercuts what he’s saying with noncommittal phrasings, like a teenager saying “or whatever.”  He’s no great success with people, as is particularly noticeable with women who always have and continue to ignore him: ”Something about the way I speak must cause this; it’s probable that my lack of conviction in saying even the most obvious things, or the things I most believe in, works against me at times.”

I love that he calls out that last sentence – it’s one of my favorites: a moment in which the apparently contradictory forces of irony, ennui and earnestness come together to outline what might be called a deep caricature of the narrator. The reviewer points out that the novel took longer to read than expected, given its length, but observes that the same meandering quality of the narrative that gave him trouble while poring over the book is the same quality that gives it its “slow-building power.” Again, I’m going to call out my total lack of objectivity on this issue (see previous post), but I couldn’t agree more. There’s something surprisingly visceral about Chejfec’s cerebrations, something that brings flashes of his novels back to mind long after you’ve put them down.


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